HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — If you like drinking beer, explosions, cussing and shooting rockets, then boy, does the National Geographic Channel have a show for you.
"Rocket City Rednecks," a new DIY science reality show, makes its cable TV debut on the National Geographic Channel Wednesday night (Sept. 28 at 9 p.m. EDT — check local listings), two days after its world premiere here at the Davidson Center for Space Exploration at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, before a cold-one cracking, hooting and hollering crowd.
The show's coverall and camoflauge-clad cast may look and sound like slack-jawed yokels, but there's nothing stereotypical about them. The stars include those with Ph.D.s, an original NASA machinist and a bona fide genius. [Photos: Behind the Scenes of "Rocket City Rednecks"]
In the series premiere, the Rednecks' so-called "hillbilly ingenuity," is on full throttle as they try to bomb-proof a truck using beer cans and launch a moonshine-fueled rocket, all while shouting their motto of "safety third."
More than just explosions
The show is more than an excuse to blow things up. In each of the episodes, the Rednecks try to solve big problems in military and space research by inventing new, cheap technology.
"People at NASA are gung-ho about finding alternatives to rocket fuel," said Travis Taylor, the show's ringleader, as he outlined a moonshine distillation game plan. "Who knows, maybe one day something as renewable and abundant as corn could get us to another planet."
The show is filmed in Huntsville, where German rocket scientist Werner von Braun helped launch the American space program. It was here where the rockets that put a man on the moon were built, earning Huntsville its nickname as the Rocket City. When von Braun moved to Huntsville, he relied on the town's resourceful farmers to invent the tools needed to build rockets.
"That's what the Apollo-era rocket science was all about," Taylor said after the premiere. "It was the Rocket City Rednecks that did that."
Taylor, an actual rocket scientist working on his second Ph.D. in aerospace engineering, has been building rockets since age 6. His father, Charles Taylor, or simply "Daddy" to the Rednecks, was one of NASA's original machinists and built some of the United States' first satellites, some of which are still in orbit. [Related: Meet the Ringleader of the 'Rocket City Rednecks' ]
Taylor's nephew and brother-in-law are also on the show. "Mama" even makes a few appearances, mostly to yell at Daddy for stealing the plumbing from her new bathroom to build a whiskey still.
Launching rockets? BYOB
The only thing the Rednecks seem to enjoy more than explosions is drinking beer. Travis Taylor even has his own music video, which was shown after the premiere, aptly titled "Drinking Beer."
"Where will the cans come from?" one of the Rednecks asked when they set out to bomb-proof a truck.
"Have you met Rog?" Taylor deadpanned, referring to his sidekick Rog Jones, a trailer-dwelling maintenance man with a genius-level IQ.
About 500 beer cans were used to design vehicle armor that would be lighter than what the military now uses to shield troops from IEDS, or improvisational explosion devices.
The crew even built a melon-headed crash-test dummy, named Jugghead Jim. Jim had fruits, vegetables and eggs for internal organs so the team could gauge how their beer-can armor would absorb the blast. [9 Cyborg Enhancements Available Right Now]
"We're not trying to save the truck," Taylor said. "Whoever's in there driving or riding, we want to make sure they survive."
As one might expect from a show that has both "rocket" and "rednecks" in the title, the episodes are full of trial-and-error escapades and close calls. Taylor has a brush with disaster while wiring explosives to his rocket.
The normally laid-back Taylor even loses his cool after wasting hours of work on a failed beer-can armor prototype.
"He claims he didn’t go diva, but he went diva," Jones said, which got the biggest laugh from the family-and-friends crowd at the world premiere.
But the friends usually laugh off the tense moments. A fresh batch of moonshine leftover from launching rockets helps.
"Come to think of it, man, why are we wasting all this good 'shine," Jones said. "We ought to be drinking it."
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Brett Israel was a staff writer for Live Science with a focus on environmental issues from 2009 to 2013. He holds a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry and molecular biology from the University of Georgia, a master’s degree in journalism from New York University, and has studied doctorate-level biochemistry at Emory University.