Parsons’ scientific legacy is impossible to ignore. He forced the United States government to explore a science it had previously mocked, and laid the foundation for the rockets that carried man into outer space. He was one of America’s greatest space pioneers. He just happened to also be one of its greatest occultists.
In 1941, Parsons and the Suicide Squad founded the Aerojet Engineering Corporation to sell their rockets to the military. Scientists who had previously slated Parsons’ work now queued up to join this boom industry. In 1943, with the need for advanced research into rockets growing exponentially, Parsons co-founded the Jet Propulsion Laboratory to continue the study of his one-time backyard playthings. At the same time as he was reaching his professional peak, he also found himself moving up the ranks of the OTO, corresponding with the aged Crowley in England, and eventually becoming the group’s leader on the West Coast.
With the money he had earned from Aerojet’s booming rocketry business, Parsons bought a mansion on Pasadena’s Millionaire’s Row and moved the OTO’s operations into it. “It was a huge wooden house,” remembered Liljan Wunderman, Frank Malina’s wife, in an interview years later. “A big, big thing, full of people. Some of them had masks on, some had costumes on, women were weirdly dressed. It was like walking into a Fellini movie. Women were walking around in diaphanous togas and weird make-up, some dressed up like animals, like a costume party.”
On June 17, 1952, a huge explosion ripped through his home laboratory. Arriving police found Parsons still alive, although half his face had been ripped off exposing the skull beneath and his right arm was missing. Surrounding him were rocketry papers and pentagrams, occult drawings and chemical formulae. He died shortly afterwards. He was just 37 years old.