BECKLEY, W.Va. — As he prepared for his last Rocket Boys Festival Friday, original Rocket Boy and McDowell County native Homer Hickam was in a reflective mood.

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Homer Hickam

“We’ve really, really enjoyed our time,” Hickam said during an appearance on the MetroNews Morning News.

Hickam, fellow Rocket Boy Roy Lee Cooke and others decided the festival which will continue through Saturday in Beckley would be their last.

“We’re in our late 70’s. We think it’s time for us to go off stage, become legends, if you will, and have some young folks come in and still talk about the story and maybe better associate with students than we can at this point,” Hickam said.

Hickam and his Coalwood High School buddies began launching rockets in high school in the late 1950’s.. Their story was first told in the book Rocket Boys and then in the movie October Sky. The festival began a dozen years ago in Coalwood before moving to Beckley seven years ago.

Hickam said Friday the move to Beckley has been good for the event. He was scheduled to appear at Tamarack for a writer’s workshop and the production of the mini-musical Rocket Boys Friday. Saturday’s events will be centered around the Exhibition Coal Mine.

Hickam said he thinks the festival has accomplished its original goals.

“We get to talk to so many young people, their parents and their teachers and we hope that our story is one that will encourage them to go off and do great things and have a great life,” Hickam said.

The festival began in Coalwood in 1999. Hickam said they’ve had a good run.

“We’ve decided to go out on top and I’m hoping this one will be the best one yet,” Hickam said.

Hickam hasn’t showed a whole lot of signs of slowing down. He’s still writing and this summer he appeared before Congress promoting the Trump administration’s efforts to return to the moon.

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