“Rocket City Rednecks”: watermelon comets and conquering Mars

By Lori Acken

Make no mistake, boys and girls — science is fun.

Tonight on Nat Geo’s Rocket City Rednecks, Travis finds himself pondering how to save the Earth from a planet-smashing comet. And, it turns out, a planet-smashing comet is a lot like a gargantuan watermelon.

He heads off to to tell Rog — who  is wearing a splendid knit hat with ear flaps and  tassels and lovely shades of blue — of his plan. Rog responds by eating the comet. Daddy is notified next. “Sounds like a waste of a good watermelon to me,” says the senior rocket scientist. But, of course, he’s in.

To launch the watermelon comet, the group decides to build a giant slingshot thingie of French origin called a Trebuchet. Which is also the name of one of my favorite fonts. I’m gobsmacked.

To complete the trebuchet, we need something to serve as a counterweight. Something of a specific size and girth. Something like a beer keg — filled with water, so we don’t waste good brew.

Does it fit, Travis wants to know. “Like socks on a rooster,” says Rog. I vow to use this in conversation every day for the rest of my life if it kills me.

Next they build a scale model of the southeastern United States, with Rocket City — that’s Mobile, Alabama, if you missed it — as the centerpiece of all which must be saved.

At this juncture, Pete shows up and opines that if the threatening watermelon is to be vanquished, it can only be done by blowing the thing up from the inside, Armaggedon-Bruce-Willis-style. He and Travis agree to try Trav’s way first and if the U.S. is still in danger, Pete’s way second.

Daddy, Travis and Michael line up with shotguns, ready to take down the trebuchet-ed melon-comet. The trebuchet fires.

The faux southeastern U.S. is destroyed.

They decide to try again. “Let’s try to hit the damn thing this time,” Travis suggests. And they do. But a chunk of melon the size of mini-Mobile still makes contact. No good. No good at all.

Time to try Pete’s way. Which is to stick a firecracker in the melon, Bruce-Willis style. (I think I’ll use this in everyday conversation, too.) The fuse is lit … it fires down  … and the melon remains serenely intact, save for its firecracker hole.

So much for super-nuking the thing.

Dad thinks it’s time to use bullets. Single projectile — much more energy. And no people firing the weaponry. We need something smarter. Travis plans out an automatic rifle-firing thingie that will fire off three rifles at once when something crosses their path. This requires computer software. And also the right kind of bullet.

Dad opines that hollow-point bullets with polymer tips are the key to complete watermelon obliteration.

My friends and I did watermelon bowling in their driveway, once. That busted up a watermelon pretty nicely, too. And an entire mini-city of beer bottles. But I doubt it would save the earth. I’m banking on Daddy’s way.

The rifle-shooter is powered by a car battery and is much simpler in design than I expected. Also, it fails to save the earth on round one. And round two. And three. And five. And seven. What the heck.

The USB camera is to blame.

Daddy can fire a rifle without a USB camera. Daddy’s got the rifle. Fire Trebuchet! And Daddy saves Rocket City and the world in a single shot!

“Daddy, you just saved the Earth,” crows Travis. “What are you going to next?”

“Cure cancer,” says Daddy. And I believe it.

In episode two, the gang aspires to “put some rednecks on the Red Planet” — i.e. come up with a backyard version of a Mars mission.

Travis’s neighbor, Santa Claus (I was typing when they said his real name but he is the very spit of Saint Nick) has a clunker of an old RV that Trav and Rog believe will make an excellent “Mars Mission Spaceship.”

They decide they will need food and water. And guess where the water is coming from? The rednecks themselves. Purified pee. “I hope we all get our own bottles,” says Rog.

Rog, Pete and Travis shall be the astronauts; Daddy and Michael are mission control. Given the purified pee thing, I am sure Daddy and Michael are fine with that.

What Michael is not fine with is his elbow grease converting the camper into a manned spacecraft while Travis piddles around with his pee converter.

“He’s making a pee pot out of my shrimp pot,” Daddy laments. “If he wants to ride and million miles and drink pee, I don’t care. But I don’t want to do it.”

More bad news, Daddy. Your four-wheeler’s just been cribbed for a moon rover.

The RV is beautifully converted, complete with a “Moon or Bust” spray-painted on its backside, NASA-style. Rog, Travis and Pete deck themselves out in snappy astronaut suits — then head to the gas station for more spaceship fuel.

Then they head to Travis’ aunt Dee’s house to use the front lawn as a launch pad, if that’s OK with Aunt Dee. Aunt Dee answers the door toting a beer bottle. I love Aunt Dee. It’s OK.

The astronauts get used to the air pressure inside their craft, then bed down for the night.

Launch day!

Daddy confirms that their level of loopiness is genuinely astronautical and begins to suspect this adventure might be more insightful than he suspected.

Until the pee converter starts to leak. Houston, we have a problem, indeed. Liftoff is postponed.

“We spilled a bunch of pee on the floor,” says Rog. “But it could have been worse. If we’d been at zero gravity, it’d be flying all around us.”

The show must go on, pee on the floor or otherwise. They land on the vacant lot that serves as Mars, toodle around in the moon rover and find a crater to fill with cement to mold themselves a habitat.

While they wait for the habitat to cure, they head back to the spaceship to see what’s  to drink. I’ll be the first to admit that my stomach flipped a little (OK, a lot) when Travis took his first drink of a bottle of crystal-clear liquid. “Tastes like water,” he says. The others reluctantly drink. No appears worse for wear.

The Mars igloo is a success as well. The Red Planet is conquered, redneck style.

So it’s back to mission control to celebrate with some tasty golden liquid — cold beers.

Photos and video: NatGeo.com

About Lori Acken 1195 Articles
Lori just hasn't been the same since "thirtysomething" and "Northern Exposure" went off the air.