October Sky is one of our favorite movies and, with all the rockets going up and down these days, we think of it often.
If you’re not familiar, the movie is about Homer Hickam Jr., a rocket scientist for NASA. Growing up in West Virginia, he thought he was destined for a life in the coal mines. But in 1957, when he was 14, he watched the Russian satellite Sputnik sailing among the stars and he decided he’d rather go to space.
So he and his friends started building rockets. It wasn’t easy, but that’s why the story is interesting. And occasionally hilarious.
Two interesting factoidal tangents:
1️⃣ The movie is based on Hickam’s memoir Rocket Boys, which couldn’t be the name of the movie because women over 30 wouldn’t go see it. The name October Sky is “prettier,” but it’s also just plain clever… because October Sky is an anagram of Rocket Boys. 🤯
2️⃣ Jeff Bezos screened the movie in 1999 and then founded Blue Origin shortly after. That’s oversimplifying, but factually true.
But, ahem, the real reason we’re sharing: the movie’s moment of sublimity, a beautiful illustration of how teachers can change the world.
The teacher who changed Homer’s world was Freida Riley (played by Laura Dern, wonderfully as always).
Tragically, Miss Riley died of Hodgkin’s disease at 32. But before that, she was Homer’s math teacher, and the first person who helped and encouraged him to pursue dreams other than coal mining. In the movie, Homer and friends named their last rocket Miss Riley in her honor.
That final flight bearing her name soared 30,000 feet into the sky—higher than Everest—and though Miss Riley was miles away in a hospital bed, she could see the rising column of white smoke from her window.
Watch the scene here. I’m not crying, you’re crying.