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Sex, rocket science, and Satanism: meet Nasa's real hidden figures

'The Suicide Squad': Rudolph Schott, Apollo Milton Olin Smith, Frank Malina , Ed Forman and Jack Parsons in 1936
'The Suicide Squad': Rudolph Schott, Apollo Milton Olin Smith, Frank Malina , Ed Forman and Jack Parsons in 1936 Credit: NASA/JPL

Hidden Figures is rightly winning acclaim for the light it has shone on Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson, three of the African-American mathematicians who calculated flight trajectories for Nasa at a time when both women and people of colour were subject to chronic discrimination.

But these women are not the only ones who have been written out of Nasa’s history in spite of the considerable contribution they made to America’s intergalactic exploration. In fact, Jack Parsons is barely acknowledged on Nasa’s website, and he’s the man who made rockets a reality and co-founded the agency’s Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL), home to missions which paved the way for the Apollo programs and continue to explore Mars and outer space today.

If Parsons’s life story was a film script, it would be dubbed preposterous. He invented jet propulsion technology in the face of industry-wide derision...

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