February 14, 2015 12:06 pm

There’s More to Sunday’s "Rocket City Rednecks" Than Just Blowing Stuff Up

Photo of the The U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama showing Saturn V and Space Shuttle.

The U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Credit: Rocket Center.

When I heard that we were doing a show about the Rocket City Rednecks, I admit I was a bit underwhelmed.

The show ran for 2 years on the National Geographic Channel before being cancelled, and as far as I knew, it was just a reality show about a bunch of “rednecks” that blow things up.

Turns out, I was wrong.

This Sunday’s episode is full of surprises. Let’s start with this one:

The rocket that took America to the Moon, the Saturn V, was designed and built in a city called Huntsville, Alabama. That’s where Wernher von Braun went, along with 100 German rocket scientists that used to work building V-2 rockets at Peenemünde, to work at the former Redstone Arsenal. They didn’t build the Saturn V alone – they had the help of a city full of some of the smartest, hardest working engineers America had to offer.

In fact, Rocket City, as Huntsville is known, has, according to aerospace engineer and Rocket City Redneck star Travis S. Taylor, the highest average IQ of any place in the country, where even the waitresses are getting PhDs in physics.

Here’s one more:

One day, while looking at the Moon’s craters, Travis wondered if you could use them as giant radar dishes to improve communication for future Lunar explorers and even colonists. So he and his team went out and built a working radar dish out of a dirt crater in the side of a hillside to test the idea, and sure enough, they were able to pick up radio waves from space.

It’s the kind of thing you’d expect from a guy with 3 master’s degrees and 2 PhDs, who literally wrote the book on rocket science, to invent. But according to Travis, that’s just part of the culture of Rocket City, where, along with loving guns, beer, pickup trucks and football, they share a “stay with it attitude” that has them “stay with the problem until they solve the problem.”

By the way, if you do want a show about blowing things up, Travis has plenty of stories about his favorite homemade explosives, a competition to blow up an outhouse, and building a steam-powered car catapult for Jay Leno that sent Jay and Travis rocketing from 0-40 mph in a distance of 8 feet.

Join host Neil deGrasse Tyson, co-host Chuck Nice, and guest Bill Nye the Science Guy for Neil’s interview with Rocket City Redneck Travis S. Taylor tomorrow, Sunday, February 15 at 7:00 PM ET on our website, iTunes, Stitcher, TuneIn and SoundCloud.

That’s it for now. Keep Looking Up!
–Jeffrey Simons

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