Read the January 2023 issue of Justin Chapman's Newsletter, featuring Justin's new Pasadena Media TV talk show "Pasadena Monthly with Justin Chapman," part 2 of Justin's series on Dr. Frank Malina of early JPL, more episodes of the LAist Studios podcast "LA Made: Blood, Sweat, & Rockets" featuring interviews with Justin, local outlets' stories on Justin being appointed District 6 Field Representative, Justin's 3rd place certificate in the Film Features category of the LA Press Club's National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Awards, some recommendations for good reads, news to keep an eye on, and more!

JPL Co-Founder and Rocketry Pioneer Frank Malina Finally Gets His Due (Part 2 of 2)

The life and career of JPL co-founder Dr. Frank Malina were upended in the 1940s and 50s as the FBI investigated him for ties to communism, which unfairly diminished his achievements. The Medal for Merit he received from the Czech Republic president in October and a new 12-part podcast from LAist Studios about early JPL history are perhaps indications that the rocketry pioneer is finally getting the recognition he deserves.

By Justin Chapman, Pasadena Now, 1/29/2023

Read Part 1 of this 2-part series here.

Dr. Frank Malina, a co-founder and the second director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena who helped launch the American rocketry program, was pushed out of JPL as the postwar Red Scare and Cold War heated up due to his affiliation with the Communist Party at Caltech in the 1930s. The third director of JPL on Malina’s recommendation, Dr. Louis Dunn, was an FBI informant against Malina, accusing him and others at JPL of espionage.

According to author Fraser MacDonald, Malina joined the Communist Party at Caltech in November 1938, the same month he went to Washington, D.C., and convinced the U.S. Army Air Corps to fund his rocket research. In Malina’s FBI file, which is more than 300 pages long, an informant told the FBI that Malina held communist meetings in his house every Tuesday night until June 1941.

In Escape from Earth, MacDonald explores in-depth Malina’s affiliation with communism and determines that he in fact he was a supporter but so were many others in the 1930s who cared about progressive issues.

“One of the things that really catalyzes his involvement in the Communist Party is the nature of segregation in Pasadena,” MacDonald said during a virtual Caltech event in March. “If you were serious about making change in the mid to late 1930s, then the Communist Party is probably the main vehicle to do that, particularly after Upton Sinclair’s EPIC campaign [End Poverty in California].”

Malina and others campaigned to end the racial segregation of a Pasadena swimming pool, which had a “Blacks only” session on Wednesday afternoon, after which the pool was drained before whites returned Thursday morning.

He and other scientific colleagues at Caltech, including Frank Oppenheimer (the brother of J. Robert Oppenheimer), Sidney Weinbaum, Martin Summerfield and biologists, engineers and physicists, met to discuss ideas, books they were reading and news of the day. That group eventually turned into a communist club called Unit 122.

“Of course, they didn’t necessarily realize 20 years later the FBI would come knocking at their laboratory doors concerned about their political affiliation,” MacDonald said. “It wasn’t that controversial to be politically involved in that way in the 30s, but by the late 40s, a totally different picture.”

Double standards

Malina’s son Dr. Roger Malina said he thought MacDonald overemphasized the role of communism in his dad’s life in Escape from Earth.

“The father I grew up with was certainly not communist,” Roger said. “[He was] liberal, or whatever the American term might be. If you were in college in 1931, you probably would have been left wing, and the Communist Party was legal in LA.”

Many of Malina’s Caltech associates who were members of Unit 122 in the 30s got caught up in the House Un-American Activities Committee hearings in the 40s and 50s, were investigated by the FBI, got arrested, lost their jobs, friends and family and had their lives ruined. Meanwhile, Nazi scientists such as Wernher von Braun were welcomed with open arms in the United States because of their rocketry knowledge. Malina was aware of and lamented that double standard.

“He was very bitter about how he was treated,” said Norma Rannie, whose husband Duncan, the Robert H. Goddard Professor of Jet Propulsion at Caltech, was a longtime friend of Malina’s.

Even Malina’s old friend and rocketry partner Jack Parsons informed on him to the FBI, gave agents a list of Unit 122 members and told them that Malina was “associated with groups of ‘pinks’ at Caltech.” He even said Malina’s loyalty “would be questionable if [Malina] had to decide between our form of government and that of Russia.” Roger said Parsons did this because he was upset Malina got rich from the Aerojet stock and he didn’t.

But Malina was more an advocate of international cooperation than he was a fellow traveler who towed the Party line. In 1936, Malina wrote in a letter, “Events in Europe are certainly heading to another war. There seems to be only one hope: overthrowing of the capitalist system in all countries and an economic union of nations.”

Other members of the Suicide Squad, Malina’s and Parsons’ group at Caltech that pioneered the study of rocketry, also got caught up in the Red Scare. One member, Chinese national and fellow Caltech graduate Hsue-Shen Tsien who worked closely with Kármán, Malina and Parsons at Caltech, JPL and Aerojet, was also investigated for his Unit 122 membership. He was held under house arrest for five years so that his scientific knowledge might expire before being deported back to China in 1955. He went on to build China’s nuclear weapons and space programs and is seen as a national hero there. He refused to speak to Western journalists for the rest of his life and died Oct. 31, 2009.

“They wouldn’t have gotten the bomb as soon without him,” Rannie said. “He was a great loss. He also got very bitter about the way he was treated.”

JPL historian Erik Conway said the evidence against both Tsien and Malina amounted to Unit 122 membership cards that the LAPD copied from originals obtained by undercover officers from their union-busting Red Squad.

“At Tsien’s immigration hearing after the war, Caltech hired an attorney to defend him, who pretty thoroughly discredited these cards,” Conway said during the Caltech event in March. “The provenance was in question, so this was pretty weak sauce. The question is not whether they were members of the party, because it’s arguable and it will always be, but whether there’s new evidence that they were actually traitors, sharing information they shouldn’t have. There’s just no evidence that they were.”

He added that when Tsien went back to China, he had to join the Communist Party in 1958 in order to have any power and possibly avoid jail.

An American in Paris

In late 1946 and early 1947, after divorcing his first wife Liljan, Malina left the United States and took a job at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in Paris.

At the end of the war, he lamented “seeing the things we had been developing for space exploration being used for military purposes,” he said in a 1978 Caltech oral history project interview. “I found that I was getting caught up more and more in trips to Washington in meetings with the Army, Navy and Air Force, planning the next war. I found in these meetings I was getting more and more disturbed and I would break into cold sweats. I just hated the idea of, say, planning to use all this for bombarding people.

“I felt that the Second World War was unavoidable and that Nazis and fascism and these crazy ideas of Hitler had to be defeated. But many of us hoped at the end of the Second World War that there was a chance, maybe through something like the United Nations, to put some kind of a control on the sovereign states to put a stop to war, at least between industrialized countries.”

In 1951, Malina became head of UNESCO’s Division of Scientific Research in Paris. The U.S. government put pressure on UNESCO to get rid of Malina, and they invalidated his passport. The FBI put pressure on a reluctant Assistant Attorney General Angus McEachen to indict Malina, which they eventually did in 1952.

“Frank Malina, the person who had arguably done more than anyone to initiate the U.S. space program, was now formally considered a fugitive,” MacDonald wrote.

Malina eventually left UNESCO in 1953 but continued to live in Paris for the rest of his life. As a result of his Aerojet shares, he was financially independent. So he decided to become a full-time artist.

Frank Malina in 1961 in front of his Kinetic Light painting, Spring II, photo Marc Vaux, Frank & Marjorie Malina archives, Boulogne

“I was very interested in the possible relationships between art, science and technology,” he said in the Caltech oral history project. “In that period from ’53 to ’76 or so, I made something like 3,000 bits of art—all the way from little miniatures to rather large things.”

Frank Malina, Brain Waves, 1964, Kinetic light painting,  85.5 x 125.5 x 14 cm, photo courtesy RCM Galerie, Paris

He became an influential lumino-kinetic artist building sculptures that incorporated motion, light, strings, grids, moiré and other elements from his engineering career.

Frank Malina, Kinetic-Op Six Spinning Circles, 1972, Kinetic Light Painting, 122.5 x 83 x 10.5 cm, courtesy RCM Galerie, Paris

His first luminous paintings “often illustrat[ed] cosmic themes: painted Plexiglas compositions, lit by light bulbs and animated by motors,” according to an exhibit of his work at the RCM Galerie in Paris. “He exhibited widely during the 1950s-70s, including at the Museum of Modern Art in Paris, the Stedelijk Museum in the Netherlands, the Whipple Museum and the Smithsonian Institution.”

Frank Malina, Red White Planet, 1969, Tapestry, 48.5 x 84.5 x 2.5 cm, courtesy RCM Galerie, Paris

Malina’s work is currently part of an exhibition called “All Art Is Virtual” at the Art Vault in Santa Fe, New Mexico. It started in May and ends April 15.

Frank Malina, Vortex and Three Molecules, 1965, Kinetic light painting, 86 x 66 cm, courtesy RCM Galerie, Paris

“The exhibition ‘All Art Is Virtual’ proposes that all art can provide a virtual reality experience—no special goggles required,” reads the exhibit’s website. “The contemporary artworks on view use cutting-edge, creative technologies such as algorithmic content generation, video and LED sculpture, digital murals, augmented reality wallpaper, interactive video and sculpture, and internet-driven animation.”

Malina’s legacy

In 1960, Malina got his passport back and was a founding member of the International Academy of Astronautics (IAA), of which he became president in 1963. In 1968, he founded and edited a journal called Leonardo about the intersection of art and science, which still publishes. 

“Frank Malina was a co-initiator of very different organizations: Aerojet, JPL, UNESCO, IAA, Leonardo, in very different fields of activity, and all of these still function,” Roger said.

Malina also performed a one-man show at the Tehran Trade Fair in Iran. He wrote three memoirs, married twice and had two sons. Forty-one years ago this month, on Nov. 9, 1981, he died of a heart attack at his home in Boulogne-Billancourt, France, at age 69.

After he died, his second wife Marjorie went to great lengths to preserve his memory and legacy, according to Rannie. Most of his scientific papers were microfilmed by Caltech and donated to the Library of Congress. Roger is organizing his dad’s remaining archive related to his artwork and Leonardo.

In his honor, the Frank J. Malina Astronautics Medal is presented annually by the International Astronautical Federation to an educator who has demonstrated excellence in using their available resources to promote the study of astronautics and related space sciences. The 2022 recipient was announced in September: University of Tokyo Professor of Aeronautics Shinichi Nakasuka.

Malina certainly hasn’t received proper credit for his pioneering career. Roger said his dad used to say, “History is cruel. It remembers certain people because there were historians that wrote about them—and the people who actually did the work, nobody wrote about them. If you’re funded by the Smithsonian, you’re more likely to be remembered than if you’re self-funded.”

Roger added, “Some of that’s true, but I think it also reflected his professional anxiety that he nearly ended up in jail during the McCarthy period.”

Frank Malina was an internationalist through and through, especially when it came to science. He said his goal at UNESCO was to “break down the frontiers between countries to facilitate the movement of scientists and their equipment.”

George Pendle, author of a book about Parsons called Strange Angel, which was the basis for a 2018 TV show that changed Malina’s character’s name, said Malina had been dubbed Caltech’s “fantasy expert” in 1937, but by the end of the war he was “one of the most respected minds on rocketry in the country. Once scornful professors lined up to build rockets with him and Parsons.”

The Medal for Merit Malina received from the Czech Republic president in October is perhaps one sign that the rocketry pioneer is finally getting his due. A new 12-episode podcast series from LAist Studios called “LA Made: Blood, Sweat, & Rockets,” which launched Nov. 14, is also exploring Malina’s legacy.

“From NASA sending astronauts to the moon to billionaires launching themselves into space, there’s something about the cosmos that inspires people to attempt the impossible,” reads the show’s description. “But none of those things might have happened if it weren’t for a group of unsung engineers in Pasadena back in the 1930s. They risked it all for the sake of blowing stuff up and changing the world. The team’s road to triumph was fraught with controversies involving the occult, a suspected spy ring, unplanned explosions and a suspicious death. They were known as the ‘Suicide Squad.’ This is their story.”

“LA Made” is a new series “exploring stories of bold Californian innovators and how they forever changed the lives of millions all over the world. Each season will unpack the untold and surprising stories behind some of the most exciting innovations that continue to influence our lives today.”

“Blood, Sweat, & Rockets” is the first season of the new show. It will explore “the hidden story of the fearless, groundbreaking and ambitious crew who shaped our quest to outer space and ushered in the early days of space exploration at” JPL. “Join writer and life-long aerospace fanatic M.G. Lord as she uncovers their story and reveals the shocking origins of rocket science in this 12-episode season.”

Justin Chapman writes, produces, and hosts a monthly TV talk show on Pasadena Media's TV channel, called "Pasadena Monthly with Justin Chapman," formerly known as "NewsRap Local with Justin Chapman." The first episode of the new show aired Friday, January 27, 2023. The guest was Pasadena City Councilmember Steve Madison. They discussed the process to re-envision the 710 stub, the implementation of Measure H, why it was important to name the City Hall courtyard after Bill and Claire Bogaard, the effort to make Pasadena carbon-free by 2030, the local political landscape, and more. Watch the full episode below:

IP Literacy: SMART.

2022 Michelson IP Educator awardees highlight the value of teaching IP at community colleges, reports Inventors Digest Magazine.

By Justin Chapman, Inventors Digest Magazine/Michelson Philanthropies/Michelson 20MM Foundation/Michelson Institute for Intellectual Property, 1/10/2023

The Michelson Institute for Intellectual Property is expanding its support of infusing IP education into a broad range of educational curricula.

At the National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship’s annual conference in Boston in Fall 2022, the Michelson Institute for Intellectual Property (Michelson IP) awarded the Michelson IP Educator of Excellence Award to Business Administration Professor Diane Sabato and History Professor John Diffley of Springfield Technical Community College in Massachusetts. As part of the honor, their department received a $5,000 award from Michelson IP and NACCE.

The two recipients demonstrated leadership through their innovative and successful approaches to teaching intellectual property, inspiring students and fellow educators with workshops and programs to expand IP literacy.

“The 2022 IP Educator of Excellence Award was an unexpected and humbling honor for Professor John Diffley and me,” Sabato said. The award “affirms the work that we’ve been doing to promote intellectual property for our students and others across the country.”

The award, presented annually in partnership with NACCE, recognizes individuals who have demonstrated an outstanding commitment to IP education for budding entrepreneurs, inventors, makers and creators. Last year, three Santa Monica College faculty members received the inaugural award.

The Michelson-NACCE vision

In a 2022 article in the Western New England Law Review, Sabato, Diffley, and attorney Richard Kosakowski wrote that Michelson IP and NACCE are working to close the “IP education gap” by supporting educators to infuse IP education into a broad range of educational curricula.

“It is vital that IP education be infused into educational curricula as widely as possible,” they wrote. “If not, any young person today who does not understand at least the basics of intellectual property—and its value and role in science, business, arts, and the professions—will find him or herself at a distinct disadvantage in the world of tomorrow.”

Composed of educators, administrators, college presidents, and entrepreneurs, NACCE focuses on igniting entrepreneurship in their communities and campuses. The organization empowers college leaders to approach overseeing a community college with an entrepreneurial mindset while growing the community college’s role in supporting job creation and entrepreneurs in their local ecosystem.

Since 2017, Michelson IP has worked alongside NACCE to provide a first-of-its-kind IP curriculum to member colleges, predominantly in the community college arena. The pilot phase included a dynamic community of practice that fueled the modular buildout of an undergraduate IP curriculum, eventually leading to its adoption at more than 85 NACCE colleges.

In 2020, five institutions were accepted into Michelson IP’s IP Educator in Residence Initiative. The selected educators—Pamela Bogdan of New Jersey’s Ocean County College, Gary Cors of Florida’s Pasco-Hernando State College, Gary Graves of California’s Fullerton College, Lucio Lanucara of Central New Mexico Community College, and Sabato and Diffley of Springfield Technical—worked to advance IP literacy efforts throughout the NACCE ecosystem at community colleges across the country.

“NACCE has greatly enjoyed working alongside the Michelson Institute for Intellectual Property to continue to close the IP education gap. We look forward to seeing this community of practice grow among community colleges across North America,” NACCE President and CEO Rebecca Corbin said. Michelson IP is an initiative of the Michelson 20MM Foundation, founded by Dr. Gary K. Michelson. The goal of the IP Educator in Residence Initiative is to “seed new opportunities for vibrant, local entrepreneurship education,” he said.

Guide for educators launched

The faculty leads of this community of practice also launched “IPxEd 101: A Guide for Teaching Intellectual Property For Innovative Educators.” It acts as a resource for fellow educators at community colleges looking to be champions for IP curricula in their classrooms, institutions and communities. The guide includes practical applications of free and openly licensed IP curricula, academic discussions, thoughtful insights, best practices and valuable resources.

The guide educates students on how to leverage IP to create opportunities, build businesses and generate wealth. It equips professors with the tools and resources to teach students how to protect and defend IP. According to the guide, these five main takeaways aided this community of practice with how to best promote IP education on community college campuses:

• IP education is a pathway for ideas, transforming them into real world action and value. • IP education is for students, by students, due to its student-centered inclusivity. • IP education encourages innovative problem solving when launching new ventures. • IP education underscores digital literacy for today’s high-tech economy. • IP education is multi-disciplinary, with applications across business, STEAM, design and more.

IP and other intangible assets make up 90 percent of the market value of all S&P 500 companies today. Younger generations are increasingly entering the creator economy, starting businesses, or developing entrepreneurial ideas. IPxEd 101 guides students inside and outside the classroom on their intellectual property journey.

“IP awareness and education is particularly important for community college students, as it can be a critical factor for them in recognizing, claiming, and protecting the value of the products of their own minds,” Sabato said. “IP can hold the key for them to build wealth, grow entrepreneurial ventures, and add value to the world around them.”

The Michelson Institute for Intellectual Property provides no cost IP educational resources to empower budding inventors and entrepreneurs. Michelson IP is an initiative of the Michelson 20MM Foundation, which focuses on a range of issues, including digital equity, smart justice, and open educational resources. It operates with support from Alya and Dr. Gary K. Michelson, members of The Giving Pledge. To access more resources, please visit

This article was originally published by Inventors Digest Magazine.