Homer Hickam

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Homer Hickam
Homer Hickam.jpg
Author Homer Hickam Jr.
Born Homer Hadley Hickam Jr.
(1943-02-19) February 19, 1943 (age 75)
Coalwood, West Virginia, United States
Occupation Author
Language English
Citizenship American
Education BS in Industrial Engineering (1964)
Alma mater Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
Genre Memoirs, Historical Fiction
Notable works Rocket 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
Spouse Linda Terry Hickam
Relatives Homer Hickam (father)
Elsie Hickam (mother)
Jim Hickam (brother)
Military career
Service/branch U.S. Army
Years of service 1964–1970
Rank Captain
Unit Fourth Infantry Division
Battles/wars Vietnam (1967–1968)
Awards Army Commendation Medal, Bronze Star

Homer Hadley Hickam Jr. (born February 19, 1943) is an American author, Vietnam veteran, and a former NASA engineer. His memoir October Sky was a New York Times Best Seller and was the basis for the 1999 film of the same name. Hickam has also written a number of best-selling memoirs and novels including the "Josh Thurlow" historical fiction novels. His books have been translated into many languages.

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. He and friends, Roy Lee Cooke, Sherman Siers, O'Dell Carroll, Billy Rose, and Quentin Wilson, 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.

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. Hickam graduated from Virginia Tech in 1964 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Industrial Engineering.[3]


Military Service (1964–70)[edit]

Hickam served as a First Lieutenant in the Fourth Infantry Division of the U.S. Army from 1967 to 1968 during the Vietnam War. He was awarded the Army Commendation Medal and a Bronze Star Medal. In total, Hickam served six years of active duty and was honorably discharged at the rank of Captain in 1970.

USAAMC and NASA (1971–98)[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. Between 1978 and 1981, he was an engineer for the 7th Army Training Command in Germany. In 1981, Hickam was hired as an aerospace engineer by NASA – (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) at Marshall Space Flight Center, which is located on the Redstone Arsenal near Huntsville, Alabama. During his NASA career, Hickam worked in spacecraft design and crew training. His specialties at NASA included training astronauts in regard to science payloads and extra-vehicular activities (EVA). Additionally, Hickam trained astronaut crews for numerous Spacelab and Space Shuttle missions, including the Hubble Space Telescope deployment mission, the first two Hubble repair missions, Spacelab-J (with the first Japanese astronauts), and the Solar Max repair mission. Prior to his retirement from NASA in 1998, Hickam was the Payload Training Manager for the International Space Station Program.

Literary career[edit]

Homer Hickam began writing in 1969 after returning from serving in the Vietnam War.[4] His first writings were magazine stories about scuba diving and his time as a scuba instructor. 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 (1989), a military history best-seller published in 1989 by the Naval Institute Press.

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. 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. 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"). 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." He has since co-written a musical play titled Rocket Boys the Musical which, according to press reports, tells a story closer to the one in his book.

Hickam's first fiction novel was Back to the Moon (1999) which was simultaneously released as a hardcover, audiobook, and eBook. It has also been translated into Chinese. 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". His third Coalwood memoir, a true sequel, was published in October 2001. It is titled Sky of Stone. His final book about Coalwood was published in 2002, a self-help/inspirational tome titled We Are Not Afraid: Strength and Courage from the Town That Inspired the #1 Bestseller and Award-Winning Movie October Sky.

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's 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.

He also published a Young Adult Science Fiction thriller trilogy set on the moon which is known as the Helium-3 series. It included the titles Crater, Crescent, and The Lunar Rescue Company.

In 2015, Wm Morrow/HarperCollins published his best-selling Carrying Albert Home: A somewhat true story of a man, his wife, and her alligator. "Albert" has been published in 17 languages and has won many awards.

In 2016, Hickam sued Universal Studios for fraud and breach of contract over Hickam's rights to his "Rocket Boys" sequels which included The Coalwood Way, Sky of Stone, We Are Not Afraid, and Carrying Albert Home. [1] The lawsuit was settled in 2017 to Hickam's satisfaction. A lawsuit in Federal Court was initiated in 2017 for the copyright infringement by the Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire, IL and its writers and composers of [2] Hickam's musical play based on his memoir Rocket Boys [3].


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. 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.

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.[5]

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

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

In 2014, Hickam won the Appalachian Heritage Writer's Award at Shepherd University [4]. A critique of his work was written at that time [5].


Coalwood series[edit]

Josh Thurlow series[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. ^ Homer Hickam Biography | homerhickam.com Archived February 3, 2009, at the Wayback Machine.
  4. ^ Hickam, Homer. October Sky. Coalwood,West Virginia: Dell. pp. 423–428. ISBN 0-440-23550-2. 
  5. ^ "The Homer Hickam Collection". Virginia Polytechnic Institute. Retrieved 2013-12-12. 

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, Oct. 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, Jan. 28, 2002. 249(4), 283.
  • "We Know Our History (pride in knowing who you are)". Publishers' Weekly, Jan. 14, 2002. 249(2), S1.

External links[edit]