The Scientific Method in the Movie October Sky
by Alida Clarke
In the movie October Sky, the scientific method has a very important role. The scientific method starts with a problem, and there are plenty of those in October Sky. While the main problem is getting the rocket to fly, the "Rocket Boys" run into several others along the way. The most serious of those is that they can't find one rocket and are accused of starting a forest fire. Using what he learns from a book about the flight of rockets, the Rocket Boys leader Homer develops a hypothesis. Based on this, using a formula and math, he figures out that the missing rocket should have landed about 6320 feet away from the launch pad. But when he and Quentin get to the predicted landing spot, the rocket is nowhere around! Homer backtracks and sits on a rock in a stream, trying to figure out where he went wrong. He realizes that something must be wrong with his hypothesis. What? He should have factored wind into his calculations, he decides, so he refines his hypothesis. He and Quentin agree that the wind that day most likely would have deflected the rocket slightly westward. He looks to the west, gets a big smile on his face, and we soon learn why: there's the missing rocket in the middle of the stream! Clearly, this rocket did not start the fire! (Later we learn that an aeronautical flare started the fire.) In the scientific method, you start with a problem, form a hypothesis, test it, and ask yourself if this hypothesis fits your data. If it doesn't, you keep refining and testing it until the hypothesis fits your data! October Sky provides good example of this process.