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On Island Profile: Homer Hickam

Nov. 30, 2007 — A number of notable people own homes on St. John or settle in to a villa or hotel for a week or two. Most stay well below the island's radar, but not part-time St. John resident Homer Hickam.
The popular author is an avid supporter of the Elaine I. Sprauve Library, going so far as to be a featured speaker at the library's speaker series.
His next appearance is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Dec. 7. His books will be available for signing and purchase.
"I am a big supporter of anything that encourages literacy," he says. "It is a natural for me to support the Sprauve library in any way I can."
One of his books, Rocket Boys, is widely used as reading material in school systems across the country.
"They get absorbed in this book, and it primes the pump for more reading," he says, speaking during a recent phone interview.
Libraries across the country are struggling, so he's willing to do what he can to help Sprauve library, Hickam says. And while he gets paid big money to speak at other locations, he does it for free on St. John.
"I tell funny stories and get people to laugh," he says, urging residents and visitors to attend when he speaks.
His next book Red Helmet, is a romance with the opening scene set on St. John, Hickam says. It's due out in February. His latest book is The Far Reaches, third in a series of books about Josh Thurlow, a Coast Guard officer during World War II.
The library has a complete collection of Hickam's works, says Librarian Carol McGuinness. Hickam first made contact with the library when he stopped by to donate his books. She says she wishes others notable residents and visitors would do the same.
"We have a lot of resources we haven't tapped," she says.
Hickam started writing after returning home from Vietnam in 1968. He served with the U.S. Army after graduating in 1964 from Virginia Polytechnic Institute with a bachelor's degree in industrial engineering. He started with articles about scuba diving, segueing into books about World War II. Torpedo Junction, published in 1989, was a military history bestseller.
His second book, Rocket Boys, published in 1998, told the story of growing up in Coalwood, West Virginia. In 1999, Universal Studios released "October Sky," a movie based on Rocket Boys. The book was then re-released as October Sky, reaching number one on the New York Times bestseller list.
Back to the Moon followed in 1999, then Hickam wrote three more books about Coalwood.
Although the writing life kept him busy, he also reached professional acclaim in the aerospace industry. Hickam, now 64, worked as an engineer for the U.S. Army Missile Command from 1971 to 1981 in Huntsville, Alabama, and Germany. In 1981, he started working as an aerospace engineer with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration at the Marshall Space Flight Center.
During his NASA career, Hickam worked in spacecraft design and crew training. He trained astronauts on science payloads and extravehicular activities. He also trained astronaut crews for many Spacelab and Space Shuttle missions, including the Hubble Space Telescope deployment mission, the first two Hubble repair missions, Spacelab-J with the first Japanese astronauts and the Solar Max repair mission.
Before his retirement in 1998, Hickam was the payload training manager for the International Space Station Program.
He recently was interviewed on NBC News as part of a piece on the 50th anniversary of Sputnik.
"Every time there's a coal mine accident or a space accident, I'm the one they call," Hickam says.
In 1984, Hickam received Alabama's distinguished service award for heroism shown during a rescue effort of the crew and passengers of a sunken paddle boat in the Tennessee River. Because of this award, the U.S. Olympic Committee picked him to carry the Olympic Torch through Huntsville, Alabama, on its way to Atlanta.
Hickam and his wife, Linda, own a home in the Coral Bay area, splitting their time between Alabama and St. John. They visit every few months for two to three weeks at a time.
"Linda and I are both retired scuba instructors, and have been all over the Caribbean," he says. "We think St. John is the best island of them all. The main reason is the St. Johnians themselves. They are just great, and we're glad to have so many new friends there."
Hickam says he likes the diversity of the people he meets on St. John, and he and his wife fit right in.
They were visiting St. John when the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks happened. This forced them to spend an additional week, which gave them time to look around and decide to buy. They didn't find a house they wanted on that trip, but when their real estate agent later found one that fit the bill, they bought it sight unseen.
Hickam says he hopes to spend more time on St. John, because thanks to technology he can work anywhere. However, for now, aging cats keep them intermittently in Alabama.
While on St. John, he and his wife snorkel and hike every day.
"I go to St. John to play and relax," he says.
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Nov. 30, 2007 -- A number of notable people own homes on St. John or settle in to a villa or hotel for a week or two. Most stay well below the island's radar, but not part-time St. John resident Homer Hickam.
The popular author is an avid supporter of the Elaine I. Sprauve Library, going so far as to be a featured speaker at the library's speaker series.
His next appearance is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Dec. 7. His books will be available for signing and purchase.
"I am a big supporter of anything that encourages literacy," he says. "It is a natural for me to support the Sprauve library in any way I can."
One of his books, Rocket Boys, is widely used as reading material in school systems across the country.
"They get absorbed in this book, and it primes the pump for more reading," he says, speaking during a recent phone interview.
Libraries across the country are struggling, so he's willing to do what he can to help Sprauve library, Hickam says. And while he gets paid big money to speak at other locations, he does it for free on St. John.
"I tell funny stories and get people to laugh," he says, urging residents and visitors to attend when he speaks.
His next book Red Helmet, is a romance with the opening scene set on St. John, Hickam says. It's due out in February. His latest book is The Far Reaches, third in a series of books about Josh Thurlow, a Coast Guard officer during World War II.
The library has a complete collection of Hickam's works, says Librarian Carol McGuinness. Hickam first made contact with the library when he stopped by to donate his books. She says she wishes others notable residents and visitors would do the same.
"We have a lot of resources we haven't tapped," she says.
Hickam started writing after returning home from Vietnam in 1968. He served with the U.S. Army after graduating in 1964 from Virginia Polytechnic Institute with a bachelor's degree in industrial engineering. He started with articles about scuba diving, segueing into books about World War II. Torpedo Junction, published in 1989, was a military history bestseller.
His second book, Rocket Boys, published in 1998, told the story of growing up in Coalwood, West Virginia. In 1999, Universal Studios released "October Sky," a movie based on Rocket Boys. The book was then re-released as October Sky, reaching number one on the New York Times bestseller list.
Back to the Moon followed in 1999, then Hickam wrote three more books about Coalwood.
Although the writing life kept him busy, he also reached professional acclaim in the aerospace industry. Hickam, now 64, worked as an engineer for the U.S. Army Missile Command from 1971 to 1981 in Huntsville, Alabama, and Germany. In 1981, he started working as an aerospace engineer with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration at the Marshall Space Flight Center.
During his NASA career, Hickam worked in spacecraft design and crew training. He trained astronauts on science payloads and extravehicular activities. He also trained astronaut crews for many Spacelab and Space Shuttle missions, including the Hubble Space Telescope deployment mission, the first two Hubble repair missions, Spacelab-J with the first Japanese astronauts and the Solar Max repair mission.
Before his retirement in 1998, Hickam was the payload training manager for the International Space Station Program.
He recently was interviewed on NBC News as part of a piece on the 50th anniversary of Sputnik.
"Every time there's a coal mine accident or a space accident, I'm the one they call," Hickam says.
In 1984, Hickam received Alabama's distinguished service award for heroism shown during a rescue effort of the crew and passengers of a sunken paddle boat in the Tennessee River. Because of this award, the U.S. Olympic Committee picked him to carry the Olympic Torch through Huntsville, Alabama, on its way to Atlanta.
Hickam and his wife, Linda, own a home in the Coral Bay area, splitting their time between Alabama and St. John. They visit every few months for two to three weeks at a time.
"Linda and I are both retired scuba instructors, and have been all over the Caribbean," he says. "We think St. John is the best island of them all. The main reason is the St. Johnians themselves. They are just great, and we're glad to have so many new friends there."
Hickam says he likes the diversity of the people he meets on St. John, and he and his wife fit right in.
They were visiting St. John when the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks happened. This forced them to spend an additional week, which gave them time to look around and decide to buy. They didn't find a house they wanted on that trip, but when their real estate agent later found one that fit the bill, they bought it sight unseen.
Hickam says he hopes to spend more time on St. John, because thanks to technology he can work anywhere. However, for now, aging cats keep them intermittently in Alabama.
While on St. John, he and his wife snorkel and hike every day.
"I go to St. John to play and relax," he says.
Back Talk Share your reaction to this news with other Source readers. Please include headline, your name and city and state/country or island where you reside.