Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Original Rocket Boy Homer Hickam born today ... Augusta County's Rocket Boys shut down

Graphic courtesy of The Write Side Of My Brain
Bearing Drift colleague Mike Fletcher posted that Homer Hickam, the NASA scientist from West Virginia who authored the book, Rocket Boys, that inspired the movie, October Sky, was born on this day in 1943.

Whenever I think about Hickam, I remember Augusta County's own Rocket Boys who were shut down and denied the opportunity to learn about rockets and science and chemistry and all the other wonderful lessons that could have been taught by volunteer leaders. It really drives home Hickam's quote: "It is better to confess ignorance than provide it."

I wrote a fourteen-part series about the Rocket Boys, young boys who had joined a rocket club run by volunteer scientists, who unexpectedly found themselves the center of controversy when surrounding land owners and the county government joined forces to shut them down.

Here is the final installment along with links to all the installments. Maybe one day Augusta County children of the future will have an opportunity to launch rockets and dream of the wild blue yonder.

Part 14: Dreams of space ... Augusta County shuts down Rocket Boys

(Updated 8/6/10: Augusta Board of Zoning Appeals approves paraglider ... now could they re-do the Rocket Boys case?)

(Updated 9/26/10:  Highland County opens its doors to VAST)

Part 1 ... October Sky
Part 2 ... Who is VAST?
Part 3 ... What is agri-tourism?
Part 4 ... Francis Chester
Part 5 ... Launch location -- Croft Field
Part 6 ... How it began ... anonymous complaint
Part 7 ... "It's only a formality"
Part 8 ... VAST prepares for BZA meeting
Part 9 ... VAST presents case to BZA meeting
Part 10 ... VAST denied Special Use Permit
Part 11 ... Augusta County denies BZA hearing tapes
Part 12 ... The legal case begins
Part 13 ... Community reaction
Part 14 ... Dreams of space

Remember the movie October Sky that told the true story of Homer Hickam of West Virginia, a coal miner's son who was intrigued by the Soviet Sputnik satellite in the 1950s that streaked across the October sky?

That incident inspired Homer to study rocketry, win a science contest, go away to college, and eventually earn his Ph.D. and become a NASA scientist. And it all began when he and his friends put together and launched model rockets even though some of the town people tried to shut them down.

Just imagine ... in Augusta County there is a new generation of Rocket Boys who could be future NASA scientists, much like Homer.

And in western Augusta County with its large tracts of land, there appears to be the perfect place for a local rocket club to teach science in the wide open spaces, smack in the middle of 500 acres of land, isolated from surrounding properties. But you would be wrong.

This series looks into the background of a group of boys and adult volunteers who were blindsided by an anonymous complaint that brought the government into what should have been a recreational, educational activity in the middle of a 500-acre farm field void of government involvement.

It looks into Augusta County's desire to cultivate agri-tourism, and Del. Steve Landes' agri-tourism bill that passed this year's General Assembly, and questions the fairness of the decision of who can participate in agri-tourism ... and who can't.

And it looks at community reaction ... questions that have been brought up by county citizens who wonder if they will be next by what is perceived as an overbearing Big Government mentality.

I had not seen the movie October Sky for a number of years so checked it out of the Churchville Library to once again get the feel of students who dream ... and the adults who nurture those dreams. In the movie, one adult who encouraged Homer was his teacher Miss Riley who died at age 31 of Hodgkin's Disease but not before she planted the seed for him to look beyond the coal mines and pursue his dreams of space.

In Augusta County, we hope to one day see local dreams played out once again, and we hope the Rocket Boys are allowed to again fly the skies of western Virginia.

Feedback about this series is welcomed.

Related stories:
- SWAC Girl: Del. Landes' agri-tourism bill passes House
- WHSV TV-3: Agritourism Brings Boost for Augusta County
- NBC 29: Rocketry club goes to court to get permit
- Staunton News Leader: Sparring launches in rocket case
- Staunton NL: Rocket club grounded
- Staunton NL: Aerospace Team may scratch launches
- Staunton NL: Why can't we give rocket club a chance?
- Staunton NL: Zoning board denies permit for rocketry club
- Waynesboro News Virginian: Throttle up: Rocketry appeal heats up
- Waynesboro NV: Zoning board denies liftoff of Swoope rockets
Update: WVTF Public Radio news story - 4/7/10
- Waynesboro NV: Go for launch - 9/25/10
- SWAC Girl: Are the skies friendlier in Highland than Augusta for the Rocket Boys? - 9/26/10

Other bloggers write about Rocket Boys:
- Yankee Phil: Local boys trying to be good ... denied in Augusta County
- Yankee Phil: More info on ... Local boys trying to be good ... denied in Augusta County
- The Journey: No rockets on company property
- Virginia Virtucon
- StrictlyVA
- The Journey: His neighbors didn't like rockets either

1 comment:

Bob K. said...

October Sky has to be one of my all-time favorite movies. Pam knows I can quote whole sections of the dialogue from it. Of course, I've Never Referenced It in My Blog [click to read], have I?

My Mother and Father met at the Glenn L. Martin Company's Middle River Plant in Baltimore. They both worked in the engineering department. Dad went on to do structural testing on spacecraft at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt.

The funny twist in my life is that I was the artistic, non engineering son of engineers. The Father-son relationship portrayed in the movie took a different turn for me, but the film so resonates with much of my own growing up experience.

Annie's Father-in-law, coming from a small mountain community in Pennsylvania, also loves October Sky. Some of Steve's ancestors were miners.