Southern Agenda

Rocket Boys Revival

Twenty-five years ago, the filmOctober Sky introduced the world to Coalwood, West Virginia. The story of teenagers inspired to build rockets by the 1957 launch of the Soviet satellite Sputnik 1 continues to reach new fans, says Homer Hickam, whose best-selling memoir,Rocket Boys, inspired the movie. “There’s a whole new generation that’s seeing it for the first time,” he says. The film streams on Amazon Prime Video, and “every substitute teacher in the world” seems to show it, he says. “It works for every class”—science, English, history. Hickam, who worked for NASA and lives in Huntsville, Alabama, is planning a movie sequel,December Sky, based on his bookThe Coalwood Way. While the original was filmed in Tennessee, Hickam wants to shoot in West Virginia this time. Although Coalwood is much smaller now than when Hickam lived there, fans still visit and find a few interpretive signs and landmarks. “The church is still standing, and across the street are the machine shops where we built our rockets,” he says. A rough road leads to “Cape Coalwood,” the slack coal field where the boys drew crowds for test launches. “A lot of people make that pilgrimage.”