'Blood, Sweat & Rockets:' Podcast series looks at colorful founders of NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab

The 12-part podcast series "Blood, Sweat and Rockets" premieres on Nov. 15, 2022.
The 12-part podcast series "Blood, Sweat and Rockets" premieres on Nov. 15, 2022. (Image credit: LAist Studios)

The early years of rocketry weren't all about horn-rimmed glasses and slide rules. 

Some of the 20th century's most important aerospace pioneers were incredibly colorful characters — folks like Jack Parsons, a handsome young chemist who conducted occult rituals with L. Ron Hubbard and sold bootleg nitroglycerine during the Great Depression.

Parsons' many interests also extended to the nascent field of rocket science: He helped establish the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Southern California, which eventually became NASA's lead center for robotic exploration.

A new podcast called "Blood, Sweat & Rockets" delves into the lives and work of Parsons and his circle, which included fellow JPL co-founders Frank Malina and Theodore von Kármán. Some of these ambitious engineers, Parsons and Malina among them, were part of a group called the Suicide Squad. The name came from their aggressive approach to rocket research, as the podcast will doubtless detail.

Related: The history of rockets

"Blood, Sweat & Rockets" is the first season of "L.A. Made," a new podcast series from LAist Studios that explores innovation in Southern California. 

This initial 12-part offering, which premieres on Nov. 15, is hosted by author and investigative journalist M.G. Lord, who has a personal connection to JPL and the early days of the space age.

"Having been raised by a father who was an engineer at JPL in the 1960s, M.G. has an endless curiosity about aerospace that shines through as she takes listeners through the history of this outrageous world," Shana Naomi Krochmal, vice president of LAist Studios, which is part of Southern California Public Radio, said in a statement. 

"M.G.'s no-holds-barred approach to telling this story brings out nuances that have largely been left out until now," Krochmal added.

"Blood, Sweat & Rockets" is bound to intrigue anyone interested in the history of rocketry and spaceflight, especially those who didn't know that L. Ron Hubbard and sex magick were part of the story in the early days. You can subscribe now on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, iHeartRadio, NPR One and wherever else podcasts are available. 

You can also listen to a trailer for the series on the "L.A. Made" page.

Mike Wall is the author of "Out There" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or on Facebook.  

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Mike Wall
Senior Space Writer

Michael Wall is a Senior Space Writer with Space.com and joined the team in 2010. He primarily covers exoplanets, spaceflight and military space, but has been known to dabble in the space art beat. His book about the search for alien life, "Out There," was published on Nov. 13, 2018. Before becoming a science writer, Michael worked as a herpetologist and wildlife biologist. He has a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the University of Sydney, Australia, a bachelor's degree from the University of Arizona, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. To find out what his latest project is, you can follow Michael on Twitter.