Rocket Man: Grand Master Arthur H. Weiss on Freemasonry, Outer Space, and the Future

Newly installed Grand Master aiming
for return to lodges in 2021.

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Grand Master, Art 2020 Final

You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to be grand master. But just in case, Arthur Weiss is one.

On October 11, Weiss, of Conejo Valley Lodge No. 807 in Thousand Oaks, was installed as grand master of Masons in California, in an installation ceremony livestreamed to more than a thousand onlookers from around the state and beyond. For Weiss, it was the culmination of a 35-year career in Masonry that has seen him serve at the lodge level (lodge master in 1991 and 2003), district level (inspector from 1994–99 and 2004), for Grand Lodge (grand marshal, 2004; grand chaplain, 2007; and each line office since 2017); and on just about every different committee and board.

Weiss’s passions for Freemasonry and space exploration were forever entwined the night he was raised as a Master Mason, as it was the same day that the space shuttle Challenger was destroyed. “They say your raising is a never-to-be-forgotten thing,” Weiss says. “For me it was a very memorable day.”

Weiss retired in 2015 after four decades years working for Rocketdyne, the Canoga Park firm that has built many of the rocket engines for NASA and the Department of Defense. Though he started in engineering, helping develop the main engine for the space shuttle, Weiss spent most of his career in program management, where he ran the development of the RS-68, the world’s most powerful hydrogen-fueled engine, which powers the Delta IV rocket. He also oversaw development of propulsion for the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense anti-ballistic missile system, which is used around the world.

The world of space exploration even served as his launching pad for a life in Freemasonry, as his introduction to the craft came thanks to a conversation one night with colleagues at a NASA test site. “They both lit up and we spent the whole night talking about Masonry,” Weiss says. “The next morning, he hands me a petition, and the rest, as they say, is history.”

Now, as Weiss prepares to add to that long history, we spoke with the rocket man to ask about how California Masonry—which has seen lodge meetings grounded since mid-March—can achieve liftoff in 2021.

California Freemason: Did you grow up wanting to be a rocket scientist, or did you just kind of fall into it at some point?

Arthur Weiss: No, I knew very early what I wanted to do. I was bitten by the space bug in the early ’60s, in grade school. By junior high, we had these little model rockets, Estes Rockets, with little solid motors, and I started flying those. By the time I got to high school, that was the height of the Apollo program, and I knew I wanted to do rocket engines, and for that, there was only one place to go, and that was Rocketdyne.

CFM: So I imagine the first thing everyone you speak with wants to know is, When are we going to be back in lodges?

AW: I totally understand. Guys want to meet face-to-face. That fellowship is the real underlying driver for everybody. What I’m telling people is, number one, we have to follow state and county guidelines. Given where we are, the fact is that [lodge meetings] are considered a social gathering. We review the legalese practically every day. So this is what we’ve got to follow. And the second thing is that we’re going to be safe. Lodges should be thinking about what their plan is to operate in this environment when they are allowed to open. They can work on that right now. Lodges and hall associations should be writing those plans so the moment the county says OK, they have a plan ready to submit.

CFM: A big change coming out of Annual Communication is that lodges can now hold stated meetings over Zoom.

AW: That will be a big help in smoothing things out. The first thing was we had to allow people to do their lodge business, and now, they can have legal stated meetings on Zoom beginning in November so they can elect officers. That implies they have to have guidelines for how to do installations on Zoom. And our code is clear that although an installation is public, it’s considered ritual. So we’ll have to find a solution for that.

CFM: For all the challenges this has presented, we’ve seen incredible participation in things like the Online Masonic Speaker Series and the Distressed Worthy Brother Relief Fund. So it’s not as though people are just turning away from Freemasonry.

AW: It’s shown that the fraternity is resilient. All throughout the history of this country, Masonry has been resilient. We’ve responded well to this very sudden change. It took us a little bit to get going, but once we did, we pivoted and did some amazing things. And because of the stay-at-home orders, some guys have had more opportunity to become involved than they might have been before.

CFM: You’ve been thinking about what your priorities would be for three years now, but obviously a lot of that went out the window with COVID-19. How do you view your upcoming term?

AW: It’s kind of serendipity that it aligns with my theme, Embracing the Next Evolution. We’re at an interesting point. Most Worshipful Trauner had a strong year going, and then he had to lead the pivot to this whole new world. And hopefully I have the opportunity to help lead us into whatever the world is going to be like when we can operate fully again. And that’s going to be different because of all these things we’ve come up with like the Online Speaker Series and virtual retreats. We’re going to evolve and we’re going to be a slightly different fraternity when we come out. I think that’s pretty exciting.