I read this book about 27-Jan-2003. This is the first time I've read this book. The book is copyright 1998. This note was last modified Friday, 31-Jan-2003 20:26:53 PST.
This note does not contain major spoilers for the book.
Once again I should note that I don't really think it's possible to have "spoilers" for historical and biographical non-fiction.
The story of a group of teenagers from West Virginia coal country who grew up to be rocket scientists. This came highly recommended from fannish sources. It's looking promising so far.
Well, it was very good. But I was a bit disappointed that it ended when he graduated from higschool, except for a bit of epilog. However, it's a very engaging story, and very well written.
They did some serious rocket launches, by my Estes model rocketry standards. And were drastically unsafe, by those same standards. But they never actually hurt anybody (though they blew one fence up and knocked bricks out of the corner of a mine building), and they eventually got launches that reached 31,000 feet.
They made their own solid fuel mixtures, starting with black powder (with some binder), and moving up to "rocket candy" (saltpeter and sugar, melted and poured into the body tube of the rocket), and eventually on to "zincoshine", a mixture of powdered zinc and sulfur, wetted with lab alcohol (well, moonshine) and caked and dried in layers in the tubes. I'm amazed nobody got hurt.
He tells a wonderful anecdote of somehow not meeting Dr. von Braun his entire life, even though von Braun was present at the national science fair he won an award at, and even though he had a personalized autographed picture his mother got him, and even though he eventually did work for NASA on rocket propulsion.
There's also an amusing story of encountering John F. Kennedy campaigning, and making the suggestion that we should send men to the moon, which Kennedy reacted to as if it were new to him, and said he thought maybe he would.
Oh, and it's at least suggested that a major strike at the mine is settled because his sample nozzles and things were stolen at the science fair, and he needed replacements real quick.