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Interview with Frank J. Malina

Malina, Frank J. (1980) Interview with Frank J. Malina. [Oral History]

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Interview in one session with Mary Terrell, December 14, 1978. Frank J. Malina was research fellow (1940-1942) and assistant professor of aeronautics (1942-1946) at the California Institute of Technology. The interview begins with his arrival at Caltech as a graduate student in 1934 to begin a master's degree in mechanical engineering (MS, 1935). He then undertook a second master's in the Guggenheim Aeronautical Laboratory, known as GALCIT and then under the direction of Theodore von Kármán. Writes PhD dissertation ("Characteristics of the rocket motor and flight analyses of the sounding rocket," 1940) on rocket propulsion under Von Kármán, marking the beginning of a long-term relationship with Kármán, who became "a second father." Formation of rocket propulsion research group with William Bollay of Caltech and two men outside Caltech, Jack (John) Parsons and Edward Forman; later involvement of others at Caltech. Early rocket experiments on campus in Guggenheim create hazard, resulting in move to Pasadena's Arroyo Seco; group named "the suicide squad." Early funding provided by Army Air Corps, 1939. Malina recalls open, permissive atmosphere in GALCIT. Support of Robert A. Millikan and Irving P. Krick for rocket development for meteorological research; skepticism of Clark B. Millikan, who later becomes more supportive. Rocket group becomes known as Jet Propulsion Laboratory, GALCIT. Malina comments on relationship of the group, later known as JPL, to Caltech; administrative changes and tensions upon Von Kármán's departure and promotion of Clark Millikan to GALCIT leadership; Malina makes day-to-day decisions at the lab. Establishment in 1942 of Aerojet Engineering Corporation to engage with aerospace industry; resistance of both Caltech and Army Air Corps to this venture. Success of Aerojet; Malina's financial gain. Christmas, 1946, Malina departs for initial leave of absence to work for UNESCO in Paris; never returns to Caltech. Discusses reasons for change; eventual decision to pursue artistic career; interest in kinetic art. Founding of art journal Leonardo. After launch of Sputnik, founding with Von Kármán of International Academy of Astronautics. Discusses international cooperation in science. Comments on early skepticism about intercontinental missiles and satellites; key paper 1946 with Martin Summerfield on rocket escape from Earth's atmosphere. Failure of Americans to think creatively about space at that time, despite technology at hand; Russian thinking different, leading to 1957 launch of first satellite. Concluding comments on living in Paris, travel, the relationship of art and science.

Item Type:Oral History
Keywords:Aeronautics, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, art
Record Number:CaltechOH:OH_Malina_F
Persistent URL:
Official Citation:Malina, Frank J. Interview by Mary Terrall. Pasadena, California, December 14, 1978. Oral History Project, California Institute of Technology Archives. Retrieved [supply date of retrieval] from the World Wide Web:
Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
Subjects:All Records
Subjects > Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Subjects > Engineering
ID Code:149
Deposited By: Oral Histories Administrator
Deposited On:08 Jul 2008
Last Modified:04 Oct 2019 15:23

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