Malina, Frank J.

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Malina, Frank J.

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  • Malina, Frank Joseph

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Description area

Dates of existence

1912/10/12 - 1981/11/09


Frank Joseph Malina was born in Brenham, Texas, USA, on October 12, 1912. He received a Bachelor of Sciences in Mechanical Engineering from the Texas Agricultural & Mechanical College in 1934. He then continued his studies at the California Institute of Technology (CIT), earning a Masters of Science in Mechanical Engineering in 1935, a Masters of Science in Aeronautical Engineering in 1936, and a Ph.D. in Aeronautics in 1940. He served as an Assistant Professor at CIT from 1942-1946.

During his academic and professional career at CIT, Malina and colleagues founded the Rocket Research Project at the Guggenheim Aeronautical Laboratory (GALCIT). “From 1940 to 1944 Malina was the chief engineer of the Air Corps Jet Propulsion Research Project of GALCIT; in 1944 these projects became the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL)” (American National Biography Online). Malina was the first director of the Laboratory from 1944-1946. His work in rocketry led to the launch of the WAC Corporal in 1945, the United States’ first successful high altitude sounding rocket. (Personnel File). In 1949, when boosted on the nose of a captured V-2 German rocket, the WAC Corporal became the first man-made object to reach outer space. (American National Biography Online).

“In 1944 and in 1946 Malina travelled to Britain and France on mission as a scientific consultant for the U.S. War Department for European Missions” (Americal National Biography Online).

Malina joined UNESCO on April 18, 1947 as a Programme Specialist (Counsellor) in the Natural Sciences Section. He was made Deputy Head of the Department on March 15, 1949, and then was appointed Head of the Division of Scientific Research on June 1, 1949. The Division had several name changes, but when Malina resigned from UNESCO effective February 10, 1953, it was named the Contribution to Research Division. Among his activities at UNESCO, Malina worked on the Hylean Amazon Project and the Arid Zone Programme, which he described in his resignation letter as being “especially close to my heart.” (Personnel File).

Among his honours, Malina was awarded the French Prix d’Astronautique in 1939, a Certificate of Commendation from the U.S. Army in 1946, the C.M. Hickman Award of the American Rocket Society in 1948, and the Order of Merit from the French Society for the Encouragement of Research and Invention in 1962.

Also an artist, after his time at UNESCO Malina seemed to focus on his art work. He was a pioneer of kinetic art, incorporating electric light into paintings or mobiles (Personnel file). He began to also incorporate sound into his works in the 1960s (WAP Unit Website). Malina’s exhibited his work internationally at major institutions such as the Centre National d'Art Contemporain (Paris) and the Smithsonian Institute (Washington, DC, USA). One of his works, Ladders to the Stars III, 1965, is in the UNESCO works of art collection. In 1968, Malina founded the art journal Leonardo and served as Chief Editor until his death. Malina died November 9, 1981.


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Programme Specialist (Counsellor), Natural Sciences Section, 1947-1949
Deputy Head, Natural Sciences Department, 1949
Head, Division of Scientific Research, 1949
Deputy Head, Division of General Scientific Activities, 1950
Head, Assistance to Research for Improvement of Living Conditions of Mankind Division, 1951
Head, Contribution to Research Division, 1952-1953

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Created by AWT 04/04/2011.




“Frank J. Malina.” La fondation Daniel Langlois Website. Accessed 07/02/2010.

“Malina, Frank Joseph.” American National Biography Online. Accessed 07/02/2010.

UNESCO Archives, Archival Group 8: Secretariat Records, Personnel file for Dr. F. Malina. PER/REC.1/167.

UNESCO. Works of Art and Special Projects Unit. “MALINA, Frank Joseph (1912-1981)” on Works of Art and Special Projects (WAP) Unit Webpage. Accessed 03/21/2011.

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