The American Rocketeer (NASA Documentary)

GALCIT Rocketeers

The GALCIT rocketeers taking a break from setting up their experimental rocket motor in the Arroyo Seco. Left to right: Rudolph Schott, Apollo M. O. Smith, Frank Malina, Edward Forman, Jack Parsons. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The American Rocketeer is the story of the origins of the world’s premiere center for the exploration of the solar system and beyond: NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. It is also the story of one man’s reach for the stars. The central figure throughout this 90-minute documentary is Frank Malina, whose fundamental role in the evolution of American rocketry is largely unknown and remains uncelebrated.

As an idealistic California Institute of Technology (Caltech) graduate student during the midst of the Great Depression, Malina agreed to lead a motley crew of amateur rocket enthusiasts and fellow Caltech students attempting to launch rockets in hopes of one day reaching space. That led to building rockets for the U.S. Army during World War II. Malina helped to win a world war, only to later see his country turn against him, and declare him an international fugitive. Through it all, he kept meticulous records, hoping to insure his pioneering role in American rocketry.


NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory is widely known for its trailblazing role in space exploration, and the “JPL and the Space Age” documentary series invites viewers to relive those early adventures through rare archival footage and interviews with many of JPL’s pioneering engineers and scientists. Credit: NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

“The American Rocketeer” is the story of the origins of JPL, the world’s premier center for the exploration of the solar system and beyond. It’s also the story of one man’s reach for the stars.

The central figure throughout this episode is Frank Malina, whose fundamental role in the evolution of American rocketry is largely unknown and remains uncelebrated. As an idealistic Caltech graduate student during the midst of the Great Depression, Malina agreed to lead a motley crew of amateur rocket enthusiasts and fellow Caltech students attempting to launch rockets in hopes of one day reaching space. That led to building rockets for the U.S. Army during World War II. Malina helped to win a world war, only to later see his country turn against him and declare him an international fugitive. Through it all, he kept meticulous records, hoping to ensure his pioneering role in American rocketry.

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