REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. - On an upcoming television show, a man and his friends will bridge the differences between rocket scientists and rednecks while conducting scientific experiments with southern ingenuity.
Starting Sept. 28, The National Geographic Channel, along with Flight 33 Production Company from Los Angeles, will be airing a new television series, "Rocket City Rednecks." The show will follow five individuals as they conduct scientific experiments while using parts found locally, possibly in their own back yard.
"'Rocket City Rednecks' is a show where my family and friends are showing people that no matter how hard the problem is, if you get off the couch and get out there and try to solve the problem or do something about it, you can at least learn something from it," said Dr. Travis Taylor, a U.S. Army Missile and Space Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command employee since 2007, who does the show in his free time. "Each week we pick up some problem. It may be an immediately pertinent problem like bomb-proofing cars from IEDs or it might be a more fun problem like trying to build a land speeder from Star Wars. And it varies from episode-to-episode.
"And we will spend the weekend just gathering things from around a local junkyard or a hardware store and go about building something to see how close to a solution for that problem we can get," he added.
Taylor who lives near Huntsville has a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering, two masters' degrees in physics, aerospace engineering and astronomy, and a doctorate in optical science and engineering. Never satisfied, Taylor is scheduled to receive a second doctorate in aerospace systems engineering in the summer of 2012.
Besides spending his time studying books, Taylor has penned 12 science fiction novels, two scientific text books and one popular science book. But unlike most portrayals of rocket scientists on television and movies, Taylor also spends time riding mountain and motor bikes, working out, scuba diving and running marathons.
"Now a lot of people ask why we chose, "Rocket City Rednecks?" Taylor asked. "The Rocket City part is of course in reference to being from Huntsville. And "Redneck," I really want to take that term back from people being goofy and derogatory about it. Only in the last couple of decades has it become a slang, derogatory term.
"If you look up the origin of the term, 'Redneck,' it came about in the late 1800s from the family sharecropped farms where everything the family had was on that farm," he continued. "If something went wrong, they had to be clever and resourceful and use what they had on hand to solve the problems just to keep their family alive. People started calling them 'Rednecks' because they had a farmer's tan and their necks were burned red from working in the sun.
"So in my mind, a 'Redneck' means they're clever, resourceful, hard working and they're family-centric," Taylor added. "How is that anything but a compliment? I want people to understand that. And I want the people to know that the rockets that went to the moon were built right here in Huntsville by 'Rocket City Rednecks.'"
Known as the group's "Ringleader," Taylor, along with his father Charles Taylor, nephew Michael Taylor, brother-in-law Dr. Pete Erbach and friend since the 5th grade, Greg "Rog" Jones, will star weekly in back-to-back episodes.
The love of science and space has been a continual tradition in the Taylor home. Charles was one of NASA's original machinists who helped build America's first satellites as well as helped repaired the rockets designed by Dr. Wernher von Braun.
"My father was 22-years-old when he started working as a machinist for Wernher von Braun," Taylor said. "He actually built parts that were on the Saturn V rocket that went to the moon. My dad was a machinist who built the oldest satellite launched by America that is still in orbit today. This was before we had computer milling machines and he and two other machinists figured out how to build it in one piece and came up with ways to make it work.
"A lot of people don't realize that Huntsville and Northern Alabama is one of the smartest areas in the world," he added. "You never know what kind of super-genius the person living in the trailer next to you might be and what he might be doing."
Taylor became involved after filming some episodes of "The Universe" and "Life After People," for the History Channel. He wanted to do something more and came up with the idea and sent it to the National Geographic Channel. While waiting to hear back he "got the band together" and bought a video camera. His wife Karen shot some footage which Taylor sent in.
Shortly thereafter, channel executives signed the show and began filming in February.
"One of the directors was from the show 'Survivor,'" Taylor said. "The film crew flew into Huntsville, and we took a weekend and shot a pilot show. They cut that pilot down to a six-minute promo, gave that to National Geographic and the next day Nat Geo gave us a contract. We started about a month later and we have been filming ever since."
The show is filmed in Somerville and surrounding areas, as well as at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville.
"The rocket center has been great because we have come up with ways to build a moon buggy or how to remake a space capsule," Taylor said. "We'll go over there and they will let us put on the museum gloves and study and measure the inside of a Mercury Space Capsule.
"We'll then go back over to my dad's garage and break out the welders and plasma cutters and start having at it," he added.
Taylor said another reason he wanted to do the show was to prove some people wrong and help speed up a sometimes slow process in the scientific world.
"Sometimes big science moves too slow for me, so come the weekend I get together with my own team of backwoods geniuses to solve real important problems," Taylor said. "For a couple of thousands of dollars and a day at the junkyard, we built an Ironman suit out of some junkyard parts and fiberglass.
"We showed that for a little bit of money and a weekend, me and some guys could do something great with very little," he added. "And what we have learned is that no matter what you can over-engineer as well as under-engineer any problem."
Taylor said he hoped people will learn from the show as well as be entertained.
"This has been a great chance for us to get together and spend time together," Taylor said. "We know we are going to do things wrong but we are going to do it wrong, the right way. The people can really learn something and still have fun watching us."
"Rocket City Rednecks," will begin airing on the National Geographic Channel Sept. 28 and every Wednesday night at 8 p.m. central standard time. For more information, go to http://channel.nationalgeographic.com/channel.