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Homer Hickman

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.

Homer HickmanHickam 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.

Biography

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 Industrial Engineering.

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.

Literary career

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 left aboard).

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 StoneSky 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 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 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 two Tyrannosaurus.

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.

Honors

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.

Books

Coalwood series

  • Rocket Boys (ISBN 0-385-33321-8) (movie: October Sky)

  • 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 0-440-21027-5)

Others

  • Back to the Moon: A Novel (ISBN 0-440-235383)

  • Red Helmet (ISBN 1595542140)

  • Torpedo Junction

  • The Dinosaur Hunter (ISBN 0312383789)


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