In the spring of 1937, Tsien was given his first office, sharing it with a fellow graduate student named Apollo Milton Olin Smith, known to his friends as "Amo." Smith recalled that Tsien was "not talkative," "really arrogant," and oblivious to everything but his work. But one thing about Smith did pique Tsien's interest: his membership in a small group on campus that conducted experiments with small rocket motors.
The group was started by Frank Malina, a graduate student in aeronautical engineering who arrived at Caltech two years before Tsien did. Born in 1912 in the small town of Brenham, Texas, Malina -- a thin, soft-spoken young man with dark hair and eyes -- had dreamed of the possibility of space flight ever since he read Jules Verne's From the Earth to the Moon when he was twelve years old. While some other professors scoffed at the idea of their graduate students building rockets, Kármán was impressed and agreed to be Malina's sponsor.
Essentially, the experiments were a labor of love, planned at night and conducted on weekends between course work, research, and outside jobs the young men had to take to pay for spare junk parts. They had pooled their savings and drove all over Los Angeles to find secondhand equipment for their