Feature

How to Fit a Buggy Into a Box
12.09.04
What is built by students, powered by humans and must fit into a four foot cube? A Great Moonbuggy Race vehicle, of course!

High school and college students are gearing up for another round of races next April at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Registration for NASA's 12th Annual Great Moonbuggy Race is in full swing, and the deadline of February 1, 2005, is quickly approaching.

What does it take to enter this one-of-a-kind race? A lot of enthusiasm, a handy set of tools and a willingness to try something new.

Durlean Bradford
"The students will learn some valuable lessons as they prepare for the race," said Durlean Bradford, Great Moonbuggy Race coordinator. "They will support the new NASA vision for space exploration announced January 14, 2004, by President Bush. Building a buggy gives students hands-on experience, as well as fun, that could pay off in fulfilling America's vision to return humans back to the Moon and on to Mars and Beyond."

Image to right: Race coordinator Durlean Bradford works with students and teachers from across the U.S. to ensure an exciting race day. Credit: NASA

The 12th Annual Great Moonbuggy Race requires teams of students to design a vehicle that addresses a series of engineering problems that are similar to problems faced by the original Moonbuggy team.

Students carrying their moonbuggy to the starting line
During the race each Moonbuggy must be human powered and carry two students, one female and one male, over a half-mile simulated lunar terrain course including "craters," rocks, "lava" ridges, inclines and "lunar" soil. Moonbuggy entries are expected to be of "proof-of-concept" and engineering test model nature, rather than final production models. Each student team of six members is responsible for building their own buggy, and the course drivers, who are chosen from each team, must also be builders of the vehicle.

Image to left: Students from New Orleans carry their moonbuggy to the starting line. Credit: NASA

As a part of the competition, and prior to course testing, the un-assembled Moonbuggy entries must be carried 20 feet by the two passengers to the course starting line, with the unassembled components contained in a volume of 4'x 4' x 4' (dimension requirements similar to those for the original Lunar Roving Vehicle). A container of this dimension will be placed over the collapsed or un-assembled Moonbuggy for verification. At the starting line, the entries will be assembled and readied for course testing and evaluated for safety. Assembly occurs one time prior to the first course run.

Students watch as NASA engineers measure dimensions of moonbuggy
The vehicle must be equipped with the following elements: simulated TV camera (approximately 2"x 3"x 6"), simulated high gain antenna (minimum diameter of reflector: 2'), two simulated batteries (each approximately 4"x 6"x 8"), moon dust abatement devices (aka fenders) over each wheel, simulated electronic controls- radio and display console (total combined minimum size 1 cubic foot) and national or school flag. These items (and their sizes) will be checked prior to, and after, each course run.

Image to right: Students from Houston, Texas, watch as NASA engineers measure the dimensions of their vehicle. All buggies must fit inside a 4 x 4 x 4 foot box. Credit: NASA

"Few programs can do what Moonbuggy does-honor the history of NASA while at the same time looking toward the future of space exploration," stated Frank Brannon, technical advisor to the teams. "The program is an excellent engineering design and development activity, and coupled with a strong teamwork focus, Moonbuggy provides educators with a means to inspire students and develop tomorrow's workforce."

Frank Brannon talking with a student
Image to left: Marshall Space Flight Center's Frank Brannon (left) discusses technical issues during the Great Moonbuggy Race. Credit: NASA

The top three winning teams in each division (one high school division and one college division) will be those having the shortest total times in assembling their vehicles and traversing the terrain course. Each team is permitted two runs of the terrain course, and the shortest course time will be added to the assembly time for the final total event time.

The 2005 Most Unique Award will focus upon Dust Abatement and the challenges that original Apollo designers had to face in the development of their Moonbuggy. A sand pit will be included in the lunar crater region in conjunction with the competition for this award.

A prize will also be awarded to the team whose vehicle design represents the best technical approach toward solving the engineering problem of navigating the lunar surface. The award is based, not on Moonbuggy race performance, but upon the technical approach taken by teams in their design. The design competition is optional.

NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, sponsors the event as one way to motivate the next generation of engineers and scientists. This will mark the 12th year for student teams to tackle designing, building and racing human-powered vehicles over a lunar-like obstacle course, just as the Marshall engineers did over 30 years ago. Join the Vision and be a part of NASA's future exploration. Maybe your buggy will be part of the design for a future planetary rover.

Registration and Information:
The Great Moonbuggy Race
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Credit: The Great Moonbuggy Race