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2006 Photos by Chet Thornton

These are photos of an actual rocket launch at Cape Coalwood taken by Chet Thornton of Oak Ridge, Tennessee.  The photos were taken on October 7, 2006, during the October Sky Festival.   Chet and his wife Janet were guests at the festival.  They rode the shuttle up to Cape Coalwood and witnessed a rocket being fired and airborne.  Thanks, Chet, for sending us the photos!

The turnoff to Cape Coalwood


Rocketeers at Work


Supervised Preparation


Final Check


Lift Off


Heaven Bound


Chet writes ...

Janet and I feel that we were guests of Coalwood... just like everyone else that were there of course. We were welcomed by some of the people of Coalwood within minutes of getting into town on Friday. We parked our truck camper for the night beside the fire department after checking with the fire chief.

There was a light rain falling but I decided to walk around the almost empty town and take pictures of the church which is the most prominent building, of the houses ,and the abandoned company buildings. I was surprised at how nice the town is in comparison with most of the mining towns that I've seen. Everything you could wish for had been provided to the miners and their families. Then I remembered that if I'd worked there I wouldn't have a place to live if I retired. I wouldn't have owned my house or property. If I'd died , been injured, or left my job for any reason I wouldn't have had equity in my house or the right to live there.

The club house was a lot bigger that I'd imagined. I met two very interesting men that were also braving the weather to experience a little of the town, Walt Terry and Steve Date. The three of us shared information about ourselves as we stood in the street, in the rain, and in the cold... in the magical little town of Coalwood.

Walt Terry is an author and retired engineer from Huntsville, Alabama. Note: I found and purchased a copy of Walt's wonderful story "The Bottomless Well" that was included in "The Best American Short Stories 1966" at Amazon.com. There were 20 authors featured that year... among them was William Faulkner. Walt and his wife Sue are the parents of Linda Terry Hickam and father and mother in-laws to Homer Hickam.


Walt Terry (Photo by Chet Thornton)

Steve Date is a Minnesota teacher that was in Coalwood for the second straight year. He works with a group of special teachers that's goal is to give extra encouragement to high school age girls. They use the Rocket Boy experiences as teaching tools. He did a lot of filming.  Steve is also trying to make a documentary film about Coalwood. He has done interviews with many residents (and former residents). He hopes to put something together that honors these people and the history of their town.


Steve Date is the man with glasses and camera.  He is wearing a grey poncho.
(Photo by Chet Thornton.)

I'm retired from Oak Ridge National Laboratory. My wife Janet and I travel most of the year in our truck camper. We enjoy everything from Space Museums to Presidential Libraries, civil war battlefields to National Parks, state capitals to court houses, deserts to forests, mountains to beaches, water falls to windmills... obviously we enjoy everything. As we travel we buy books, read them and donate them to the library in the next town because they are to heavy to haul when we are on the road for months at a time. Note... we never give away Homer Hickam books.

Janet and I acquired a neighbor at the Coalwood fire station before darkness fell ... a Doctor and his wife from Panama City, Florida in their motorhome . He told me that his father was the Olga Company Doctor in the early 1940s and he had gone to school in Coalwood. We didn't visit much, it was too cold and rainy.


The doctor from Panama City has a white hat and beard;
his wife has the black hat.
(Photo by Chet Thornton.)

After a quiet, cold night we woke to more rain. Many of the guests and townspeople arrived early on Saturday with great expectations for their day. We were amazed at the number of people that came from all over the country to experience the Rocket Boy story and location. They weren't disappointed! Everyone ignored the less than perfect weather and enjoyed themselves.