When the Glendale Rocket Society was founded by students at Clark Junior High— the current site of Crescenta Valley High — the Battle of Stalingrad during World War II had just commenced and Dwight D. Eisenhower had not yet taken command of the Allied Forces in Europe.
The organization’s leader, George James, 14 years old at the time, brought the society to Glendale High, where it gained a small but devoted membership of students interested in the study of rockets.
“We have carefully avoided inviting those who have no other interest in the subject beyond idle curiosity,” James told the Glendale News-Press in 1946. “All of our members contribute something to the project.”
Now, 75 years later, the group has survived as the Rocket Research Institute, a nonprofit educational group staffed by engineering, space and safety professionals who contribute toward space- and rocket-education advocacy.
Originally inspired by a Buck Rodgers comic strip, James’ interest in rocketry during high school secured him a job at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory as an assistant testing mechanic when the facility employed about 300 people.
“We did not have electronic instrumentation, just big gauges,” he recalled. “When the rocket fired, we were assigned a particular gauge with a clipboard and pencil to take notes on data. It wasn’t until later that we got our first primitive electronic instruments.”
As James matured, so did the institute. James and the organization’s members over the decades have expanded the group into a collaborative partner with the National Assn. of Rocketry, the Tripoli Rocket Assn. and, in 1968, became a member of the International Astronautical Federation.
From 1962 to 1980, the institute operated a facility near Sacramento that allowed young professionals to safely design, construct and statically test rocket motors.
Model rocketeers launched more than 7,000 model rockets there as well.
When the facility’s lease was terminated, Charles Piper, an institute research director and board member, established the privately owned Adobe Valley Assn. Rocket Ranch Test Site near Patterson.
According to James, the facility is in the process of being updated to comply with the latest U.S. Department of Homeland Security requirements.
James still acts as chairman of the institute and conducts outreach through “The Space Advocate” newsletter, which reproduces industry news and information to educators and their students.