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October Sky: What Does It Mean?

October Sky: What Does It Mean?
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October sky is not a phrase in English language and doesn’t signify a meaning literally. Rather, it is the name of a book and a movie about the ‘Rocket Boys’. If you jumble the letters in the word ‘Rocket Boys’, you will form the word ‘October Sky’.

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It is the story of a young man, who aspired to build a rocket along with his five other friends from a coal town in West Virginia, where mining is the only known trade for all youngsters, except the ones that got a scholarship for college education through football. The rest of them worked in the coal mine for their entire life.

Coalwood Town in West Virginia

Coalwood Town in West Virginia [Pic: roadfood.com]

When the Soviet Union launched the first man-made satellite on Oct 4, 1957, the entire United States was shocked as they have believed that they are the leaders of technology with the greatest scientific minds. The Sputnik hovering among the celestial bodies was watched with excitement and apprehension by the people of the United States on an October Sky.

The satellite, with the size of a basketball weighing 180 pounds travelled at a speed of 18000 miles per hour, sent signal back to the earth for 23 days from October 4 to October 27, before which its battery died.

Launch of Sputnik I in 1957

Launch of Sputnik I in 1957 [Pic: fineartamerica.com]

One among those who watched the Sputnik awe-struck was Homer Hadley Hickam Jr., the second son of Homer Sr., who worked dedicatedly as a manager for the Coalwood mine company. The sparkling piece of steel that flew across the October sky sparked an inspiration in the mind of Homer. He wanted to build rockets in a time when the United States was inferior to the Soviet Union in the science of space technology, fuelling the intensity of Cold War.

The entire town of Coalwood was owned by the coal mining company including the churches, schools, stores, homes, etc. When someone working in the mine deceased, their family is forced to move out of the house owned by the company. Or anyone else from the family is allowed to work there so that they can continue to live in the house.

Most of the inhabitants of the town were suffering from black lung disease, which Homer’s father died of in 1976. Homer’s family except his father wanted to move out of the town, but Homer Sr. loved his job and the coal company that he insisted Homer Jr. to work there, despite knowing his dream to build rockets.

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In an attempt to build a rocket, the Rocket Boys tried to pull out a cast iron pipe from beneath the railroad that almost got Homer killed. The Rocket boys called themselves the Big Creek Missile Agency. Homer was not so bright in learning calculus as it is one of the main subjects to build rockets. He was assisted by his science teacher in making calculus a subject in Creek High School.

Homer got lower grades in the subject, which made him learn calculus by himself. He was inspired by the notes in his father’s handwriting, who has never attended college, yet taught calculus himself.

A Shot from October Sky movie

A Shot from October Sky movie [Pic: Mubi.com]

Against all the odds of life and his opposition from his father, the Big Creek Missile Agency took their rocket to the National Science Fair in 1960, winning a gold medal and a silver medal for propulsion mechanism. Eventually, Homer graduated in Industrial Engineering from Virginia Tech and had served in the US Army during the Vietnam War as a First Lieutenant from 1967 to 1968. He became a writer after returning from the Army in 1960 and had written more than ten books in his literary career so far.

His dream to build and operate rockets pursued him a job in National Aeronautics and Space Administration as an aerospace engineer at Marshall Space Flight Center in 1981.

During his tenure at NASA, he has trained young astronauts in many space shuttle missions including Hubble Space Telescope deployment, its first two repair missions, and Solar Max repair mission. He also trained them in EVAs (Extra-Vehicular Activities) and science payloads.

In 2013, he sponsored a 16-year-old girl Keira Wilmot a scholarship to attend the United States Advanced Space Academy after she was expelled from Bartow High school for causing an explosion during one of her experiments.

All the members of the Rocket Boys found themselves their desired career after graduating from college. Among them, Quentin Wilson became a chemical engineer in the oil industry, Roy Lee Cooke an automobile dealer and a banker, Sherman O’Dell owned an insurance agency. Alongside being a writer and an aerospace engineer, Homer also had interests in Scuba diving and palaeontology. He has trained scuba divers and has written for magazines about Scuba diving and wrote ‘The Dinosaur Hunter’, his experience as an amateur palaeontologist.

Four members of the Rocket Boys. From L to R: Roy Lee, O'Dell, Billy Rose and Homer Hickam

Four members of the Rocket Boys. From L to R: Roy Lee, O’Dell, Billy Rose and Homer Hickam [Pic: coalwoodwestvirginia.com]

Thus, October Sky, an anagram of Rocket Boys was made as a motion picture that was critically acclaimed widely. The mine in the Coalwood town was closed forever in 1965. In the honor of the Rocket Boys, the town of Coalwood hosts October Sky Festival every year that was attended by respected astronauts and scientists. Homer Hickam regularly makes his appearance along with his other companions.

Thus, October Sky cannot be neglected as having no literary meaning in the lexicon as it has taught many in the history of United States to dream bigger. Its motion picture adaptation still continues to inspire youngsters and learn them dream.

Tell us what you think about October sky in the section below!

Related Video: Homer Hickam: From “Rocket Boys” to “October Sky”

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