Everybody knows the cowboy reputation associated with early astronauts, the test-pilot swagger immortalized by Apollo 13 and The Right Stuff. But the rockets that took those astronauts to space were built by a group with an equally cinematic image: the nearly-unhinged, completely unfettered mad scientists at Jet Propulsion Laboratories. Mika McKinnon brings us a fascinating look at the madcap, explosion-obsessed minds that helped get man into space—and presided over some monumental explosions in the process.

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