Homer Hadley Hickam Jr. (born February 19, 1943) is an American author, Vietnam War veteran, and a former NASA engineer who trained the first Japanese astronauts. His 1998 memoir Rocket Boys (also published as October Sky) was a New York Times Best Seller and was the basis for the 1999 film October Sky. Hickam's body of written work also includes several additional best-selling memoirs and novels, including the "Josh Thurlow" historical fiction novels, his 2015 best-selling Carrying Albert Home: The Somewhat True Story of a Man, his Wife, and her Alligator and in 2021 the sequel to Rocket Boys titled Don't Blow Yourself Up: The Further Adventures and Travails of the Rocket Boy of October Sky. His books have been translated into many languages.

Homer Hickam
BornHomer Hadley Hickam Jr.
(1943-02-19) February 19, 1943 (age 81)
Coalwood, West Virginia, U.S.
Alma materVirginia Tech (BS)
GenreMemoirs, historical fiction
Notable worksRocket Boys: A Memoir
Torpedo Junction
Back to the Moon
The Josh Thurlow series
The Coalwood Way
Sky of Stone
Red Helmet
We Are Not Afraid
SpouseLinda Terry Hickam
Paula Morgan (div. 1986)
RelativesHomer Hickam Sr. (father)
Elsie Hickam (mother)
Jim Hickam (brother)
Military career
Service/branchU.S. Army
Years of service1964–1970
Rank Captain (US)
UnitFourth Infantry Division
Battles/warsVietnam War
AwardsBronze Star Medal
Army Commendation Medal

Early life and education edit

Homer H. Hickam Jr. is the second son of Homer Sr. and Elsie Gardener Hickam (née Lavender).[1][2] He was born and raised in Coalwood, West Virginia, and graduated from Big Creek High School in 1960.[3][4][5] He and friends Roy Lee Cooke (born December 25, 1941), Sherman Siers (June 15, 1942 – September 11, 1976), Jimmy O'Dell Carroll (born June 30, 1942), Willie "Billy" Rose, and Quentin Wilson (November 21, 1942 – August 30, 2019) became amateur rocket builders and called themselves The Big Creek Missile Agency (BCMA). After many generations of designs, they qualified for the 1960 National Science Fair and won a gold and silver medal in the area of propulsion.[citation needed]

Virginia Tech and Skipper edit

Hickam attended Virginia Tech in 1960 and joined the school's Corps of Cadets. In his junior year, he and a few classmates designed a cannon for football games and school functions. They named the cannon "Skipper" in honor of President John F. Kennedy. Skipper was cast out of brass collected from the cadets and has become an icon for Virginia Tech.[6] Hickam graduated in 1964 with a Bachelor of Science degree in industrial engineering.[3][7]

Career edit

Homer Hickam Jr. (left) and Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) Director Art Stephenson during a conference at Morris Auditorium on July 16, 1999.

Military service (1964–1970) edit

Hickam served six years in the U.S. Army[8] and was honorably discharged at the rank of captain in 1970.[9][10] He served in the Vietnam War in 1967 and 1968 as a first lieutenant and combat engineer with C Company, 704th Maintenance Battalion, 4th Infantry Division.[11][8] He was awarded the Bronze Star Medal, Army Commendation Medal, and Army Meritorious Unit Commendation ribbon.[12]

USAAMC and NASA (1971–1998) edit

Following his separation from the service, Hickam worked as an engineer for the United States Army Aviation and Missile Command from 1971 to 1978, assigned to Huntsville.[8] Between 1978 and 1981, he was an engineer for the 7th Army Training Command in Germany.[13]

Hickam began employment with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration at Marshall Space Flight Center in 1981 as an aerospace engineer. His specialties included training astronauts in regard to science payloads and extra-vehicular activities (EVA). Additionally, Hickam assisted at the Neutral Buoyancy Simulator as a diver where astronaut crews trained for numerous Spacelab and Space Shuttle missions, including the Hubble Space Telescope deployment, the first two Hubble repair missions, Spacelab-J (with the first Japanese astronauts), and the Solar Max repair mission.[3][14] Prior to his retirement from NASA in 1998, Hickam was the payload training manager for the International Space Station program.[14]

Cover of Hickam's book, "Rocket Boys" Published in 1998.

Literary career (1969 - Present) edit

Hickam began writing in 1969 after returning from serving in the Vietnam War.[15][16] His first writings were magazine stories about scuba diving and his time as a scuba instructor.[16] Then, having dived in many of the wrecks involved, he wrote about the battle against the U-boats along the American east coast during World War II. This resulted in his first book, Torpedo Junction, a military history best-seller published in 1989 by the Naval Institute Press.[citation needed]

In 1998, Delacorte Press published Hickam's second book, Rocket Boys, the story of his life as the son of a coal miner in Coalwood, West Virginia.[4] Rocket Boys has since been translated into numerous languages and released as an audiobook and electronic book. Among its many honors, it was selected by The New York Times as one of its "Great Books of 1998" and was an alternate "Book-of-the-Month" selection for both the Literary Guild and the Book of the Month Club. Rocket Boys was also nominated by the National Book Critics Circle as Best Biography of 1998.[17] In February 1999, Universal Studios released its critically acclaimed film October Sky, based on Rocket Boys (The title "October Sky" is an anagram of "Rocket Boys").[18] In an interview, Hickam has said of the movie that it was "fine for what it is, a low-budget feel-good movie, but sadly missed the best parts of my memoir. Still, the world needs feel-good movies and it has done a good job of encouraging young people to go after their dreams."[citation needed] He has since co-written a musical play entitled Rocket Boys the Musical,[19] which, according to Homer Hickam, tells a story closer to the one in his book.[20]

Hickam's first fiction novel was Back to the Moon (1999),[21] which was released as a hardcover, audiobook, and eBook.[22] It has also been translated into Chinese.[22] To date, Back to the Moon is Hickam's only novel specifically about space. It is a techno-thriller and a romantic novel, telling the story of a team of "spacejackers" who commandeer a shuttle.

The Coalwood Way, a memoir of Hickam's hometown, was published a year later by Delacorte Press and is referred to by Hickam as "not a sequel but an equal".[7] His third Coalwood memoir, a true sequel, was published in October 2001. It is entitled Sky of Stone.[23] His final book about Coalwood was published in 2002, a self-help/inspirational tome entitled We Are Not Afraid: Strength and Courage from the Town That Inspired the #1 Bestseller and Award-Winning Movie October Sky.[24]

After his memoir series, Hickam began his popular "Josh Thurlow" series, set during World War II. The first of the series was The Keeper's Son (2003), set on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. The series continued with The Ambassador's Son (2005) and The Far Reaches (2007), both set in the South Pacific. His next novel was Red Helmet (2008), a love story set in the present-day Appalachian coalfields and dedicated to "Mine Rescue Teams Everywhere." In 2010, he co-authored My Dream of Stars (2010) with Anousheh Ansari, a multi-millionaire Iranian-American who became the world's first female commercial astronaut. Hickam, an avid amateur paleontologist, also wrote The Dinosaur Hunter, a novel set in Montana published by St. Martin's in November 2010.[25]

He also published a young-adult science-fiction thriller trilogy set on the moon, known as the Helium-3 series. It included the titles Crater, Crescent, and The Lunar Rescue Company.[26][27][28]

In 2015, Wm Morrow/HarperCollins published his best-selling Carrying Albert Home: The Somewhat True Story of a Man, His Wife, and Her Alligator,[29] which has since been published in 17 languages and won many awards.[citation needed]

In 2021, Hickam published his well-regarded sequel to 'Rocket Boys" titled Don't Blow Yourself Up: The Further Adventures and Travails of the Rocket Boy of October Sky. The memoir covered the 40 years after the Rocket Boys era including building the iconic cannon at Virginia Tech while a student there, his military service including time as a Lieutenant in the 4th Infantry Division in Vietnam, becoming a scuba instructor, diving on ship wrecks, his recovery efforts of drowned passengers on a river boat in the Tennessee River, his early writing career, working for NASA and training the first Japanese astronauts, being on the Hubble Space Telescope repair crew training team, negotiating with the Russians for the International Space Station, exploring and suffering decompression sickness on the remote Honduran island of Guanaja, writing 'Rocket Boys' and advising the director and producer on set of the movie October Sky and his relationship with Jake Gyllenhaal and the other actors in the film. [30]

In 2016, Hickam sued Universal Studios for fraud and breach of contract over rights to his Rocket Boys sequels, including The Coalwood Way, Sky of Stone, We Are Not Afraid, and Carrying Albert Home.[31] The lawsuit was settled in 2017 to Hickam's satisfaction. A lawsuit in federal court was initiated in 2017 for alleged copyright infringement by the Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire, Illinois, and its writers and composers of Rocket Boys the Musical, Hickam's musical play based on his memoir Rocket Boys.[32]

Other activities edit

In May 2013, Hickam opposed a zero tolerance policy at Bartow High School which resulted in the expulsion of a student whose science experiment had caused a small explosion.[33]

In February 2018, Hickam was appointed by Vice President Mike Pence to serve as a member of the Users Advisory Group of the National Space Council, which had been re-established by President Donald Trump in June 2017.[34]

In 2018, Hickam was involved in a controversy when a woman who accepted a position as an intern with NASA replied with profanities towards a Tweet by Hickam. The Twitter user would have her internship offer revoked as a result of her behavior.[35]

In 2013, Hickam was appointed to the Alabama Space Science Exhibition Commission (ASSEC) that oversees the activities of Space Camp and the U.S. Space and Rocket Center museum and other activities in Huntsville, Alabama. He served as chairman of the commission in 2019, the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landing.

Honors edit

In 1984, Hickam was presented with Alabama's Distinguished Service Award for heroism shown during a rescue effort of the crew and passengers of a sunken paddleboat in the Tennessee River.[36] Because of this award, Hickam was honored in 1996 by the United States Olympic Committee to carry the Olympic Torch through Huntsville, Alabama, on its way to Atlanta.[37]

In 1999, the governor of West Virginia issued a proclamation in honor of Hickam for his support of his home state and his distinguished career as both an engineer and author and declared an annual "Rocket Boys Day".

In 2000, the Virginia Tech junior class selected Hickam as the namesake for the Virginia Tech class of 2002 ring collection, the Homer Hickam Collection.[38]

In 2007, Hickam was awarded an honorary doctorate in Literature from Marshall University.[39] That same year, he received the Distinguished Achievement Award from Virginia Tech.[40]

In 2010, Hickam received the Audie Murphy Patriotism Award at the Spirit of America Festival.[41]

In 2013, Hickam won the Clarence Cason Award from the University of Alabama for his non-fiction writing.[42]

In 2014, Hickam won the Appalachian Heritage Writer's Award at Shepherd University.[43]

In 2023, Hickam was presented with the Vietnam Veterans of America's Lifetime Achievement Award. [44]

Books edit

Coalwood series edit

  • Rocket Boys: A Memoir (ISBN 0-385-33320-X)
  • The Coalwood Way (ISBN 0-385-33516-4)
  • Sky of Stone (ISBN 0-440-24092-1)
  • We Are Not Afraid (ISBN 0-7573-0012-X)
  • Carrying Albert Home (ISBN 9780062325891)
  • Don't Blow Yourself Up (ISBN 1642938246)

Josh Thurlow series edit

Others edit

References edit

  1. ^ "Elsie Gardener Hickam". The Roanoke Times. October 10, 2009. She was born Elsie Gardener Lavender on June 15, 1912, in Atkin (near Gary), McDowell County, W.Va., to James and Minnie Lavender.
  2. ^ "Mother of Homer Hickam dies at 97". Bluefield Daily Telegraph. October 9, 2009. Archived from the original on July 21, 2012.
  3. ^ a b c "'October Sky' high". Florida Today. March 29, 1999. Retrieved August 24, 2018 – via Newspapers.com. Aerospace technician/engineer with NASA, 1981–1998; included work on Hubble Space Telescope deployment and repairs, Spacelab-J and Solar Max repair mission.  
  4. ^ a b Gaines, James R. (October 18, 1998). "Liftoff in Coalwood". The New York Times. Retrieved August 24, 2018.
  5. ^ Keller, Julia (March 24, 1999). "Coalwood Confidential". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved August 24, 2018.
  6. ^ "Virginia Tech to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Skipper, the Corps of Cadets cannon". Virginia Tech. October 17, 2013. Retrieved August 27, 2018.
  7. ^ a b "About Homer". Archived from the original on February 3, 2009. Retrieved September 27, 2019.
  8. ^ a b c Brunson, Arrin (November 12, 1999). "'Make it happen:' 'Rocket Boy' author tells USU crowd to follow dreams". The Herald Journal. Retrieved August 24, 2018.
  9. ^ Keener, Tom (March 11, 2011). "Homer Hickam Library Appearance This Weekend". Star Local Media.
  10. ^ Homer Hadley Hickam Jr. https://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/educational-magazines/hickam-homer-1943
  11. ^ Soldiers magazine, January 3, 2012
  12. ^ Huggins, Paul (April 8, 2010). "Homer Hickam to receive Audie Murphy award". The Decatur Daily. Retrieved August 24, 2018.
  13. ^ Homer Hickam http://www.encyclopediaofalabama.org/article/h-3224
  14. ^ a b Cantley, Rebeccah (July 18, 1999). "Former rocket scientist turns to fiction". Home News Tribune. p. D11. Retrieved August 24, 2018 – via Newspapers.com. During his career at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, he worked on many projects, including training astronaut crews for the Hubble Space Telescope deployment and repair missions.  
  15. ^ Hickam, Homer (1999). October Sky. Coalwood, West Virginia: Dell. pp. 423–428. ISBN 0-440-23550-2.
  16. ^ a b Franz, Linda (August 26, 2004). "Overnight assignment leads to 'Rocket Boys'". The Sentinel. p. B3. Retrieved August 24, 2018 – via Newspapers.com.  
  17. ^ "All Past National Book Critics Circle Award Winners and Finalists". National Book Critics Circle Award. Archived from the original on April 27, 2019. Retrieved August 24, 2018.
  18. ^ Clinton, Paul (February 18, 1999). "Review: 'October Sky' best offering of a still-young year". CNN. Retrieved August 24, 2018.
  19. ^ "'Rocket Boys The Musical' soars into Beckley this weekend". West Virginia MetroNews. July 18, 2018. Retrieved August 24, 2018.
  20. ^ "'Rocket Boys' Memoir Aims for Broadway as Musical". Space.com. June 8, 2010.
  21. ^ Towles, Donald B. (June 13, 1999). "Back to the moon". The Courier-Journal. p. 15. Retrieved August 24, 2018 – via Newspapers.com.  
  22. ^ a b "Back to the Moon". HomerHickam.com. Retrieved August 26, 2018.
  23. ^ Meagher, L.D. (November 29, 2001). "Review: 'Sky of Stone' engaging Hickam memoir". CNN. Retrieved August 25, 2018.
  24. ^ "We Are Not Afraid". HomerHickam.com. Retrieved August 26, 2018.
  25. ^ At home on the range: Fossil hunter Homer Hickam sets mystery in ranchlands https://missoulian.com/lifestyles/territory/article_960eb28a-1518-11e0-9292-001cc4c002e0.html
  26. ^ Book Review: "Crater" By Homer Hickam http://www.spaceref.com/news/viewnews.html?id=1630[permanent dead link]
  27. ^ Book Review: 'Crescent' By Homer Hickam https://www.universetoday.com/104821/book-review-crescent-by-homer-hickam/
  28. ^ Q&A with Homer Hickam:Crater Trueblood and the Lunar Rescue Company https://www.brockeastman.com/news--reviews/qa-with-homer-hickam-crater-trueblood-and-the-lunar-rescue-company
  29. ^ Plummer, Sarah (October 17, 2015). "Hickam's book uses family legends to reveal true characters". The Washington Times. Associated Press. Retrieved August 25, 2018.
  30. ^ "Book Review: Don't Blow Yourself Up – NSS". Retrieved January 15, 2024.
  31. ^ Patten, Dominic; Pedersen, Erik (June 2, 2016). "Universal Faces $20M Lawsuit by Homer Hickam Over 'October Sky' Musical". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved August 24, 2018.
  32. ^ "Composers Claim Marriott Theater Unit Copied Their Musical - Law360". www.law360.com. Retrieved September 27, 2019.
  33. ^ Cowing, Keith (May 13, 2013). "Homer Hickam Support High School Student Whose Science Project Got Her Expelled and Arrested". Allen Media Strategies. Archived from the original on June 30, 2013. Retrieved December 12, 2013.
  34. ^ "Vice President Pence Announces National Space Council Users Advisory Group". whitehouse.gov. Retrieved September 27, 2019 – via National Archives.
  35. ^ Bonazzo, John (August 21, 2018). "Girl Loses NASA Internship Over Insult to 'October Sky' Legend—He's Still Helping Her". Observer. Retrieved December 27, 2022.
  36. ^ "Divers Honored". Montgomery Advertiser. Associated Press. November 30, 1984. p. 1D. Retrieved August 24, 2018 – via Newspapers.com.  
  37. ^ Cox, Clara B. (2009). "Reflections of a rocket boy". Virginia Tech Magazine. Retrieved August 24, 2018.
  38. ^ "The Homer Hickam Collection". Virginia Polytechnic Institute. Archived from the original on October 29, 2013. Retrieved December 12, 2013.
  39. ^ "Hickam to deliver address at Marshall's commencement, join Hechler as latest honorary degree recipients". Marshall University. April 11, 2007. Archived from the original on August 25, 2018. Retrieved August 24, 2018.
  40. ^ "Alumnus Homer Hickam is recipient of Distinguished Achievement Award for 2007". Virginia Tech. May 10, 2007. Retrieved August 24, 2018.
  41. ^ Welch, Chris (April 8, 2010). "Hickam to receive Audie Murphy Award at Spirit Festival". The Huntsville Times. Retrieved August 27, 2018.
  42. ^ Flanagan, Ben (March 4, 2013). "'October Sky' author Homer Hickam named UA's Cason Award recipient". The Birmingham News. Retrieved August 24, 2018.
  43. ^ Butler, Hayley (October 3, 2014). "Homer Hickam Receives Writer's Award". SUPicket. Retrieved August 24, 2018.

Further reading edit

  • Dugger, Charles M. Jr. Torpedo Junction: U-Boat War off America's East Coast, 1942. (book review). Sea Frontiers, Jan-Feb 1990. 36(1), 62.
  • Gates, Anita. Space Cadets: this novel by Homer H. Hickam features an unlikely shuttle crew on its way to the moon (review). The New York Times Review of Books, June 27, 1999. 104(26), pg.19, col.4.
  • Hickam, Homer H. Jr. Keep Your Faith in Space: A Message to the Next Generation of Rocket Boys and Girls. Ad Astra, May–June 1999. 11(3), 28.
  • "A Reflection on Rocket Boys/October Sky in the Science Classroom". Journal of College Science Teaching, May 2000. 29(6), 399.
  • Homer H. Hickam Jr. (aerospace engineer and writer). Current Biography, October 2000. 61(10), 35.
  • Morgan, Robert. Notes from Underground (Sky of Stone review). The New York Times Book Review, October 21, 2001. 106(42), 22.
  • Owens, William T. "Country Roads, Hollers, Coal Towns, and Much More". The Social Studies, July 2000. 91(4), 178.
  • Struckel, Katie. "Remembering with Homer H. Hickam Jr." (interview). Writer's Digest, December 2000. 80(2), 30.
  • Sturdevant, Rick W. The Infinite Journey: Eyewitness Accounts of NASA and the Age of Space (book review). Air Power History, Winter 2001. 48(4), 59.
  • We Are Not Afraid: Strength and Courage for Our Nation from the Town of "October Sky" (book review). Publishers' Weekly, January 28, 2002. 249(4), 283.
  • "We Know Our History (pride in knowing who you are)". Publishers' Weekly, January 14, 2002. 249(2), S1.
  • Hickam, Homer H. Jr. (1998). Rocket Boys. New York: Delacorte Press.

External links edit