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.

I find it sad…

I find it sad that Human Beings have walked on the Moon during my lifetime, but not during the lifetime of my children.

Cool tech from history

The Third Reich had plans for a Rocket Plane that would be able to drop nuclear bombs on American soil.

Multiple V-2 rockets would have launched the “Silver Bird” on a two mile long track, getting high up in the atmosphere before it’s internal rocket engines would have pushed it to Mach 30.  It was to skip off the upper atmosphere, using an early lifting body design, dropping down to drop a payload of four nuclear bombs, and then continuing to land in the Japanese held Pacific Ocean.

That was the theory anyway.  Pesky things, like opening up a second front with the Russians, kept this design from getting off the drawing board.

“Orion Light” proposed

Bigelow Aerospace is  proposing a scaled down version of NASA’s own Orion project.  They claim they can have it up and running by 2013, while NASA’s projected date of March 2015 for getting Orion in space is seen as fuzzy at best.

Best use of Federal Stimulus money I’ve seen so far.

NASA somehow has gotten hold of $50 Million of the 9% of the federal stimulus money being spent in 2009 and is using it “to seed development of commercial passenger transportation service to space.”

NASA does some good stuff, but they couldn’t agree on the basic specs without spending more than $50 million dollars.  Given that the shuttle fleet is being retired next year, and that will leave the US government without a reliable method for getting men safely into space, handing the problem over to the private sector makes damn good sense.

NASA to destroy the Space Station in 2016

They use the more PC term, “De-Orbit”, which means letting the incredibly expensive International Space Station drop out of orbit and burn.  Any large leftover chunks are supposed to fall into the Pacific Ocean.

The station has cost $100 billion to put into orbit, build and maintain, so far.   No plans to replace it with something useful that I’m aware of.

Hopefully it will provide a decent lightshow on the way down.

GPS system in danger

The U.S. Air Forces has dropped the ball on this one. It is reported that GPS satellites could start dropping next year, and the USAF, who maintains the system, may not have replacement satellites ready for launch. 

This is seriously bad project management on the part of the USAF.  This is a vital system that the entire US military, as well as millions of civilians, depend on.