Homer Hadley Hickam, Jr. (born February 19, 1943)
is an American author, Vietnam veteran, and a former NASA engineer.
His autobiographical novel Rocket Boys: A Memoir, was a #1 New York
Times Best Seller, is studied in many American and international
school systems, and was the basis for the popular film October Sky.
has also written a number of best-selling memoirs and novels
including the "Josh Thurlow" historical fiction novels. His books
have been translated into several languages. He is married to
Linda Terry Hickam, an artist and his first editor and assistant.
Homer H. Hickam, Jr. is the second son of Homer,
Sr. and Elsie Gardener Hickam (née Lavender) and was raised in
Coalwood, West Virginia. He graduated from Big Creek High School in
1960. While there, he led a group of boys who built rockets.
They called themselves the Big Creek Missile Agency (BCMA).
Taking their designs to the 1960 National Science Fair, the BCMA won
a gold and silver medal in the area of propulsion. Hickam graduated
from Virginia Tech in 1964 with a Bachelor of Science degree in
While at Virginia Tech he designed a cannon to be
fired at games and during corps of cadets functions. The
cannon was cast out of brass that had been collected from cadet belt
buckles and caps, and scrap he got from his father, the
superintendent of a coal mine. The cannon was named "The Skipper"
after President John F. Kennedy and has become an icon for the
Hokies. The Skipper is now retired and resides in honor in the
Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets Museum. It has had two successors,
Skipper II and III. Traditionally, it is fired after the Hokies
score a touchdown.
A United States Army veteran, Hickam served as a
First Lieutenant in the Fourth Infantry Division during the Vietnam
War in 1967 and 1968. For his service, he earned the Commendation
and Bronze Star Medals. He served six years on active duty, leaving
the Army as a Captain.
Hickam was an engineer for the United States Army
Aviation and Missile Command from 1971 to 1978 assigned to
Huntsville. For three years (1978–81), he was an engineer for the
7th Army Training Command in Germany. He began employment with the
National Aeronautics and Space Administration at Marshall Space
Flight Center in 1981 as an aerospace engineer. During his NASA
career, Hickam worked in spacecraft design and crew training.
His specialties at NASA included training
astronauts on science payloads, and extra-vehicular activities
(EVA). He also trained astronaut crews for many Spacelab and Space
Shuttle missions, including the Hubble Space Telescope deployment
mission, the first two Hubble repair missions, Spacelab-J (the first
Japanese astronauts), and the Solar Max repair mission. Prior to his
retirement from federal service in 1998, Hickam was the Payload
Training Manager for the International Space Station Program.
Hickam began writing in 1969 after returning from
Vietnam. Despite his reputation of being interested in space and
astronautics, he has written surprisingly little about this subject.
A scuba instructor, his first writings were mostly about his scuba
diving adventures for a variety of different magazines. Then, after
diving on many of the wrecks involved, he branched off into writing
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. It quickly became a very popular
book. Rocket Boys has since been translated into many
languages and also released as an abridged 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"). Delacorte
subsequently released a mass market paperback of Rocket Boys,
re-titled October Sky. October Sky reached the number one position
on the New York Times Best Seller list.
Hickam's first fiction novel was Back to the
Moon (1999) which was also 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. As such, it is both a techno-thriller (a
team "spacejacks" the shuttle, modifies it in orbit and takes it to
the moon) and a romantic novel (there is an intense love affair
between the lead spacejacker and a female astronaut accidentally
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. Sky of Stone is
presently under development as a television movie. His final
book about Coalwood was published in 2002, a self help/inspirational
tone titled We Are Not Afraid: Strength and Courage from the
Town, that Inspired the #1 Bestseller and Award-Winning Movie
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 today'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 dreamed of going into space and 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.
Hickam maintains four scholarship programs, one
at Virginia Tech, one at Southwest Virginia Community College, one
at Concord University in Athens, West Virginia, and one at Marshall
University in Huntington, West Virginia.
Hickam is an avid scuba diver and jogs nearly
every day. A new avocation is amateur paleontology. He works with
Dr. Jack Horner in Montana every summer. He is credited with finding
On January 15, 2006, Hickam spoke at the memorial
service in Buckhannon, West Virginia for 12 miners killed in an
explosion at a Sago, West Virginia mine two weeks earlier. The
service was televised nationally on CNN.
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 the state 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 2007, Hickam was awarded an honorary doctorate
in Literature from Marshall University. That same year, he received
the Distinguished Alumni Award from Virginia Tech.
Rocket Boys (ISBN 0-385-33321-8) (movie:
The Coalwood Way (ISBN 0-385-33516-4)
Sky of Stone (ISBN 0-440-24092-1)
We Are Not Afraid (ISBN 0-7573-0012-X)
Josh Thurlow series
The Keeper's Son (ISBN 0-312-30189-8)
The Ambassador's Son (ISBN 0-312-30192-8)
The Far Reaches (ISBN 0-312-334753)
Non-fiction companion volume: Torpedo Junction (ISBN
Back to the Moon: A Novel (ISBN 0-440-235383)
Red Helmet (ISBN 1595542140)
The Dinosaur Hunter (ISBN 0312383789)