Homer "Sonny" Hickam, Jr. is an intelligent but otherwise unremarkable boy at risk of getting stuck with a bad job in the coal mines of Coalwood, West Virginia. Despite these circumstances, Sonny aspires to join the Missile Agency—a group of American engineers who create rockets—once his schooling is finished. He acquires this aspiration after seeing Sputnik, the Russian satellite, beat America into space on October 5, 1957.
To satisfy his budding interests, Sonny and his friends create the BCMA, or the "Big Creek Missile Agency," naming the club after Sonny's high school. Thus, the members of this club became the "rocket boys" of Coalwood, building and launching a variety of rockets between 1957 and 1960. This amateur practice ends up being extremely fruitful, and Sonny goes on to become an engineer at NASA.