Sonny is the main character in this story. He is the son of the mines superintendent, and has very different plans for his future then his father does. Sonny wants to build rockets, Homer wants his son to work in the mine. This causes a source of friction between father and son. Sonny is a very charismatic, smart, and clever young man with a very long hard road ahead of him.
Homer Hickman is the father of Sonny and Jim Hickman. He is the mine superintendent and is a very loyal company man. He spends most of his time in the mine, and worries day and night about being the best that he can be for the company. Homer spends a lot of his time in the mine. Checking support beams, watching over the workers, and just generally watching over things as the proceed. Homer wants his son Sonny to work for the mine as an engineer when he grows up. Sonny and his mother both have very different plans for sonny's future and this creates a source of friction for the family.
Elsie Hickman is the mother of Sonny and Jim Hickman. She is married to Homer Hickman Sr who works as the mines superintendent. She is a very strong, smart, and independent woman who is a very large influence in Sonny's life and his choice to build rockets. When Sonny leaves Coalwood and goes to collage she retires to Myrtle Beach to live out the rest of her days in a house that she bought with the money she made form investing in the stock market.
Miss Freida Riley was Sonny's science teacher and one of the driving forces behind him and the boys entering the science fair. She suffered from something known as Hodgkin's disease. This disease impacted her health in a very adverse way, but she overcame this shortcoming to be a positive influence in her students life. She helped the rocket boys in many ways throughout the story. Like giving them a book on rocketry, and showing them new materials for rocket fuel to name a few.
Jim Hickman is the brother to Sonny and the son to Elsie and Homer Hickman. Jim was a very big football stare in Coalwood. But he did not get to play his senior year because of something that had happened the year before involving his dad, and a well meaning but misguided group know as the football fathers. Despite not being able to play his last year of high school Jim was still able to leave Coalwood for football and thus did not end up in the mine. Jim and Sonny's relationship was a normal one to have between brothers, the fought and bickered, had different friends and interests, but at the end of the day they did love each other.
Ike Bykovsky is a man who worked in the machine shop for the company until he got involved with Sonny and making rockets, after that he was sent to operate and excavator in the mine. Ike and his wife loved Sonny very much almost as if he was one of their own children. After being sent to the mine to work the excavator there was a bump in the mine, or a small explosion, in which he died. Sonny blamed himself for Ike's death. Until Ike's wife told him that he had had the opportunity to go back to work in the machine shop.
Jimmy O'Dell Carroll is Sonny's best friend, and one of the founding members of the BCMA. He was with sonny for most of his life as he had been in Coalwood with Sonny when they were both very young boys. He had a car before the other boys and became kind of a driver for the BCMA. He was a sort of a ladies man back in the day and had many romantic misadventures during the time of the story. After Coalwood he joined the air force to see the world and get out of Coalwood.
Quentin Wilson is another of the founding members of the BCMA . Quentin was one of the smarter people to work on the rockets with Sonny, to smart some of the others thought. But he was eventually accepted into the group and turned out to be a very valuable asset. He graduated from Big Creek High School to move on and go to collage in Huntington, West Virgina. He graduated with a degree in engineering and moved to Texas where he died at age 71.