October Sky

by Homer Hickam

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What are the boys mixing in Chapter 11 of October Sky, and how are they dressed?

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At the beginning of Chapter 11, the boys are making a highly volatile mixture of saltpeper and sugar. They will use the resulting solution, which they call "rocket candy," as fuel for their next rocket, Aux VII. In order to protect themselves should the mixture explode while they are heating it, O'Dell has assembled protective shields for each of them to wear. He has taken "squares of plastic, rescued out of some garbage can," and taped them to the bills of some old baseball caps, so when worn, the plastic hangs down over their faces, providing a modicum of protection. In addition, Sonny wears a heavy, old Navy pea coat that "had belonged to his uncle Joe when he was in the Navy during World War II," and winter gloves. The protection the boys devise are admittedly "pitiful little shields" which would do next to nothing in the event of an explosion, but it seems to them to be a good idea at the time.

In fact, the boys have no problems in making the first batch of the mixture; it is when they try to make a second batch that they run into trouble. A "thin layer of the melted mix" from the first batch has dried at the bottom of the pan, and when the pan comes in contact with the hot plate, the "stuff" erupts with a "whoosh!" Fortunately, although the pot goes flying, no one is hurt. 

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