Rocket City Rednecks
UAHuntsville alums front & center on National Geographic reality series
HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (Sept. 12, 2011)
Go ahead. Call Travis Taylor a redneck. He will consider it a compliment.
The term "redneck" originated from resourceful, hard-working sharecroppers who did whatever was necessary to keep the family fed, according to Taylor, a physicist/ engineer/astronomer/rocket enthusiast alumnus of The University of Alabama in Huntsville. Taylor holds four degrees from the university and is working toward a fifth.
So when it came time to name the National Geographic Channel reality series in which he, his family and friends star this fall, "Rocket City Rednecks" sounded great to him.
"I thought it would be really cool to do a fast-paced, funny, exciting, entertaining show about science," said Taylor, 43, who is also the author of a dozen science fiction novels. "We are going to educate the world on what redneck really means."
Taylor wrote the proposal for the show, bought a video camera and asked his wife to record the weekend-at-the-farm antics of the five "backwoods brainiacs." (That's National Geographic's terminology.)
Within days, Flight 33 Productions signed on to shoot the series.
"Most Americans think that just 'cause we talk with a Southern drawl and we drink sweet tea, I guess they think we must be idiots," says Taylor's nephew, 23-year-old Michael Taylor, in a trailer promoting 'Rocket City Rednecks.'
But everyone in the ensemble "has nothing less than a genius IQ," Taylor said. Viewers tuning in to the show - which premiers at 8 p.m., Sept. 28 - will see the cast fire off a rocket fueled with homemade moonshine; bomb-proof a pickup truck with beer cans, plywood and spray foam; and build an Iron Man suit, which allows Taylor to pick up a 150-pound keg ...with one hand.
Travis is used to being in front of the camera, serving as a science expert for the History Channel's production of "The Universe."
"It's in our contract that we're allowed to drink while filming the show," said Taylor, who currently works for the Space and Missile Defense Command.
The premise is that the cast - which also includes his father, Charles Taylor, brother-in-law Dr. Pete Erbach, and childhood best buddy Greg "Rog" Jones - confronts a new problem each week. Over the course of a weekend, they solve it, and the process is compressed into 22 minutes of air time.
"This is a project that the government would spend 10 years and $100 million on," Taylor says in a trailer. "Us, we've got one weekend and five pretty dang smart rednecks."
Taylor holds a master's degree in astronomy from University of Western Sydney (Australia) as well as master's degrees in physics and aerospace engineering and a doctorate in optical science from UAHuntsville. He is currently working on a second doctorate in aerospace systems engineering.
It was while he was doing graduate course work in Huntsville that the Decatur native met Pete Erbach, and the two PhD's ended up marrying sisters.
"That sounds kind of redneck, too, doesn't it?" said Taylor, who has already been featured in History Channel series "Life After People" and "The Universe."
Fifteen of 20 episodes have already been filmed at Taylor's father's shop in Somerville. And having his father, who was a machinist for Wernher von Braun, involved in the project was a must.
"Dad did rocket science during the day and plowed behind his mules in the evening," Taylor said. "Von Braun and several others from Pennemunde would give him blueprints and he'd figure out how to build whatever they needed.
"And now here we are, cutting metal and building things that go 'boom.' We think Von Braun would be proud."
Taylor said he has come up with 200 project ideas for the show, "which will last us about 10 years," but no one knows how long this redneck ride with last.
"I hope everyone watching the show has as much fun as we had making it," said Erbach, a senior scientist at Polaris Sensor Technologies who holds bachelor's, master's and doctorate degrees in physics from UAHuntsville.
"Literally, we are having a blast."
Sept. 28: Bomb-Proof My Pick-Up and Moonshine Rocket Fuel
Oct. 5: Junkyard Iron Man and 20,000 Kegs Under the Sea
Oct. 12: Hillbilly Armageddon and Rednecks on the Red Planet
Oct. 19: Close Encounters of the Redneck Kind
Oct. 26: Backwoods Spy Satellite and Redneck Power
- Published September 12, 2011
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