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Caltech Event Marks 75th Anniversary of JPL Rocket Tests
Caltech Event Marks 75th Anniversary of JPL Rocket Tests
11 Oct 2011
(Source: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

This photo of Frank Malina standing next to a WAC Corporal missile was taken in 1945. Malina and his fellow Caltech associates became known as the "Suicide Squad" because of their rocket experiments during this time. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

PASADENA, Calif. - The 75th anniversary of the first rocket experiments at the site that became NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., will be celebrated with a special free, public screening of the new documentary, "The American Rocketeer" at the California Institute of Technology's Beckman Auditorium on Tuesday, Oct. 25 at 8 p.m. This never-before-seen film is one installment in a three-part documentary series chronicling the early history of JPL. All three installments will air on KCET Los Angeles in November.

On Halloween day in 1936, a group of Caltech students, led by Frank Malina, conducted the first stand-up rocket engine test in a dirt gulch known to the residents of Pasadena as the Arroyo. Little did they know that this day would go down in history as the beginning of what is now JPL, the world's leading center for robotic exploration of the solar system and beyond. The 90-minute episode takes viewers on a journey through Malina's life using personal letters, video footage, drawings and paintings to reveal an extraordinary story of how JPL came to be.

"This is a very personal story about a person few even know," said Blaine Baggett, JPL's director of communications and education. "Yet Malina was a major pioneer in American rocketry. This film attempts both to shed light on his important contributions, while revealing the reasons why he has been forgotten. The time is long since past that the public should know the name Frank Malina."

The Malina story and the other two episodes in the series were produced, written and directed by Baggett, a national Emmy-award winning documentarian.

Seating at the public screening of "The American Rocketeer" is first-come, first-served. Caltech's Beckman Auditorium is located at 332 South Michigan Avenue in Pasadena (Michigan Avenue south of Del Mar Boulevard). For directions and parking information, please visit:

The series, collectively called "Beginnings of the Space Age," will make its television premiere on KCET over three evenings, as follows: "The American Rocketeer" on Nov. 3 at 9 p.m.; "Explorer 1" on Nov. 10 at 9 p.m.; and "Destination Moon" on Nov. 17 at 9 p.m.

Caltech manages JPL for NASA. More information about JPL is online at: Information on how to follow us via social media, including Facebook and Twitter, is at:

Priscilla Vega 818-354-1357
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.


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Last Updated: 11 Oct 2011