Rocket City Rednecks

I discovered this show by reading one of Travis Talyor’s non-fiction books, A New American Space Plan.   While this post is about the TV show, pick up this book as well.  It’s a well laid out case of why American should be serious about getting into space again and how to do it.

Also take the time to watch the show, Rocket City Rednecks, either by streaming or on optical disk.   This show is about five self-identified Rednecks from Huntsville, AL, two of which are actual rocket scientists from NASA who actually build working gear.  Really cool gear that works.  OK, it works most of the time, but even when they fail, they learn from their mistakes so then can do it better the next time.  That is really one of the important lessons.  It’s OK to fail, as long as you learn from it.   Most of the gear is built in Travis’ father’s garage.   Charles Travis is a retired NASA machinist who worked on the Apollo program, and one of the five Rednecks who star in the show.

I’ve watched about a third of the first season so far, and they have built some really nifty gear so far.  These include a still in order to build a moonshine fueled rocket, the actual rocket, a balloon based observation platform, a working submarine, a radio telescope array using 18″ satellite dishes, under vehicle armor capable of withstanding an IED blast (they drove the pickup truck away afterwards), and a working “Iron Man” suit, that had armor capable of  stopping 9mm handgun rounds, lifting over 100 pounds with a single arm and fired rockets!

Just to add to the overall coolness of this, most of their projects are done over a single weekend with a budget of about $1000.  Keep in mind that three of these Rednecks are current or former NASA employees.  The two active ones have eight advanced degrees in science between them (Travis has five post-graduate degrees.  For those of you who know me, yes, that is one more than Amy currently has).  Rog (Rednect #4) doesn’t have any advanced degrees, but he does have a genius level IQ, and Michael (Travis’ nephew) is mechanically inclined and studying to be a machinist.   Still, if you know basic work working, basic welding, how to solder two wire together, and some basic programming, you and your friends could try some of this stuff.

Which is kinda the whole idea of the show.  To get kids off the XBox and out there building go carts, rockets, radio sets and other cool gear.

This is the kind of show my dad would have loved.  He was 22 year veteran of the Army Corps of Engineers, and would have been out teaching kids how to to build the things the Rednecks are building.

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5 Responses

  1. Thanks for the tip! I’m a huge Mythbusters fan, and this sounds like it might be kind of parallel.

    • I think you will like this series. They are doing prototyping of some pretty cool technology.

      • I saw the first season yesterday, and while some episodes were better than others, I’ll be getting the second.

        I’ve got to wonder if their “Stealth Pickup” episode had an element of “Kari, Grant and Tory couldn’t do this, but we did — neener neener.”

        I’d like more science content as always. For example, radar detection range is a related to the fourth power of radar cross section: to cut detection range by half, you need to cut RCS by a factor of 16.

        More seriously, I’m a bit harsh on people overplaying renewable energy. The beer can vertical shaft windmill was hilarious, but I’d really like to see them admit how much energy they got from it.

  2. […] Originally published at Urbin Technology […]

    • He goes into more science in some of the episodes in the book I mentioned. The show’s format does limit the amount of hard math they can throw in.

      There are a couple of disclaimers they make when they are setting up the “renewable” energy sources. At one point, they do state that there is energy loss converting from AC to DC and then back to AC again. Keep in mind they are mostly doing rapid prototyping development just to prove a concept valid. Using car alternators is low startup up cost factor. Over the long run, you will lose that startup cost in the power loss of converting from AC to DC an then back to AC. They have to convert to DC to store power in batteries, because that part of the process can be, for the lack of a better term, rough. If the the incoming voltage varies minute to minute, it isn’t going to damage the battery. Now to power your flat screen TV, you need steady power, which is why they use the battery for that power source.

      If you were to commercialize the process, step one would be to replace the alternator with a DC generator. On the other hand, there are a lot of alternators in junk yards. If you’re looking to take part of your trailer off the grid, it may be cheaper to hook up two alternators.

      Same concept with electric cars. All their batteries are DC, but the charging stations are AC. They would charge faster, and at lower net energy cost if they were fed DC. The existing electric infrastructure is what drove the cost for AC to DC conversion for the charging.

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