October Sky

by Homer Hickam

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What was the size of Auk 31? How many Auks were launched and how high did they go?

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In his memoir, October Sky, Homer Hickam Jr. recounts how he and a group of his friends became interested in building and launching rockets. From around 1957 to 1960, Hickam Jr. and his friends built and launched a total of thirty-five rockets in their hometown of Coalwood, West Virginia.

During the three years of their rocket experiments, the group tried different ways to build each rocket. They also tested variations in launching propellants to see which combination would result in the best optimal launch design.

In May of 1960 they launched Auk XXXI. This rocket, which was the last one that the Big Creek Missile Agency would launch together, stood just over five feet tall and rose to an altitude of nearly four miles. On their last launch day, the BCMA launched a total of six rockets all of which varied in the distances they rose due to differences in build and design.

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Auk XXXI was actually six and a half feet long and two and a quarter inches in diameter, by far the biggest one they'd ever launched.  The best part of the launch for Homer was that his father showed up and they had him launch the rocket.

The boys put together a number of rockets to launch that day as they figured it would be their last hurrah.  They launched Auks XXVI through XXXI for a total of six rockets and all traveled to different heights as they were widely varying designs.  XXVI went to about three thousand feet.  XXVII did about nine thousand.  XXVIII got to about fifteen thousand feet.  XXIX and XXX both went to around twenty three thousand feet and the final one traveled all the way up to thirty one thousand feet.

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