Rocket Boys: A Memoir

This is one of three titles under consideration for this year's Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti Reads, which will focus on the theme The Universe: Yours To Discover. What did you think of this book? Tell us!

A number-one New York Times bestseller in mass market, brought to the screen in the acclaimed film "October Sky," Rocket Boys was nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award. It was also 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 Doubleday book clubs.

With the grace of a natural storyteller Homer Hickam looks back after a distinguished NASA career to tell his own true story of growing up in a dying coal town and of how, against the odds, he made his dreams of launching rockets into outer space come true. One of the most beloved bestsellers in recent years, this powerful, luminous, American story of coming of age at the end of the 1950s, is the story of a mother's love, a father's fears, and a young boy’s experience of growing up and getting out. A story of romance and loss and a keen portrait of life at an extraordinary point in American history, it is a chronicle of triumph.

A U.S. Army veteran, Mr. Hickam served as a First Lieutenant in the Fourth Infantry Division in Vietnam in 1967-1968 where he won the Army Commendation and Bronze Star medals. He served six years on active duty, leaving the service with the rank of Captain.

Hickam has been a writer since 1969 after his return from Vietnam. His first book, Torpedo Junction (1989), was a military history best-seller published in 1989 by the Naval Institute Press. His second book, Rocket Boys, became an instant classic. Other titles include Back to the Moon (1999), The Coalwood Way (2000) and Sky of Stone (2001). His latest work is the novel Red Helmet (2008).

While working on his writing career, Mr. Hickam was employed as an engineer for the U.S. Army Missile Command from 1971 to 1981 assigned to Huntsville, Alabama, and 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, Mr. Hickam worked in spacecraft design and crew training. His specialties at NASA included training astronauts on science payloads, and extravehicular 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 in 1998, Mr. Hickam was the Payload Training Manager for the International Space Station Program.

In 1984, Mr. 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, Mr. Hickam was honored in 1996 by the United States Olympic Committee to carry the Olympic Torch through Huntsville, Alabama, on its way to Atlanta.

What did you think of this book? Tell us!


This is actually a really, really good book. It's just such a great story about a group of guys that had enough of a zest for learning. Maybe it just related to me because when I was a kid, all I wanted to be doing was learning calculus and chemistry for the benefit of building rockets. Seriously.

I enjoyed the movie based on it, October Sky.

Wonderful book. A great book for older kids, especially boys! It shows strong ambition and commitment! Plus it would be wonderful to attract Mr. Hickam to the Ann Arbor area for this event!

This would be a wonderful choice. Hickam combines serious issues with laugh-aloud scences. It's a great read for adults but also one that could certainly attract teens. As the protagonist develops his engineering skills, he learns just as much about his community, family, and himself. I am not familiar with the other two possible choices, but Rocket Boys is one of my favorites.