October 31, 2018 | David F. Coppedge

NASA-JPL Loves Halloween but Despises Christmas

NASA’s premiere planetary lab goes nuts at Halloween, but fears the word Christmas. You can only have a Holiday Party in December.

Jet Propulsion Laboratory posted an amusing article about how the scientists, engineers and technicians at the lab try to outdo themselves with techno-carvings of pumpkins and devilish decorations this time of year.

Once a year at Halloween, JPLers take a break from building robots that explore the solar system to craft dramatic creations that have as much in common with standard jack-o’-lanterns as paper airplanes do with NASA spacecraft. Now in its seventh year, the unofficial pumpkin carving contest gives engineers a chance to flex their creative muscles and bond as a team, said NASA mechanical engineer Mike Meacham, who is co-running the one-hour competition this year.

But when Thanksgiving rolls around a month later, employees will not likely hear announcements to be thankful for the privileged planet we live on, even though Michael Denton stresses that “fine tuning is a discovery of science” that is “astonishing” and “remarkable” for its precision (ID the Future). No; Thanksgiving is just a name for a traditional time to get four days off work to do your own thing.

Two months later, when Christmas rolls around, employees are advised not to say “Christmas.” You can have a “holiday party,” but to avoid offending, planners should avoid red and green colors, Christmas music and Christmas trees. The energy was all spent on Halloween.

Everyone gets so excited about this competition that has no prize other than bragging rights,” said Brockie, who also helped build the cow-abduction pumpkin. “It’s fun to see everybody bring the same kind of crazy energy that they do to making the flight projects to something as simple as a pumpkin carving contest.”

For employees who pride themselves on scientific materialism, it’s perfectly fine to “bond as a team” around a holiday dedicated to devils, ghouls and ghosts, but not around the historic birth of a baby who changed the world, whom we celebrate with songs of “Joy to the world” and “Peace on earth, good will to men.” It’s fine to decorate with orange and black, but not with red and green. It’s permissible to say Halloween, but not Christmas. Why would that be?

The Pagan Origins of JPL

Pumpkins created by engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory are on display every year during the laboratory’s Halloween festivities, which also coincide with JPL’s birthday.

That birthday was Halloween, 1936, when a team from Caltech successfully tested the first rocket in Arroyo Seco near Pasadena.

JPL occasionally posts this photo of 5 rocket testers in Arroyo Seco on Halloween, 1936, as the day that gave birth to what would become JPL. Jack Parsons is at far right.

Prominent among the rocket pioneers experimenting that day was a man named Jack Parsons. In “Jack Parsons and the Occult Roots of JPL,” Philip Keane wrote in Space Safety Magazine about this pagan “co-founder of JPL” that the lab has not repudiated.

In 1939 Parsons became acquainted with the works of English occultist Aleister Crowley who referred to himself as “The Great Beast 666,” and was referred to by the English media as the “wickedest man in the world.”….

Fast forward back to 1939… Parsons and his wife Helen joined the O.T.O.’s Pasadena chapter, known as the Agape Lodge, which was led by Wilfred Smith. He began correspondence with Crowley, and quickly became Crowley’s American representative for the O.T.O. [Ordo Templi Orientis, a pagan secret society modeled after Freemasonry, that specialized in ideas of free love, debauchery, and “Sex Magick.”]

Parsons pursued his occult interests and scientific interests with equal intensity. He purchased a large house on South Orange Grove Avenue, Pasadena, and created a commune, inviting actors, actresses, poets, and writers (including sci-fi master Robert Heinlein and ultimately, sci-fi minor L. Ron Hubbard) to participate in his wild parties. He nicknamed the house “The Parsonage.” The police were frequent visitors to The Parsonage, receiving reports of naked pregnant women dancing through fire in the garden, loud music, and consumption of illegal substances. Parsons always greeted them at the door and assured the officers that he was a respectable Cal Tech scientist, and therefore they had no cause for alarm, so they duly left him and his entourage in peace.

At work, Parsons was excelling in his rocket developments, and blending his newfound occultism with his work practices by dancing and chanting Crowley’s “Hymn to Pan” before the launch of every test rocket. Nobody batted an eyelid at the time, and Von Kármán, who had just arranged government funding for the “GALCIT Rocket Project” regarded him as a “delightful screwball.”

Parsons died of a mysterious explosion in his home at age 37. What was found there was very alarming to the powers that be.

Upon searching the Parsons’ residence, police investigator Donald Harding and George Santmyer, the latter a close friend of Parsons, discovered a box which contained a film showing Parsons and his mother Ruth having sex. Was this was the final nail in the coffin of Parsons’ historical reputation?

In any case, the works of Parsons were systematically expunged from the academic papers stored at Cal Tech. At first, he became a footnote in the technical papers, and as time progressed, the footnotes disappeared also.

Rather than repudiate Parsons and distance itself from an evil genius, JPL preferred to just hide the truth and shield it from the public. Notwithstanding, the spirit of Jack Parsons lives on at Halloween, the “birthday” of JPL, with “crazy energy” devoted to the favorite pagan holiday of its co-founder. But in late December, these same employees mustn’t say “Merry Christmas.”

Learn more about Jack Parsons and his role in the formative days of JPL from Wikipedia and L.A. Magazine. and Wired.co.uk.

Update 10/31/18: NASA Planetquest sent no less than six (6) animated tweets celebrating the grotesque, mythical, monstrous aspects of Halloween. Someone must have thought this is the way for a government agency devoted to science to win friends and influence people.

NASA Planetquest tweets on Halloween 2018.

The individual tweets read:

  • Three dead planets shamble through the twisted magnetic fields of their corpse star that exploded eons ago. What better place for a horde of zombies than the pulsar planets, each named after an undead creature: Poltergeist, Draugr, Phobetor?
  • HD 209458 b, nicknamed “Osiris” after the Egyptian god of the dead, is a gas giant being destroyed by its star, the perfect spot for a skeleton stripped of its flesh 💀. Soon, the planet (and any skeleton armies), will be destroyed by gravity.
  • Mummies would feel at home on the ancient and dusty Proxima Centauri b. This rocky world only 4 light-years away may have lost oceans of water to the radiation blasts of its star 🌟, leaving it a possible desert world.
  • Spooky, scary werewolves could roam free on TRAPPIST-1b, the innermost of seven tidally-locked planets. On the night side, it’s always dark enough to see the other six planets reflecting the light of their red star-like moons.
  • YZ Ceti d, a tidally locked #exoplanet with one side plunged in perpetual darkness, is perfect for Dracula. Even this rocky planet’s day side is creepy: imagine the eerie light of a blood-red sun.
  • Frankenstein’s monster would feel at home on Kepler-3b, 122 light-years away. Water in the atmosphere and a weak radio signal once led astronomers to believe this #exoplanet had lightning ⚡️⚡️⚡️ storms many times stronger than those on Jupiter … or Earth!

Cassini office Halloween Party, 2010, with orange and black decor.

As an eyewitness to Halloween vs Christmas celebrations at JPL from 1996 to 2010, I can vouch for the “crazy energy” devoted to Halloween and the political correctness about Christmas.

I don’t have a problem with pumpkin carving, creativity, and party snacks. To be sure, these antics were fun, and if nothing else gave us an opportunity to eat cupcakes, enjoy friendship, and marvel at the imaginative creations of office mates. I did not witness glorification of Satan, witches, or ghosts.

In addition, many employees all over the lab would wear costumes, and judges would award the best ones. Some came as Star Wars figures or party animals with wildly colorful hair and clothes.

One of the pumpkin carving contest winners, 2010.

Most of the antics of Halloween at JPL were as “innocent” as the costumes children would wear trick-or-treating, and the jack-o-lanterns homeowners would place at the door. Witch costumes, though, complete with pointy hats and broomsticks, were not frowned upon. There was a spirit of free self-expression with few limits.

At Christmas, though, I saw a progression over those years toward more political correctness, resulting in managers and employees applying “crazy energy” to not say the C-word or even hint at it. And yet these attempts were awkward and inconsistent.

In 1996, the idea of having the annual “Christmas Party” didn’t raise an eyebrow. Red-and-green decorations, Santa hats, and Christmas music were considered normal.

Playing Christmas carols at the annual Christmas party, 2002.

In 2002, I played some traditional Christmas carols on my French horn for the annual Christmas Party. No lyrics, mind you; just melodies. The audience clapped, but I sensed uneasiness among the planners, with only a tepid acknowledgement.

In the same years, the Cassini Virtual Singers routinely adopted Christmas carols and tunes, changing the lyrics for Cassini humor (see photo, bottom). These included take-offs on “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” and “O Come All Ye Faithful.” Nobody seemed to worry about those, provided the words were changed.

In 2003, I wrote to my boss and to the program manager’s administrative assistant, Carmen Vetter, asking why “Christmas Party” was being changed to “Holiday Party.” I included a link to an article by Dennis Prager, an orthodox Jew, who argued for keeping the name Christmas Party. I said this issue was “small potatoes” for me, but thought they might find his arguments convincing. Vetter testified that this email disturbed her very much. She felt it was “very harassing.” JPL’s lawyers used it as evidence I was “harassing” her.

Around 2005, my boss took our group to the most un-Christmasy “holiday party” I ever witnessed, with pizza, pool, and rock music.

In 2007, JPL’s new “Diversity and Inclusion” office sent all employees examples of how to be politically correct at JPL. One example specifically recommended avoiding the use of the words “Christmas Party” and use of traditional Christmas decorations, such as Christmas trees or red and green colors.

In 2009, I didn’t attend the Cassini “Holiday Party” but asked Carmen Vetter about it in the elevator, asking innocently, “Was it Christmasy?” She freaked out (in her mind, not externally), testifying later that she felt harassed by the question. (My lawyer remarked that the blue-and-white snowflake decor Vetter had used at that particular party matched traditional Jewish colors for Hanukah.)

At my trial in 2012, I reminded the court that Christmas is a federal holiday. (Halloween is not.) I said, “Christmas is no longer religious to many people. We have Frosty the Snowman and Santa Claus and all these secular meanings to it. I was only thinking that it’s not necessary to be so politically correct for a federal holiday like Christmas to try to sanitize it if what it really was.”

Even as late as 2006, it was hard to eliminate all references to Christmas themes and decor.

Some final thoughts. There are many good and decent people who work at JPL. The place has a stellar history of science and space exploration; it is not “haunted” by the ghost of Jack Parsons. He was only one of five, after all, involved on those rocket tests on Halloween 1936 (although some consider him the most important one). I did not object to pumpkin carving, costumes, and another chance to party and have snacks. However, I would like to make the following suggestions to JPL:

1. Openly acknowledge the evil deeds of Jack Parsons and publicly repudiate them.

2. Devote the same level “crazy energy” to Thanksgiving, inviting employees to express gratefulness for the exceptional planet we live on.

3. Devote even more energy to Christmas, and call it Christmas. Stop the political correctness! Christmas is a federal holiday. It deserves to be celebrated on lab with all its rich traditions. Employees don’t have to make it religious, but neither should employees be prohibited from enjoying the religious aspects of Christmas traditions and music.

4. For any employees who are offended at Christmas, give them a JPL-labeled pacifier to suck on.

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