Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Aeronautics and October Sky

Tarleton’s Aeronautical Team recently placed 5th at the Texas CanSat competition, quite a feat for our university!  Their accomplishments reminded me of the book, October Sky, written by Homer Hickam, about four young men who, without prior training, succeed at making their own rockets.

current picture of Coalwood, WV 
 The setting for the autobiographical novel is in the coal mining town of Coalwood, West Virginia, during the 1950's when  our country was putting much effort into exploration of the space and rocketry.  It's hard to imagine the current Coalwood which has no post office, stores, schools, or railroad, that has only one church and a  few remaining aging people living in cookie-cutter type, company homes being caught up in a rocket-mania that lead to national acclaim.  

In the book, Hickam is a young man growing up in this remote, mountainous town populated by mostly coal miners who have very little interest in anything beyond taking care of their families through dangerous work in the mines.  Hickam has a strong interest in science and dreams of rockets, but his practical, hard-working coal miner father wants him to focus on a job in the mines.  His mother, however, encourages Homer to carry on even after he blows a hole in the family’s fence. 

The Rocket Boys, 2007
by Mike and Kim Daniels
Aspirations for young people to do anything more than replace parents in the mines are few, but Hickam’s far-sighted chemistry and physics teacher, Miss Riley, helps he and his group of friends (self-named “The Rocket Boys), to learn the science and math required to succeed at rocket-building.  Humdrum town life changes as locals pick up The Rocket Boys’ passion.  Enthusiastic towns-people turn out in large numbers to see the launching of some of the rockets built by these young men.  As The Rocket Boys' knowledge grows, their next challenge is to take their skills to the outside world.

The book was originally named Rocket Boys, however Universal Studios changed the name to October Sky (an anagram of Rocket Boys) when the story was made into a movie.  October Sky is often-read in book clubs and schools across the country.

Check out October Sky (Call number: PS3558.I224 O27 1999) from the Dick Smith Library to read this story yourself!

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