Rocket City Rednecks
LEARNING TASK EPISODE
Moonshine Rocket Fuel
Junior Secondary, Senior Secondary
PROGRAMME DESCRIPTION FOR TEACHERS
Meet the self-proclaimed Rocket City Rednecks, five “backwoods” guys from Huntsville, Alabama, home to NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center and the birthplace of the U.S. space program. While they love to shoot stuff and drink beer, and one of them lives in a trailer, they also have a family tree full of NASA rocket scientists, not to mention their own PhDs and advanced degrees, and they like to aim a little higher—like using homemade moonshine to fuel a rocket! Watch how they apply redneck ingenuity with advanced engineering and physics to creatively solve real-world problems ... and have a little fun, of course! In this episode, the team works on testing whether homebrewed alcohol can fuel a rocket into lift-off, and just how far it can go.
BACKGROUND INFORMATION FOR TEACHERS
This wonderful programme showcases the ingenuity of five Alabama "rednecks", including Charles "Daddy" Taylor, who worked as a machinist on the Apollo space program and a number of military satellite projects too secret to discuss. Charles's son, Travis, has worked with the US Department of Defense and NASA for the past 25 years. He has above Top Secret clearance with the U.S. government, holds five degrees—in optical science and engineering, physics, aerospace engineering, astronomy and electrical engineering—and is currently completing a second Ph.D. in aerospace engineering. Between them, the team members combine technical knowledge and farmyard ingenuity with enough healthy curiosity to test out theories of projectile motion.
When blasting into outer space, rockets burn up enormous amounts of fossil fuel from a quickly depleting supply, so Travis wants to see if he and the team can build a small rocket and launch it with alcohol distilled in the backyard. Even better, the alcohol is made from an abundant and renewable supply of corn. A successful rocket launch could prove evidence that moonshine or homebrewed whisky can power a rocket and be an inexpensive alternative fuel source for the space program. Safety, of course, is of paramount importance in conducting their experiment.
For this project, the redneck team needs to construct an alcohol distillery and a rocket. From their homemade distillery, they must make an alcohol powerful enough to launch their rocket into the air. Whilst the southern state of Alabama has a fairly large "moonshine community", no one is willing to divulge the secrets of their activities on television. Hence, two of the rednecks pay a visit to a Tennessee distillery, where they learn how the local brew is made and obtain a bucket of pre-fermented whisky mash to start their own rocket fuel distilling process.
Moonshine Rocket Fuel shows the process from beginning to end of constructing a launch pad, assembling a rocket, making a still, distilling rocket fuel, connecting the charge with the fuel tank and electrical power supply, all the way through to lift-off and return. Who knows, perhaps one day, a commodity as renewable and abundant as corn could propel humans to another planet!
Junior Secondary Curriculum
Science provides an empirical way of answering interesting questions about the biological, physical and technological world. The knowledge it produces has proved to be a reliable basis for action in our personal, social and economic lives. Science is a dynamic, collaborative and creative human endeavour arising from our curiosity and interest in making sense of our world through exploring the unknown, investigating universal mysteries, making predictions and solving problems.
Australian Science K-10 Curriculum 2010: Rationale
Senior Secondary Curriculum
… the senior secondary Physics curriculum provides opportunities for students to think critically about the development of the fundamental laws and concepts of physics, and to apply these in a range of relevant and contemporary contexts and problems. Physicists play a key role in society in developing a range of technologies, in engineering, and in developing laws, models and theories that describe and explain how the world around us works. Physics applies to such diverse areas as renewable energy generation, communication, development of new materials, transport and vehicle safety, medical technology, understanding climate change and exploration of the universe.
Australian Physics Curriculum 2010: Rationale
In undertaking these tasks, students of Science will develop:
• an interest in science and a curiosity and willingness to explore, ask questions and speculate about the changing world in which they live
• an ability to communicate their scientific understandings and findings to a range of audiences, to justify their own ideas on the basis of evidence, and to evaluate and debate scientific arguments and claims whilst respecting alternative viewpoints and beliefs
• an ability to solve problems and make informed, evidence-based decisions about current and future applications of science while taking into account moral, ethical and social implications
• an understanding of the diversity of careers related to science
Australian Science K-10 Curriculum 2010: Aims
In undertaking these tasks, students of Physics will:
• draw on their curiosity and willingness to speculate about and explore the world to expand their interest in physics
• engage in communication of and about physics, value evidence and scepticism, and critically evaluate the scientific claims made by others
• appreciate physics as both an independent and a collaborative human endeavor
• develop in-depth knowledge, understanding, skills and scientific values relating to physics
• appreciate the changing and expanding body of contemporary knowledge in physics.
Australian Science Curriculum 2010: Aims