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Homer Hickam takes us back to the moon with latest book

WANT TO GO?

Summer Library Club Kickoff with Homer Hickam

Presented by Kanawha County Public Library

WHERE: Civic Center Little Theater

WHEN: 7 p.m. Friday

COST: Free

INFO: 304-343-4646 or www.kanawhalibrary.org CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia author Homer Hickam will speak at the Civic Center Little Theater on Friday as part of the kickoff of the Kanawha County Public Library's summer reading club kickoff. His latest book, is set in a moon colony in the future, which fits with the club's space theme. Homer Hickam believes in the future. It's right there on the moon, where we left it, and when we finally go back, we should maybe bring a shovel.

"I hope we'll go back to the moon some day," the author and former NASA aerospace engineer said. "I hope we'll live there."

The 69-year-old from McDowell County will be talking about living and mining on the moon and his new young adult book, "Crater" at 7 p.m. Friday at the Civic Center Little Theater. The free talk helps kick off the Kanawha County Public Library's space-themed teen and children's summer reading programs.

"Kanawha County Libraries very nicely asked me to come, and I'm glad to do it," he said. "It's an opportunity to talk about 'Crater,' but I'm sure I'll end up talking about 'Rocket Boys' and some of the other books, too."

Hickam has written more than a dozen books, but "Crater" is his first foray into the white-hot young adult market. Hickam, who called himself "a publisher's nightmare" because he tends to bounce from genre to genre, explained that he hadn't given the idea of writing for young adults much thought until his publisher encouraged him. He said that writing the book was about the same as any other novel he's written except that the protagonists are teens.

"The temptation is to write down to the audience," he said. "I decided not to do that."

For "Crater's" sci-fi story, Hickam drew from his background -- both his many years spent working as a NASA aerospace engineer and his impressions of being a naïve boy growing up in a rural coal community.

"Crater" is about a teenage boy living on a lunar mining colony in the 22nd Century. Hickam chuckled and said, "Somebody called it ''Coalwood' on the moon,' and I can't really argue with that."

Unlike "Rocket Boys" and its follow-up "The Coalwood Way," the mining in "Crater" isn't coal, but Helium-3, a real and rare isotope that might be used for nuclear fusion, among other things. Still, Hickam said it's not a bad comparison, and he hopes "Crater" might further the dialogue about actually mining on the moon.

"I think a business case has to be made for it," he said. "I think it has been made, but we just haven't worked out how that might be done."

Mining materials from space isn't a new idea. The concept has been around for decades. Scientists say that many of the elements used in manufacturing like iron, gold, cobalt and palladium originated from asteroids that rained down on Earth billions of years ago. 

In the past few months, the subject of mining in space has come up again; this time with producer/director James Cameron. Cameron who helmed blockbusters including "Titanic" and "Avatar," is starting a business, Planetary Resources, that intends to mine a wide variety of elements including zinc, gold and platinum from asteroids in space.

Hickam thought Cameron's plan sounded impractical, and he wasn't exactly impressed with his board of advisors. He said he saw a lot of scientists and movie producers.

"But not one mining engineer."

Hickam wondered if Cameron's group planned to velcro their astronauts to the side of asteroids. Asteroids have no gravity, which makes digging and blasting very difficult.

"It just seems silly to me," he said.

The moon has 1/6th gravity, which still makes mining a challenge, but a lot more feasible, Hickam thought. The moon also has many of the things Cameron and his board might be interested in. Asteroids, he pointed out, have been pelting the moon for millennia. Cameron could mine those if he wanted.

Mining on the moon would, naturally, present its own set of problems. For example, compared to terrestrial dust, moon dust is very abrasive and jagged, like ground-up glass.

"Mining on the moon would be a nasty mess, but so is coal, and we figured out how to mine that."

All of that seemed like a solid basis for his book, which is part one in a proposed trilogy. Still, while Hickam said he had a firm grasp on the scientific side of "Crater," he had other kinds of challenges.

"The trouble I ran into is I don't know much about modern teenagers," he said. "Really, none of us do, unless we are teenagers."

Hickam hoped that teenagers in the future would be kind of like teenagers where he's from -- not better than the kids today, just different and maybe closer to kids he understands.

Reach Bill Lynch at lynch@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5195.


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