Homer Hickam: What Happened to the Rocket Boy?

Homer Hickam and five high school buddies created the Big Creek Missile Agency in the late 1950s as the world’s space race was heating up. They designed, built, and launched increasingly sophisticated and high-flying missiles, capturing the hearts of the residents of their hometown, Coalwood, West Virginia. They gained a wider spotlight in 1960 when they won two medals in the National Science Fair.

But that was just the beginning for Homer Hickam.

He brilliantly described his coming-of-age adventures in his book, Rocket Boys, which became October Sky, an endearing motion picture. Jake Gyllenhaal, then 17, played Homer.

I loved the book and the film, but they left me wondering: Did Homer Hickam realize his dream to work for NASA?

My son Chris, who lives in Charleston, West Virginia, with his fiancée Gail, are big Homer Hickam and October Sky fans. Just a few weeks ago, Chris reminded me Hickam had written more memoirs that answered my question and many more.

I just finished reading all three followup books and the story about how he pursued his dream is as captivating as his high-school antics with rockets. His path includes Virginia Tech University, work in his father’s coal mine, and the Vietnam War. He lives through (barely) experiences as a scuba diver that put him on NASA’s radar. And there is so much more.

The three books that follow Rocket Boys, in order, are The Coalwood Way, Sky of Stone, and Don’t Blow Yourself Up.

But Homer Hickam, now 80, is not finished. He acquired the film rights to his story and has begun work on December Sky, a motion picture he says will not be a sequel, nor a prequel. He calls it an “equal.”

(Click here to see my review of Rocket Boys.)