Feature

Moonbuggy Victory
05.16.07
Persistence paid off for engineering students from the Rochester Institute of Technology. Students from the Rochester, N.Y., institution came in first place this year in the college division at NASA's Great Moonbuggy Race. This was RIT's eighth year to enter the competition.

Two students on moonbuggy -- one facing forward, one facing backward
The Great Moonbuggy Race challenges high school and college students to design a vehicle that addresses a series of engineering problems similar to those faced by the original Apollo-era lunar rover design team. The competition is conducted by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center and sponsored by Northrop Grumman Corporation, with additional support from other organizations. The 14th annual Great Moonbuggy Race was held April 13-14, 2007, at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville.

Image to left: The moonbuggy team from Rochester Institute of Technology navigates the rugged, simulated lunar surface at the 14th annual Great Moonbuggy Race. Credit: NASA

The Rochester team completed the track with the fastest time out of 22 college teams from the continental United States, Puerto Rico and Canada. The team finished the course in four minutes and 38 seconds, nine seconds ahead of the second-place team from the University of Puerto Rico in Humacao. Pittsburg State University of Pittsburg, Kan., finished in third place.

Stephen Boedo, associate professor in the mechanical engineering department at RIT, advises the university's Human Powered Vehicle Team. He said his team's win came from lessons learned through years of competing.

"For the first couple of years of competition, our goal was just to finish the course and observe how other teams designed and raced their moonbuggies," Boedo said. "In other years, there was always some unforeseen problem with our moonbuggy -- assembly, wheel alignment, chain failure -- and we learned from these failures to simplify our design objectives."

It also takes luck, Boedo said. The school had its first top-ten finish in 2005, actually completing the race with the second-fastest time but coming in sixth place due to penalties. Teams are assessed penalties if the buggy touches race elements, such as cones, ropes and hay bales, or if any team member touches the ground while on the course. Technical problems in 2006 did not allow them to complete the race.

As the first-place team in the college division, Rochester received a cash prize and a trophy depicting the original lunar rover vehicle. The second- and third-place teams received plaques honoring their achievement, and individual members of all three teams received medals.

Related Resources
+ The Great Moonbuggy Race

+ NASA Marshall Space Flight Center

+ Rochester Institute of Technology Human Powered Vehicle Team

+ NASA Education Web site
The awards for both Best Design and Most Improved in the college division went to third-place winner Pittsburg State. Murray State University of Murray, Ky., was awarded Most Unique Buggy in the college division. The Pits Crew Award went to Morningside College of Sioux City, Iowa.

First-time competitor Carleton University of Ontario, Canada, received the Crash and Burn award for braving the most spectacular crash on the brutal, simulated lunar terrain. The University of Utah in Salt Lake City earned a special safety systems award and the Rookie Award for posting the fastest time among first-year college teams.

Through competitions like the Great Moonbuggy Race, NASA continues its tradition of investing in the nation’s future by emphasizing three major education goals -- attracting and retaining students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines; strengthening NASA and the nation's future workforce; and engaging Americans in NASA's mission. To compete effectively for the minds, imaginations and career ambitions of America’s young people, NASA is focused on supporting formal and informal educators to engage and retain students in education efforts that encourage their pursuit of disciplines needed to achieve the Vision for Space Exploration.

Heather R. Smith/NASA Educational Technology Services