“The Rocket Boys”
Homer Hickam Jr.
For my reading assignment, I chose “The Rocket Boys” by Homer Hickam Jr. It is an autobiography written more like a fiction novel about a high school aged boy, Homer, who lived in a coal mining town named Coalwood. His father ran the coal mine and wanted his son to follow in his footsteps but Homer did not want to become a miner. He wanted to grow up to be a rocket engineer. Homer and his father were never great friends and this built tension between them all the way through Homer’s high school years. This passion for rockets began while Homer was watching the Russians launch a satellite into space for the first time ever. He started to learn about rockets and with a group of friends, he started to grasp the concept of rocket building. After some months of fighting for materials and a place to launch these rockets, the coal company allowed them to launch on an abandoned coal yard outside of town. For three years Homer and his friends launched better and better rockets, able to reach up to five miles in the sky! In their senior year they entered the county science fair and won all the way to nationals with the help of their whole community. Homer’s successes pleased his father; they both finally were happier and moved on. Homer ended up at NASA after joining the Army for the Vietnam War. He is still alive today.
A particular passage in the book I find appealing is found on pages forty and forty-one: “All that fall, the Welch Daily News and the Bluefield Daily Telegraph were filled with stories of our American scientists and engineers at Cape Canaveral in Florida, desperately working to catch up with the Russians. It was if the science fiction I had read all my life were coming true. Gradually, I became fascinated by the whole thing. I read every article I could find about the men at the Cape and kept myself pinned to the television set for the latest on what they were doing. I began to hear about one particular rocket scientist named Dr. Wernher von Braun. His very name was exotic and exciting. I saw on television were Dr. von Braun had given an interview and he said, in a crisp German accent, that if he got the go ahead he could put a satellite into orbit within thirty days. The newspapers said he’d have to wait, that the program Vanguard would get the first chance. Vanguard was the United States’ International Geophysical satellite program, and von Braun, since he worked for the Army, was somehow too tainted by that association to make the first American try for orbit. At night before I went to sleep, I thought about what Dr. von Braun might be doing at that very moment down at the Cape. I could just imagine him high on a gantry, lying on his back like Michelangelo, working with a wrench on the fuel lines of one of his rockets. I started to think about what an adventure it would be to work for him, helping him to build rockets and launching them into space.”
This passage describes when Homer started to think about how much he liked rockets and how Dr. von Braun started to become Homer’s hero. It mentions how Homer just notices Dr. von Braun’s name and automatically takes an interest in the scientist because of how exotic it was which foreshadows the fact that Homer will have a growing interest in Dr. von Braun. Homer’s admiration for the scientist grew considerably when Dr. von Braun said that, if allowed, he could have a satellite in space in thirty days. This made Homer think of him as an aeronautical hero and that is how he thought about him for the rest of his life. The author used creative references, like when Homer would lie in bed and think about what Dr. von Braun was doing. He thought that he was like Michelangelo, high up on a gantry underneath his “art” or his rocket fixing something with his wrench like Michelangelo was fixing something under the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling with his brush. This thought made Homer think about how great it would be to be doing that...
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