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
"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
"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
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
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