Homer Hickam, Rocket Boy
Homer Hickam, known for his 1998 book "October Sky" (originally titled "Rocket Boys") is from Coalwood, WV. Long before being cast into the spotlight with the release of the movie “October Sky”, Homer “Sonny” Hickam and his friends in the Big Creek Missile Agency were famous in their small West Virginia town for building rockets. This early fame culminated in Sonny winning the National Science Fair. Homer Hickam would continue living his dream as an Aerospace Engineer for NASA. His legacy is significant not only for West Virginia but for NASA as well.
Backstory and Context
Southern West Virginia is home to many small coal mining towns and one of those towns, Coalwood, is the childhood home of Homer Hickam. Mr. Hickam was born on February 19, 1943; and he later graduated from Big Creek High School in 1960. But it was October of 1957 when Homer looked up and saw the Soviet spacecraft that was known as “Sputnik” that changed his life forever. From then on, Homer found his calling in rockets and the aerodynamics behind them. His new hero and role model became Wernher von Braun, the German scientist that was leading America’s space program during the time and attempting to face the front and break barriers within the NASA program.
Up until the night Homer saw “Sputnik” fly overhead, his life revolved entirely around the coal mining industry. His dad, being the superintendent of the mine in Coalwood, was always pushing for Homer to come into the mining industry the same way he was. However, when Homer got into rockets, his interests were not going to be changed. That’s when Homer decided he was going to keep going and follow his dream and new love for rockets. Homer and his group of friends who consisted of: Quentin, Roy Lee, and O’Dell, the Big Creek Missile Agency (BCMA), decided this was something they were going to do. Things did not exactly go as planned for the group of friends though. After a few launch mishaps, the group realized they needed some help. That’s when Homer turned to Miss Riley and some other teachers for help with the mathematics and books behind it all. The welders at the mining company ended up helping the boys fabricate the pieces for their rockets and also ended up teaching them how to do it themselves. The BCMA was very successful in their endeavors, leading to Homer bringing home a win at the National Science Fair for their work.
Homer Hickam then went on to become Vietnam veteran serving six years in the Army. Homer Hickam would be awarded the Bronze Star for his service. After the war Hickam continued his scientific work and lived his dream of working for NASA as an engineer. Hickam has written numerous articles since getting home from Vietnam as well as many books. Several are books about his life, the most well-known “Rocket Boys”. Later in life Homer also picked up the hobby of amateur archaeology. His interests keep him going, and strives to continue learning. His West Virginia roots stay true as he celebrates being a Rocket Boy. Every October, a Rocket Boys celebration was held in Coalwood, WV; now the celebration held in Beckley. Some say that now, since the celebration has been moved from the very hometown of Homer Hickam, it will never be the same.