Eagle Profile

Homer Hickam is the original “Rocket Boy!” Hickam was born in the mining town of Coalwood, West Virginia, in 1943. He watched Sputnik race across the night sky in 1957 along with most of the town’s residents. The satellite’s path pointed to the future for Hickam. He was soon to lead six adolescent boys on a quest into rocket theory. The boys researched, built, and launched over 40 rockets. They competed in district and regional science fairs and earned first place accolades. When the team took first place honors at the National Science Fair, it was an historic event for Big Creek High School, Coalwood, and West Virginia.

Hickam continued his education at Virginia Polytechnic Institute (VPI), where he studied industrial engineering and graduated in 1964. He then worked as an engineer for VPI and the DuPont Company. In 1966, he completed Officer Candidate School and received a commission in the Army Ordnance Corps. The next year, he went to Vietnam and completed a tour in the Fourth Infantry Division; he was awarded the Bronze Star for meritorious service. Hickam left the Army in 1968 and worked at the Thiokol Corporation on rocket engines for the Minuteman and Poseidon missiles. In 1971, he became an engineer for the US Army Missile Command.

He is particularly proud of his work designing and constructing training ranges in Europe. Hickam left his job with the Army in 1981 to pursue his passion for rocketry at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). At NASA, he worked in propulsion, spacecraft design, and crew training. As a training specialist, he was directly engaged with astronauts on science payloads and extravehicular programs. He took the lead training crews for several Spacelab and Space Shuttle missions. These included the deployment of the Hubble telescope; Spacelab-J, a joint program with the Japanese; and the Solar Max repair mission.

Hickam’s career at NASA culminated when he served as Payload Training Manager for the International Space Station. The astronauts presented him their coveted “Silver Snoopy” award for his outstanding support. In 1984, Hickam received a Distinguished Service Award for heroism. When a riverboat sank in the Tennessee River, he dove for more than two hours in a dramatic search for trapped survivors. In 1989, Hickam wrote Torpedo Junction about the U-boat war off America during World War II. The Rocket Boys, published in 1998, earned critical acclaim and came to theaters as October Sky. Last year, he authored a novel, Back to the Moon, and, later this year, The Coalwood Way will be in bookstores. Hickam and his wife, Linda Terry, live in Huntsville, Alabama-” Rocket City USA.”

Years Honored:


2000 Lithograph

Lithograph Setting(s):

The Soviet Union shocked the world with the launch of Sputnik in 1957, but sparked a dream in the small mining town of Coalwood, West Virginia. Homer Hickam, Jr. set out to send his own rockets skyward. With an unlikely group of boys, he began to turn scraps of metal into increasingly sophisticated rockets. One of their "Auks" reached more than 31,000 feet in altitude. After high school, the boys went into different careers, but Hickam had a dream and he made a career helping America become the foremost nation in space research!