Best known for the national bestseller Rocket Boys (1998), which became the basis for the 1999 film October Sky, Homer Hadley Hickam Jr. (1943- ) has gained both wide recognition as an author and professional respect as an aerospace engineer. First assigned to Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Madison County, in the early 1970s, he later worked at George C. Marshall Space Flight Center from 1981 until his retirement in 1998.
Hickam, Homer Hickam was born in Coalwood, West Virginia, on February 19, 1943, the second son of Homer, a coal mine superintendent, and Elise Gardener Lavender Hickam. As a young boy, his imagination was excited by reading science fiction writers such as Jules Verne, Robert Heinlein, and Isaac Asimov and by the historic launching of the Soviet Union’s Sputnik I satellite in 1957 when he was 14. He and five rocket-obsessed friends formed the “The Big Creek Missile Agency” and built rockets, winning gold and silver medals in propulsion at the National Science Fair during his final year at Big Creek High School in 1960. He earned a bachelor of science in Industrial Engineering from Virginia Tech University in 1964. Hickam enlisted in the U.S. Army and served as a first lieutenant in the infantry in Vietnam in 1967-68. He spent a total of six years on active military duty, achieving the rank of captain. Hickam began writing during this time, publishing several articles in magazines.
For 27 years after leaving the military, he was employed as a government engineer, working for the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Command at Redstone Arsenal, the Seventh Army Training Command in West Germany, and then the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) at Marshall Space Flight Center. At Marshall, he helped train astronauts and served in such positions as Payload Training Manager for the International Space Station Program. His first marriage, from 1977 to 1986, ended in divorce. He is currently married to Linda Terry Hickam, whom he wed in 1998. He maintains his primary residence in Huntsville.
Homer Hickam at Marshall Center After his retirement, Hickam began publishing both fiction and nonfiction books. His first book, Torpedo Junction (1998), focused on U. S. naval history and was the result of an interest in scuba diving and German U-boats operating off the U.S. Atlantic coast during World War II. His second, Rocket Boys, grew out of an article entitled “The Big Creek Missile Agency” that appeared in Air and Space magazine. All of Hickam’s subsequent books can be categorized in relation to his personal experiences, interests, and expertises.
Five of his books are deeply rooted in his West Virginia hometown. The autobiographical “Coalwood Trilogy” is made up of Rocket Boys (1998) and two sequels, The Coalwood Way (2000) and Sky of Stone (2001). The long, full title of an inspirational post-9/11 terrorist attack book is We Are Not Afraid: Strength and Courage from the Town that Inspired the #1 Best Seller and Award-Winning Movie “October Sky” (2002). His novel Red Helmet (2008) also is vitally indebted to this coal-mining community and its culture.
Hickam has written another trilogy, the “Josh Thurlow series,” which can be categorized as military-history fiction all set during World War II. The Keeper’s Son (2003) is set in North Carolina, and The Ambassador’s Son (2005) and The Far Reaches (2007) are set in the South Pacific. Torpedo Junction may be considered a nonfiction companion to, and an important genesis of, this three-novel series.
Homer Hickam Launch Pad Hickam’s novel Back to the Moon (1999) draws on his extensive knowledge of manned space flight to create what has been called a techno-thriller. Another novel, The Dinosaur Hunter (2010), reflects Hickam’s passionate interest in paleontology. He has received numerous awards. Also in 2010, Hickam collaborated with Anousheh Ansari, a millionaire Iranian businesswoman who travelled to space, to tell her life story in My Dream of Stars: From Daughter of Iran to Space Pioneer.
Reviewers of Hickam’s books frequently point out that the author is “a rocket scientist.” The start of that personal road to the world, and other worlds, of rocket science is likely to continue to draw attention. In The Rocket Boys, especially, Hickam blends the unique, the distinctive, and the universal. An engaging story of coming of age in a small town in post-Sputnik America, it deals not only with the American Dream but also with the dreams and aspirations of young people everywhere.
Works by Hickam
Torpedo Junction (1998)
Rocket Boys (1998)
Back to the Moon (1999)
The Coalwood Way (2000)
Sky of Stone (2001)
We Are Not Afraid: Strength and Courage from the Town That Inspired the #1 Best Seller and Award-Winning Movie “October Sky” (2002)
The Keeper’s Son (2003)
The Ambassador’s Son (2005)
The Far Reaches (2007)
Red Helmet (2008)
The Dinosaur Hunter (2010)
Geisler, Dave. “Eyes on the Skies.” The American Enterprise 10 (May/June 1999):16-17.
O’Briant, Erin. “Rocket Man.” IEE Solutions 31 (November 1999): 20-21.
Smith, Kyle, and Grace Lim. “Star Struck.” People 51 (19 April 1999):153-54.