Transcript: Space4U podcast, Homer Hickam
Written by: Space Foundation Editorial Team
Hello, and welcome to Space4U. I’m Rich Cooper with Space Foundation, and this is the Space4U podcast conversations with the men and women that shaped today’s global space ecosystem. And their stories of their journeys and the impacts they’ve made. One of the most celebrated of those stories is the story of a young man and his friends in Coalwood, West Virginia, who inspired by the start of the space age, started building and launching rockets.
The book was called Rocket Boys written by Homer Hickam. His coming-of-age autobiography would subsequently become the film October Sky, starring Jake Gyllenhaal playing the role of. But Rocket Boys was just the start of an amazing career that took him to NASA as well as lots of other places. But it was also the start of a writing career for Homer more than two decades after he published his first book, Rocket Boys, he’s written more than a dozen fictional and nonfictional bestsellers.
And on October 19th, 2021, he will release a new follow-up memoir to rocket boys called, and I love this title, Don’t Blow Yourself Up. It’s a story that picks up the, tell the rest of Homer’s life story, and that takes them to college, Vietnam, underwater, to NASA and remote locations, looking for dinosaur bones.
I’m proud and humbled to be joined by him today. To talk more about his new book and what’s happening in today’s space, Homer Hickam. Welcome to Space4U.
Well, thank you, Richard. It’s great to be with you. And of course, it’s always my place with that kind of introduction to apologize for not actually being Jake Gyllenhaal, believe me when I’m out making speeches and so on, I get a lot of disappointed looks from the, from the young women out in the audience who are, we’re looking for Jake and here’s this old gray haired dude. But I understand that Jake goes around apologizing for not being me. So. That’s only fair, but again, you put in your new book, a fabulous shot of you and your cadet uniform.
So again, you, you you’re given Jake run for your money there again, I guess I had my day, you had your day as the frame. Uh, writing a book is truly a personal, and it’s a disciplined experience, which you’ve obviously refined having done more than a dozen books, but a memoir is different as it’s a self-chronicle about yourself while it’s your story and recollection, how hard is that to produce?
How do you know what to put in that story and what. Yeah, memoir writers do have to remember that it is as important, what you leave out as much as what you put in there. So, it is a difficult process. I like to say for Rocket Boys, I got a million dollars’ worth of psychotherapy. I didn’t know I needed when I wrote that book.
And now, now with Don’t Blow Yourself Up, I got unfortunately, another million dollars where it’s psychotherapy, but I realized as I was writing it. Why have you waited so long to get this out? Because you really needed to, you needed to really think through all these things that happened. So, what I recommend though, for memoir writers and I’ve taught some classes on it is you kind of have to know.
Where you’re going with this, you can’t just sit down and write everything that happened and be all over the map. I learned this writing Rocket Boys. You’ve got to run a thread through the whole book that ultimately, you’re going to have an end that satisfies. To the reader and for Rocket Boys, the thread that runs through the entire book is the relationship between me and my father and that very, very powerful.
It’s not in every scene, but it is the one that always come back to and it ties it up at the end when that boy Sonny Hickam or in the movie was called Homer and his father get a moment of redemption if you will, between them and then understanding between when they launched this final rocket. And so, for a memoir, like Don’t Blow Yourself Up, which is the different times of my life.
It is what thread do we run through that? And the thread really is the end scene. And Don’t Blow Yourself Up is me going back to beginning scene as me leaving Coalwood, West Virginia, the mining town, where I grew up and the ending is where I come back. To meet with the governor of the state and the people at call would, and my mother to essentially pull the whole piece together.
But a lot of things have to happen in between and with a memoir, you have to say, progression of the person. In other words, you can’t stay the same person the whole time and you have to see how that person improves. Sometimes falls apart, fails a lot and carry the reader along, wanting to turn the page to see what’s going to happen to this character.
And in a memoir, you are essentially a character. You talk about the thread of this book, starting with you leaving Coalwood and then returning to Coalwood certainly you threaded that through the entire story, but what are the lessons learned that you want someone to take away from reading your memoir?
Whether that be Rocket Boys, or again, now that you’ve got the new book out, Don’t Blow Yourself Up. What do you want someone to take away from? Well, I want them to, to go with me to feel like that they were with me during the entire time, more than a message or, or I could say that I want people to understand that if you persevere in anything, eventually you’re going to get there and I’m that I’m kind of a model of that. I do like to persevere through things, whether I’m doing some, uh, sometimes smart and sometimes maybe not smart, but, uh, my reason and purpose for writing this is basically the, have the reader. Like they’re my friend. And they were right beside me going through this whole thing and experiencing the whole thing and get an understanding of those 40 years from 1968 to 2000, what happened in the world and how I saw it and then how I experienced it. So, at the end of it, I do hope that upon reflection, they can look back and say, well, I learned something, but I didn’t know and I experienced something if I curiously, but I would have never experienced. And how do I use that experience in my own life? How does that help me in my own life?
And ultimately I think the, the answer, and I’ve always said that it’s better to be lucky than good. And there’s no question that I’ve been lucky, very lucky throughout the life that I haven’t really blown myself up. Well, come close a couple of times, but ultimately, it’s perseverance to, uh, to see a thing.
I want to start with the section of your book that time at Virginia Tech that I have to say, I thought it was hilarious. I laughed out loud when I was reading this, especially the story you have of forging Skipper, the cannon that’s now fired at all the Hokies football games. And that’s now become a tradition at these football games.
I’m curious to hear your thoughts on what I will call pioneering a cultural tradition. Can a tradition ever be planned for, or does it just fall into place? Because yours seems to be all the stars kind of aligned at that right moment, but I’m curious for your thoughts on it. Rich to one thing about the Skipper story is that it is illustrative that you’re not entirely in charge of your destiny.
Even when you think you are thinking of don’t blow yourself up. What I was faced with and grant holdup was great. Thicker was the idea of building a civil war type of cannon and learning to fire it. I knew nothing about it, but in terms of, did I realize, and the two other cadets there at Virginia Tech, did we really realize that what we were doing was going to create an icon for this university that resonates down through the many, many decades and it was still there today? No, not at all. What we wanted to do was to build this cannon, to show up our arts rival Virginia Military Institute, because they had this little pop gun. They called it little Johnny. And during the great military classic of the south, we had every Thanksgiving, when we played VMI, they would drag that little thing out and fire it and go, “Where’s your cannon, where’s your cannon?”.
So, we wanted that one time that have not some little pop gun, but a true big civil war style brass cannon that we would drag out and fire it and go here’s our cannon and so we fought everybody, we fought the administration and we went through all of this consternation that learn how to build this thing and then how to fire it without blowing ourselves up too often.
And, and we got to say Here’s our cannon matter of fact, the thing was so loud that and had a shockwave that came out of that cannon with so massive that it blew the hats off to the VMI Cadet Corps on the other side of the field and cracked the glass up in the press box. So that was it. We had done it, but it was the success of generation cadets and really the administration and everybody that went to Virginia Tech, they just, that just embraced this cannon. And, uh, so I was as surprised as anybody, but that happened, but very grateful.
Do you think you could get away with that today? No, as you know, uh, of course in Rocket Boys and the movie, October Sky, they show us dragged off to jail for what we were doing, even though we’re always, but, uh, no, we couldn’t do it.
I mean, the first place the administration, uh, they would say, no, you can’t do this because you might hurt yourself and you don’t know what you’re doing, but you know, that’s sometimes the fun, actually, it is more fun when you don’t know what you’re doing and you learn along the way. And I guess that’s part of what this, the Skipper story part of this book is us learning just with, as with the Rocket Boys learning, uh, gradually and sometimes dangerously how to build this thing and how to fire it. So, uh, no, you couldn’t do it. You couldn’t do it today. Not at all.
I want to go to your chapters on Vietnam, which also had their share of humor, but also the seriousness of the conditions that you found yourself in. But one thing that really stood out to me, whed I read this, was one, your recollection of names, but your recollections of the sights and sounds, and I would even say tastes of those experiences.
How did you go about recreating that narrative? Did it come from letters back home, other histories? I know you went back to Vietnam a couple of years ago, and certainly the country has changed since then was through conversations with Army buddies or is it just having a phenomenal memory. You know, just as with Rocket Boys, I wanted the re recollection to be mine and not those of others around me, the other Rocket Boys, or in this case, the guys that I served with over in Vietnam, because if you do that, my sense is that they might recall it in a different way and their story might be different. And I might be a little bit resentment to build up that you told the story in a different way.
I have to say with Rocket Boys, I’ve never heard any complaint from the other boys or for anybody that I’ve put in that book that I had portrayed them in a way that, that wasn’t true. So no, what I, I just used my memory and I actually had resisted for all these many, many years rethinking Vietnam. I had firmly put that experience in my rear-view mirror because I recognize it was potentially destructive to my future to dwell on it.
And unfortunately, in a lot of cases, when folks are involved with combat, that becomes the singular event in their life and they keep going back to it and it wasn’t necessarily a pleasant experience. So, uh, I really, really wanted to put that in my rear-view mirror and move ahead.
So I just sat down and basically started to rethink from the get go and all the names were still there and it was a very, very important part of my life. And so I remembered, uh, all of these folks. I, I disguised a couple of them. I didn’t think that it was fair to use their real names and necessarily the real descriptions, but for the most part, the names I use are the real ones and what they did really happened.
I have tracked those folks down and alerted them that, Hey, they’re about to be in a book about, to be in a memoir. And this is a story I told and they, they all like it and think it’s going to be fun to be in a book, but I warned them essentially, you’re going to have to go back through the Vietnam experience, uh, with me.
And they’re not afraid of that. That’s fine. It was not an easy thing to do to go back through all of that being in a situation like that and under a lot of pressure, constantly, sometimes funny things happen. And I wanted to bring out that as well. You’ve got a lot of, a lot of fellows out there in the boonies hacking around and sometimes funny things happen.
So I, I didn’t want it to be all just tragedy. One scene that’s sort of left out to me was after you had just finished talking with some people walking back, I believe it was two to your Jeep and there was an explosion and you were knocked out. And the next thing you remember, it’s a day or so later, and you’re in a hospital and this very attractive nurse is the first person you saw.
And you certainly, again, you, you, you write in a style that you were able to capture, I mean, remember that. I don’t remember anything about ever coming out of a recovery room, but you obviously have a better memory than me. Yeah, but that was absolutely ingrained in the, in my memory of, I only saw that woman once very briefly, but I can still see her today.
I can see everything about her and her wonderfully Juicy Fruit breath that she had and I had just managed to blow myself up or somebody had managed to blow me up and I wanted to include that it was like coming out of the haze and that’s what happens of course, with any kind of surgery or any kind of unconsciousness, it’s you go in and out in and out.
And then all of a sudden you’re fully awake. And I wanted to bring that to the reader. What that, what that might. Let’s talk about your time at NASA. You were a big part of the Shuttle era as an instructor and as an aerospace engineer, is there a particular mission or payload that you worked on that you are the most proud of having been part?
Well, you know, I have to say Spacelab-J our first American Japanese joint space flight. I spent really three years of my life, totally fully dedicated to that mission, which meant during those three years over a year of that was spent in Japan getting to know those folks over there. There were a number of trials and tribulations as I write about in there and learning how to work with the Japanese and also having to deal with an American crew that wasn’t so thrilled necessarily about being over in Japan.
And this kind of being in between, I was the payload training manager and kind of caught between extreme. So we see some humor in that as well. And we see that even though I’ve gone through a lot of experiences up to that point, I’m still perfectly capable of missing. And I did mess up over in Japan a little bit, I, as, as I learned how to work with the Japanese and how I learned to be the in-between management between the American side and the Japanese side.
So again, hopefully a lot of humor comes out in that, but also some serious discussion of international, uh, between NASA, between the United States and, uh, and other countries, and how sometimes you have to get involved with the culture, the new culture, the different culture, but you’re working with and understand.
Be flexible with it and hopefully bring everything together at the end. And besides Spacelab-J, I would have to say the Hubble space telescope repair mission. I was very much involved with that. I was also, I was also involved with the Hubble deployment all with the neutral buoyancy simulator. I was a diver with the neutral buoyancy simulator, the big tank of water there at Marshall Space Flight Center.
And, uh, where we practice extra vehicular activity, you using the buoyancy of water to simulate the waitlist conditions of space. So that was involved with the deployment, working with folks like Bruce McCandless and Kathy Sullivan. And then when it was clear that we’d have to go up and fix it, that needed to be done again in our tank there in Huntsville.
So the folks at Goddard that got. Really ran that. But there at Marshall, we were the divers. We were the folks that were going into the suit and actually going through all the procedures on how to repair the Hubble before story Musgrave and his crew came up. So I’m very proud to have been part of that.
NASA is now in what we’re calling the Artemis era with its sights set back on the moon today, the agency has something that you didn’t have when you were there. And that is an emerging suite of commercial options and providers. What are your thoughts on that and how this new era of space is unfair? Right. Well, you’re absolutely right. I mean, the shuttle and all of its propulsion systems and everything else about it was basically built by commercial vendors, but to the design of the NASA engineers.
So the big difference now is that we’re seeing spacecraft designed from the very beginnings and then actually fielded by the commercial operators with NASA, basically just doing an overview of it and sometimes providing the funds in order to do it. So this is just amazing to me and wonderful that this is happening.
I have to say that I was a big early supporter of SpaceX. Um, I actually met Elon in space camp years and years ago before he started the SpaceX, he had already made his millions with PayPal, but he came to adult space camp. And, uh, I was there and, uh, talked to him a little bit. And, uh, he was an interesting fellow, but I, I never had any idea it was going to be as successful as he was.
But when I heard SpaceX was going, we’re kinda in a lull, uh, with the space program at that time, post Columbia accident. We were building the Space Station, but it was mostly built. So here comes this SpaceX and they’re out in, Kwajalein trying to launch these rockets and failing one after the other. And I was emailing Elon at that time keep going, keep going. This is wonderful. It’s great. And thank goodness he did keep going because essentially SpaceX has revolutionized space flight more than any other company in the last 40, 50 years. Uh, the idea of actually being able to recover a boost or I still watch that to me. That’s the most amazing thing.
Yeah. Yeah. Fine. You’re an orbit, but let’s see that booster land. I am just asking. Little bit memorized by being able to watch that because I don’t think NASA would have ever attempted that landing. I mean, it’s ocean. I mean, we did the DCX years and years ago, uh, Pete Conrad, uh, headed that up, which was essentially.
Uh, taking off with a rocket and, and, you know, making a hop and landing back tail first. And we did that a little bit until it, one of the landing legs didn’t come out and it fell over and blew up. Thinking of don’t blow yourself up. What Elon, what SpaceX has done, it’s just revolutionary. It would have been, I think to difficult to go out and try that because NASA doesn’t like you to see a lot of their rockets blowing up.
So it took somebody with a lot of guts, a lot of determination and the little seed money from NASA, like Elon to make this. You’re someone who’s watched the space community operate as a trainer, as an engineer, as a program manager, and you live in the community of Huntsville, where space is truly part of life there.
What advice would you give to a young person or an entrepreneur wanting to break into this? Yeah. Well, I mean, Huntsville, if you’re talking about the Huntsville community, I’ll get to the space community in a bit, but a Huntsville community I can tell you right now, this is a great place for young people to come.
There are a bunch of young entrepreneurs here, starting up commercial companies in the space business and the computer business and every other kind of business that there possibly can be. So this is a young, vibrant and growing community. And you know, you come here with any kind of engineering degree or any kind of technical skill, and believe me, you’re going to find companies that are just going to be wanting to hire you right now. And let’s go, let’s go do something new.
In terms of the space community across our country. Right now, the concepts of companies like Blue Origin and SpaceX and Dynetics and some of these young startup companies that are happening right now, there’s just so much opportunity out there.
And so you get that engineering degree, you get that technical degree and you kind of still need that paper, you know, to get, to get hired by these companies. But once you do, I don’t think you’re going to have any trouble getting a job. You can almost pick and choose. So I do recommend go out there and get that piece of paper.
You don’t have to go to MIT. You don’t have to go to Cal Tech. You don’t even have to go to Virginia Tech. There are a lot of the colleges across the country where you can get a technical degree, get that early training, trying to be a co-op if you possibly can, where you are an intern where you work for an aerospace company or for NASA, while you’re still going to school.
That’s very, very helpful to get that under your belt looks great on your resume. So yeah, it’s the opportunities right now are just amazing. And I just, uh, it just seems to me that the space business is just going to get bigger and bigger. Your book, Rocket Boys is testament to the curiosity and drive that young people have.
And your new book Don’t Blow Yourself Up is literally a perfect companion to that as it talks about pursuing your goals, pursuing your dreams and fulfilling those aspirations. It’s certainly resonated with the space community you shared in other interviews, the number of Air Force cadets or other military academy cadets, or just young people coming up to you of all ages and being inspired by that story.
I’m curious though, has your story resonated with international audiences as much as it has with national domestic audiences. Yeah. I mean actually, um, Rocket Boys, and of course the movie, October Sky is still very popular internationally. I think we’re up to 14 international additions of, of Rocket Boys and the movie is shown just everywhere.
So I can kind of tell where the movies being shown because I started getting letters from China or India or Brazil or wherever it is. I like to say every substitute teacher in the world shows October Sky, uh, students uh, they get that and I think, oh, this is going to be boring. And then I get totally immersed in and it’s, um, it’s a pretty amazing to me even today, but this story resonates as much as it does.
And I was almost the last person as I write it and Don’t Blow Yourself Up. I was almost the last person to understand why I needed to write about these boys back in this little coal town that, that built rockets. And when I did, I was surprised more, probably more surprised than anybody how popular it became.
So yeah, I hear, I still hear, uh, nearly every day from a student, um, across the world or somebody that’s now like, you know, working in the aerospace community that want to write and tell me that they’re there because of the, um, the story of the Rocket Boys. And I’m really, really, very pleased at that. It continues to resonate and I hope this new book Don’t Blow Yourself Up will also because it tells the story um, uh, what happened after these boys?
And I think that’s important because I’ve had questions over the years about, well, what, how did you do that? Because the movie just says, well, then Homer went up to work for NASA, but there was a lot more of an had to happen in between before that.
So hopefully these, these young. I can see that even though roadblocks may be put up in front of you to reach your goals, if you know, perseverance will get you there. If you keep your focus on, on that throughout the years. So I have to ask this and I think you’ve already tipped your hand on the answer by a comment you made earlier.
But this summer we saw Wally Funk finally get her ride to space after 60 plus years of waiting courtesy of Jeff Bezos and Blue Origin, uh, this past summer, would you like to take a similar suborbital flight or would you prefer the longer orbital flight that we’re seeing right now with the inspiration for crew that’s up there?
Would you rather go on the Dragon Capsule? You know, I I’ll take any seat. I’m not, I’m not going to be selective if it was opportunity. Sure. I would absolutely absolutely go suborbital or orbital. Orbital is a lot more difficult, frankly because of Space Adaptation Syndrome. It takes a little while once you’re in orbit to recover from the weightless conditions, we see that over I’ve seen that over many, many missions where I’ve been the training manager, and we know that the first couple of days tends to be uncomfortable and a microgravity, a fully immersive microgravity environment.
And so you have to kind of prepare for that. The Russians typically don’t let their cosmonauts do anything for the first couple of days, except rest because of this syndrome that you could get into, which is basically like being seasick, the Americans on the other hand, flying on the shuttle, those astronauts had because of the timeline, you know, you up there for a short period of time, they had to immediately go to work.
So we had, um, a lot of ways to overcome that. And mostly it was sometimes the astronaut that wasn’t sick, kind of pick up the slack until the other one gets better. And so the, in terms of would I go suborbital orbital. I go either one, if somebody was foolish enough to offer me a seat I think it would be fun.
One thing about the suborbital though, I, I noticed with the, uh, New Shepard flight, that there was a lot of play once they got up there, they were doing somersaults and playing with their food and all that. I hope it doesn’t occur in a future for other fliers, because I think that’s kind of a waste of time.
You can do that on the various vomit comments, the KC-135 and the, the, um, uh, zero G parabolic aircraft. You can, you can do all that playing on those, but if you’re actually in space above the Karman Line, I think it should be looking out the window. You should be because you’re not, you’re only up there for a few minutes.
So I would stay in my seat and look out the window and just marvel at this view of the earth and then I didn’t want to be able to look up and look at the stars. And so I probably would be considered an old Grinch on a suborbital flight, but that would be my focus. I’m happy to be a company in your Grinch-dom, them there because I would have my face pressed up against the glass too.
And I think there was some criticism uh, the, the Richard Branson flight, a couple of them of the participants just sat in their seat and didn’t float up and there’s not as much room and the Virgin Galactic plane, but yeah, I mean, that’s why you’re up there. You’re up there too, to grasp the enormity of being in space and looking back, and then looking up as well.
In the new space Renaissance that’s happening today we’ve got all these new companies investments, countries and participants, we even have a Space Force with its Guardians. What is it that stands out to you the most that gives you the most positive feelings about what’s happening today, but is there anything that gives you concern?
Well, Rich as you know I’m kinda a Luna file if you will. And I, whereas I, I love the idea of going back to the Moon because I think that we’ve got real work to do on the Moon. I think that Mars is all wonderful and all that, but the robots are doing a great job for now. And I would rather that our focus be on the Moon. And so that does give me pause when always say, well, the Moon is just a stop and then we’re going onto Mars.
That’s yeah, I think that ultimately what’s got to open up space is when we essentially have a product that we’re bringing back from space, tourists, tourism is all wonderful and good, but I don’t know that we’ve ever established a country or a base. If you will, just based upon tourism, ultimately you have to do like real work and what’s the real work to be done on the Moon, I think is mining the Moon.
I think that there are real resources that we’re going to find on the moon and already know about rare earth, you know, the helium three, Thorium and all that. But I think there’ll be some surprises on what we find at there that we will want to bring back to earth. And ultimately we will build a space civilization based upon that and not tourism.
Tourism is all wonderful and all that kind of thing. And, and also of course our national pride and I get that. But I think what will actually open up space ultimately are the minerals that we find out there, the resources that we find out there that we can bring back to Earth that will make life better on Earth.
That’s going to require some really, really tough people to go out there and to live in the worst environment that we, that the human race will ever have to try to tame. Settling the west and all that was hard, but it’s going to be nothing like settling the Moon and, and then going on out further than that.
So it’s going to require some really tough people. And I think one of the things that’s going to happen that will be extremely important, that hasn’t happened yet is a philosophy of life is going to have to be developed that allows the mindset to go and conquer and settle the solar system. We don’t have that mindset right now.
I don’t think. We’re still, you know, we’re still saying, well, let’s, don’t blow ourselves up. I think we’re going to have to kind of accept the fact that we will. And, uh, uh, in some cases blowing ourselves up in a, in a process of progress, but that’s okay. Because our new philosophy that we have developed allows that sometimes failures and sometimes the loss of life in order to reach this goal.
So it’s going to be interesting to me how I would say stoicism is probably the philosophy we’re going to have to go back and refine. We were going to have to be stoic in the process of developing space and that philosophy right now really hasn’t taken home, but I think it must, and I think it will. So you’ve identified yourself as what I call a Moon Guy
That’s what that, that’s what I’ve got my, uh, heart and mind set on to see what we do there. So I’m going to ask you you’re Commander, Homer Hickam. You get to pick a crew of anyone from history present day that you would want as part of your crew to go to the Moon who is on your mission patch. What are the crew names that you want to have going with you to the Moon.
Well, I’d probably want in first place I’d want an experienced astronauts. So I’d probably want my friend Gibson to go with me, or maybe Kathy Sullivan. I’d want somebody that has already gone through this and, and has a good grasp of the realities of it and not be all starry eyed. It’s going to be wonderful.
No Homer. No, no. You’re going to blow yourself up to keep doing it, you know, so I would want somebody experienced, but I would have to say. I, and I write about this and don’t blow yourself up. I had this group of a scuba divers. I was a scuba instructor for years, and I had this group of scuba divers that I called the shallow divers.
And they went with me through some amazing experiences diving on deep wrecks, the U boats that I dived on and off North Carolina. And. Also training the space campers at that space camp here in Huntsville with the underwater astronaut trainer that we built, that was a very, very cohesive team. And, um, of course we’re all a little older now, but if I could go back and actually, you know, get, get us as we were as young people, we had a lot of fun.
But we were also very, very qualified in what we were doing. So some team like that, and I might go back also to the Vietnam era and pluck out the couple of folks, Rick Terrell from, he was a Texas A&M graduate who taught me how to call in artillery. God bless you, Rick, to this day for teaching me how to do that.
Yeah, great section of the book. Thank you. You know, folks like that, I’ve been blessed with throughout my life with folks that are a lot smarter than I am and know, you just know a lot more than I do, but are willing to take me under their wing sometimes without me realizing it and teaching me some things about not only how to do things technically, but just about life in general.
As you chronicle in this book, as you did in Rocket Boys, and you said this again, it’s, it’s almost a refrain in your life, you know, don’t, you’re going to get yourself blown up. What is the last time someone warned you about that and what were you doing to elicit that warning? Well, you know, uh, I’ve kind of shied away from pyrotechnics.
So the last couple of decades, except for maybe shooting off model rockets, and I don’t think I’m going to, and that’s that’s with other people at like, out at space camp. So I don’t think I’m going to blow myself up doing that. So that’s pretty safe. I’d say the closest to it though, is the fact that become an avid amateur paleontologist.
And I have a long with a very small little team I created this little team of folks that we go out every summer under a permit with a, a licensed paleontologist and survey the Hell Creek formation, looking for Cretaceous dinosaurs. That includes Mr. T Mr. And Mrs.T-Rex and the triceratops. And, and hadrosaurs all the animals that you see in Jurassic Park are actually Cretaceous, but nevermind. So I’ve been told many times they’re suggested from the paleontologist and it’s like, you know that there’s nothing up there. It’s too steep. It’s too dangerous to go up on.
You know, and, and look for things and it’s, you know, there’s not going to be anything up there anyway. And I go, I, I, I I’m too ignorant not to go. So I did go up there and sometimes I’ve managed to get myself into some pretty dark situations, but it’s for science and it’s also for fun. So I would say, uh, hunted dinosaurs out in this, these battles.
Which except for an atmosphere looks just like Mars. So, so I’m, I’m out there trying, not necessarily to kill myself, uh, doing that, but Montana tries, it tries to kill me every so often. And so that’s probably the closest to them. The best-selling writer, an accomplished engineer, a decorated soldier, notable instructor, veteran, scuba diver sought after speaker and even accomplished paleontology.
Are you the 21st century Renaissance, man? Well, you know, I wonder about that. I wonder if the people in, during the actual Renaissance thought of themselves as Renaissance people, I don’t think you know that until you look back. And so now what it is focused on things. I love the idea of having an adventure in my life and, and when it’s presented to me, I just grab it and I just go with it and I just want to make it happen so much.
Like writing Torpedo Junction, my first book, which required all that diving on, on the, uh, deep uh, awful wrecks off North Carolina and the graveyard and Atlantic and all of that. I was just mesmerized by the idea of doing all this. So I guess I’ve done all these things. I don’t mean to do them. They just, they come to me and then I grabbed them with all my heart.
But I think everybody, and I hope people get that out of this book as well, that you always want to have an adventure in your life. You always want to have some goal, some, some wonderful, marvelous goal, and then you just give, give everything within you to make that happen. And that to me is what makes makes life fun and that has caused all these different adventures over a long period of time.
It is almost a Forrest Gump type of a aspect of, uh, finding yourself in those incredible, uh, life-changing and history making moments been accused of being kind of a, a slightly higher IQ Forrest Gump. And I can go along with that. I think that’s great.
I think that’s that looked at the Forrest had a great heart. Yeah, he did. And I had an opportunity of course, to meet a Winston Groom who passed away a couple of years ago about a great writer who wrote Forrest Gump and discuss that very thing. He had read some of my stuff and said, God, gosh, Homer, I should have written about you.
And it’s like, no, I think you got the right character. I have to tell you when I finished the book as I was thinking about the sort of soundtrack of that era music and everything Forrest Gump in many ways came to mind that says, I was thinking of the musical soundtrack of where you are in your life. And again, it’s an amazing read here.
So when this book gets made into a movie, another Hollywood blockbuster, is there anyone besides Jake Gyllenhaal who should be playing you in the, in this movie? Hmm. You know, uh, actually, uh, Jake would still do a great, great job. There was another actor though in October Sky that I really admired, and that was Chad Lindberg, who, uh, played Sherman, Sherman O’Dell, uh, in that movie.
And I’ve kept up with Chad. Uh, over the years and, um, we’re still very, very good friends, so, and he’s a great actor. So I would love it. If there is any kind of film made, made on it, I don’t know how they would do it, but if they did it, maybe they would pick out one section. I would certainly be very pleased to see Chad playing me.
The book is called Don’t Blow Yourself Up by Homer Hickam. Homer, it has been an absolute joy to spend this time with you as you continue to share what is a fabulous life story. Again, the book is called Don’t Blow Yourself Up. It’s released October 19th, 2021. Certainly it, all those book outlets that you, uh, take a look at, uh, they will have it, but you can go to homerhickam.com and also acquire that and some of the other, uh, wonderful works that he has done. It has been a pleasure to spend this time with you. Thank you for joining space for you. We are grateful for everything that you have done and still do, and cannot wait to see what your next discovery and what your next chapter will be.
Thank you, Rich. Uh, this has been a great conversation. You’re a great interviewer. And so, thank you for that.
And that concludes this episode of Space4U with Homer Hickam. Please keep a watch on spacefoundation.org, certainly on the internet, but then through all of our social media outlets, being Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn, because at Space Foundation, we will always have Space4U.
Thanks for listening.
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