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OCTOBER SKY

Homer And The Rockets

From the first flashlight and cherry bomb contraption that blows a hole in Elsie Hickam's rose garden fence to the polished missile that shoots miles into the West Virginia sky, the rockets that Homer Hickam and his friends hand-crafted in the '50s form the heart of October Sky.

"After blowing up my mom's rose garden fence, we started getting better as we went along, and pretty soon, our rockets were working; that's when we got into trouble," Hickam recalls. "So, our physics teacher Miss Riley bought us a rocket book, which turned out to be a very advanced rocket book. I saw that text later, when I was in college. It was meant for graduate students. But there we were, boys in Coalwood, West Virginia, that had this very advanced book.

"We had to learn calculus and differential equations in order to calculate the nozzle dimensions and so on," Hickam continues. "But once we got that book in our hands and started really understanding the fundamentals of how rocket engines work, we were building some very, very sophisticated rockets, far more advanced than just about any other group in the country, other than professional groups, obviously. And we were flying these rockets miles into the sky, so it was a good thing that we were way south of town. We probably would've caused some real damage otherwise."

"The rockets that Homer was building as a teenager were real rockets," director Johnston notes. "They were tubular steel packed with a propellant. The rockets that you can buy off the shelf today are commercially available, but they're paper tubes. They probably go higher and faster but it's not really the same thing. Homer was launching what were essentially ballistic missiles.

"The rockets that he saw us launch for the film look the same as Homer's because we painted them to look like they were metal tubes, but you could catch one of these things coming down and it wouldn't hurt you," Johnston notes. "I wouldn't want to be around when one of Homer's came down. It was the real thing."

Hickam and the adult rocket boys were delighted to participate in the recreation of their feats. Muses Hickam, "We used to say that God looks after fools, drunks, the USA and the rocket boys. And apparently, she still does. I had a great career with NASA and this experience has been amazing. All but one of the rocket boys is here. It's was a great adventure to come to us at this stage in our life, after it seemed like all of that was gone and would never return again, here it all is. And it's just amazing."

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