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Caltech Event Marks 75th Anniversary of JPL Rocket Tests
by Staff Writers
Pasadena CA (JPL) Oct 14, 2011

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

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.

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