A West Virginia miner's son (Jake Gyllenhaal) becomes a NASA scientist.
John Hickam (Chris Cooper) is a West Virginia coal miner who loves his job and expects his sons, Jim (Scott Miles) and Homer (Jake Gyllenhaal), to follow in his footsteps. But Jim gets a football scholarship, and Homer becomes interested in rocket science after seeing Sputnik 1 crossing the sky. John disapproves of his son's new mania, but Homer begins building rockets with the help of friends and a sympathetic teacher (Laura Dern). Rocketry, he hopes, will prove his ticket to a better life.