Episode 8: International Moonbuggy Teams

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Episode 8: International Moonbuggy Teams
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This episode is a part of the NASA
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Show Notes

Special Guests: Vanessa Gstettenbauer, German moonbuggy team member, and Stefan Madansingh, Canadian moonbuggy team manager

(0:00) Intro

(0:21) Great Moonbuggy Race overview and introduction of interviews with members of international teams competing in the Great Moonbuggy Race. German moonbuggy team member Vanessa Gstettenbauer and Canadian moonbuggy team manager Stefan Madansingh talk about the excitement and challenges of building a moonbuggy as their teams prepare to be the first to represent their respective countries in the moonbuggy race.

(1:18) Interview with Vanessa Gstettenbauer.

(7:46) Interview with Stefan Madansingh.
       Great Moonbuggy Race  →
       Article about the Great Moonbuggy Race
       Article about international moonbuggy teams

(16:45) Applications for the NASA Langley Research Center Pre-Service Teacher Institute  → are due May 30, 2007.

(18:05) End

Send your comments or questions to: educationpodcast@nasa.gov

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Deana Nunley: This is NASA Student Opportunities -- a podcast connecting high school and college students with learning opportunities inside America's space agency.

Episode 8. April 4, 2007. I'm Deana Nunley. Thanks for joining us today.

NASA's 14th annual Great Moonbuggy Race is little more than a week away. A total of 60 high school and college teams will compete in this year's race April 13 and 14 at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Ala.

The race is inspired by the lunar rover vehicles astronauts drove on the moon during the three final Apollo missions in the 1970s. Students across the country and around the world are hard at work designing and building their own lunar vehicles to race against the clock on a half-mile track that simulates the surface of the moon.

And today, we have the pleasure of talking with members of two teams from "around the world" -- specifically, Germany and Canada.

Following in the footsteps of Wernher von Braun and his team of German scientists and engineers, a new generation of German scientists and engineers is coming to America to compete in the moonbuggy race as part of their student astronaut training in the European Space Education Institute. Vanessa Gstettenbauer is one of the members of the German moonbuggy team competing in the high school division. Vanessa, how did you find out about the Great Moonbuggy Race?

Vanessa Gstettenbauer: The coach of our student astronaut training is Yvonne Heckel, and she's the German Space Ambassador. And last year, she went to Huntsville to the Moonbuggy Race 2006, and Ralf Heckel, her husband, wrote a book about this called "Huntsville, Rockets and Moonbuggy Race," and Jesco von Puttkamer shot a film about the race for the students, for us. And I guess last year they already had the idea and the vision of a first German moonbuggy team, starting at this moonbuggy race this year. Last year, they told us about this competition and asked the best of us if we wanted to take part. And, of course, we wanted to -- not only because we've never been to America or we wanted to see the American spaceflight centers, but also because it's really a big challenge and we want to accomplish it. And last month, we entered the Web site of the race and registered, and now we're in.

Deana: Could you tell us about your team?

Vanessa: Our team is not really big. As I said, the coaches took the best of us, and now we're just four students -- from the South from Munich, from Stuttgart, and from the East from Vogland. And we're all 16 years old. But our institute is in Leipzig, in the East, and we're constructing the moonbuggy in Leipzig. Yes, and we're constructing and working according to the NASA core values: safety, teamwork, integrity and mission success. And it helps to be a real team, because we are a motley crew; we are mixed from [the] whole [of] Germany, and we did not know each other before our mission or our training to student astronaut started.

Deana: What attracted you to participate in a competition so far from your home?

Vanessa: It attracted [us] because it is so far from home. It is just like a big adventure for us, I guess. And we think that it's important to look over the world, because in our future, we definitely have to work with America or different countries, and that is why we want to begin early to match with the American views and so on. In Germany, many people just get a view from Germany, but we live in a world which is changing and which is globalizing now, and we think that our future is not only in our own country. And I'm really curious how we'll perform with our buggy. And important for me is also to get to know many American students, and I like the American way of life, and, yes, I'm really curious about this country.

Deana: What are some of the challenges for your team as you prepare for the moonbuggy race?

Vanessa: The distance between our homes, and the fact that we did not know each other at the beginning. It is hard to form a running team in this short time, that we got to know in last year -- October, I guess -- but now it's quite funny with this team, and we get [to be] friends a little bit, I guess. And we started to construct with manufacturing tools like in the research department of Daimler-Chrysler or in different technical factories with different main focuses.

And the whole moonbuggy thing is more an additive project to the student astronaut training, and we had to try to accomplish both, and that was then -- and is now -- hard. But the hardest challenge next to the construction of the moonbuggy is to get partners or sponsors in Germany to the flight to America and the time there, because we are just students without a lot of money. And we're just looking for a sponsor, but did not find one because in Germany the whole theme of spaceflight and space travel and astronauts and other things are not known, and really no company wants to spend money on this.

And this is really hard, but we've got one big sponsor [to] whom we are very thankful; it's Bruno Banani, the first brand designer in space. And he spends money on our coaches so that they have the possibility to train us. Besides, it's hard to go to Leipzig all the weekends and the holidays because we've got to reconcile the school, the training, the moonbuggy and our normal hobbies like sports, music, playing instruments, scouts, acting and so on. But, as a matter of course, the moonbuggy race is the first priority now.

Deana: What has the team learned while designing and building the moonbuggy?

Vanessa: We learned lots of things, especially all the technical things we heard in the factory tours. We learned how to operate construction software for example, or how to figure for example the propulsion out, and what powers are acting on things, and so on. But we also learned other important things: for example, how to win technical partners, or how to talk to the media, and how to present us in front of important people. And that's all a part of the astronaut training, and it should make us ready for a possible future, for example, maybe in space travel.

But more important are the things we learned and found out about teamwork and charged work with a team in an extreme situation, because the press and the media in Germany will look at us maybe, and there's a high pressure that our moonbuggy must be very, very good. And many of the American participants already took part in this race and they've got the know-how, but we just saw a film about it.

But we'll see. I know, and I think, that we are a serious rival. But I guess maybe that this year is not yet successful for us, but we'll come next year and we'll also get the know-how, and I hope we'll succeed whenever.

Deana: Could you share your thoughts on being part of the first German team to compete in the Great Moonbuggy Race?

Vanessa: My thoughts. I'm very excited. I hope that we accomplish it as well as we can, and I hope that nothing will happen we just didn't see before. But I'm also a little proud of being chosen in this team, and I'm looking forward to fly to America very much. It's a big intention and it's an adventure for us, and just a big variety into the normal everyday life. And the experiences we get this month, nobody can take away. We learn to live with stressful situations, we solve problems, and, yes, I guess we learn how to work in the future in a job like adults, with responsibility and motivation and engagement and so on.

As you ask, it's a big challenge, but I don't just feel excited or proud of being a member of the first moonbuggy race [team], but also of being a student in the first European Space Education Institute.

Deana: Another international team in this year's race is from Carleton University in Ottawa, Ontario. Canada is contributing an essential component of the International Space Station, the Mobile Servicing System. This robotic system is playing a key role in space station assembly. The Canadian moonbuggy team manager is Carleton engineering major Stefan Madansingh. How did you become interested in competing in the Great Moonbuggy Race?

Stefan Madansingh: It's kind of a funny story. A patron, or an advisor of ours, came to us with footage from previous races. He'd been to a race two years ago. He just happened to be in Huntsville and caught some footage, and thought it would be a really cool idea and brought it to our student group. I'm a member of a group called Carleton University Students for the Exploration and Development of Space. It's a SEDS chapter at Carleton University. He brought us the footage of the race and asked if we'd be interested in maybe trying to put together a team and seeing if we could get down there, because he knew that there had never been another Canadian team before. Why not? So we basically took that idea, and found a good group of guys that were really interested in it and we've just run with it since.

Deana: So this is the first time for a Canadian team to compete in the Moonbuggy Race?

Stefan: As far as I know, yes. I've been in contact with the head organizer of the race, and as far as she knows and as far as I know, we are the first Canadian team to attend.

Deana: That must be exciting for you.

Stefan: It is. There's a good amount of pressure involved with it, too. Along the line of the grapevine of word, the Canadian Embassy has become involved, and they are interested in our progress. It's a big deal because we are the first Canadian team and we are representing our school. It's really exciting, and all the guys that are involved are really pumped about it.

Deana: How many members are on your team?

Stefan: In terms of design, there have been a handful. There have been many guys involved that give ideas and have been helping to design the moonbuggy. There are about five or six core guys now that are helping to construct and are working on building the actual moonbuggy, myself as one of them. We've organized in such a way that we split everything into groups of teams, and every team head is individually working on the construction and they're head of their design group, who are working on designing specific components for [the] moonbuggy as a whole. It's worked out so far.

Deana: How many of the team members will actually make the trip to Huntsville to participate in the race?

Stefan: As many as we can get out right now. It's probably going to end up being us driving out, probably renting a truck and just driving the moonbuggy out. So whoever wants to go, whoever wants to make the 18-hour drive out to Huntsville, is more than welcome.

Deana: How would you characterize the strengths of your team?

Stefan: I think that's really funny because the project itself, when you think about it, it's really mechanical and there are a lot of aerospace students. Our school, Carleton, has a faculty dedicated specifically to aerospace, so all of the members of the team are in aerospace or are in mechanical engineering. We have a handful of engineers and non-engineers that have helped out in the project, ranging from electrical engineers to civil engineers who have been helping us with structure testing and safety, environmental engineers, people who are just interested in the project. Not so much that that's their type of study, but they just want to be involved in something. It's really cool. We have a really widespread and different knowledge base of people to work from. It's been really good. I've been really impressed with the diversity and how many people become involved and really interested in what we're doing.

Deana: What about challenges? Have you faced a lot of challenges as you've been preparing for the race?

Stefan: [laughter] Oh yes. The biggest trouble really has been the fact that we're the first group to start this. The other thing, it really shouldn't be a factor, but most of the design team and construction team now are first and second years [first- and second-year students]. The project is completely run by first and second years. We have a couple of fourth-year advisors and our patron advisor, who brought the project to us, but he is not an engineer, just an enthusiast.

Really, a lot of the trouble, I don't think so much has come from design, but from getting support. It's been hard, because people are hesitant to put money towards a group who haven't really done this before or aren't that experienced, such that they're not very old and are new in their education.

We're mostly first and second years, so that's really been our biggest trouble, getting people to really support us and give us the backing we need to buy the materials, to get the space to build and just do the work that we need to do, that we've been designing to do all year. That's really been our major obstacle.

Design went quite well. We had a number of professors who were really interested and were willing to help us out in giving advice on design and design ideas, specifications and stuff like that. But it's mostly been financial, just support and getting out there and getting people interested and knowledgeable about what we're doing. Making ourselves known, that's been the hard part.

Deana: What has the team learned as you've been designing and building the moonbuggy?

Stefan: Money's hard to come by, the team itself has learned. I can't even begin to describe to you how valuable I, personally, and members of my team think this has been because, again, we're all really young and at an early stage in our education. And we're working on something that is, quite literally, real engineering. It's an opportunity that you won't usually get until, for us, like our fourth-year projects, until we are actually doing design specification and subsequent construction.

The guys have learned how to model in 3-D, do engineering drawings, how to approach potential support or people for finance.

It's so much. I don't even know where to begin. We've learned a lot about working as teams and how difficult it can be, especially when you have a large group of people working on one design, and then communicating between one another, making sure everybody's on the same page. That's been a bit of trouble. It's been a lot of learning. The guys are really happy with the progress we've made, and we're just trying to get it finished and get out there.

Deana: Going into the competition, how much do you focus on winning the race?

Stefan: Winning the race right now isn't our top priority. Our top priority is building the moonbuggy. Since it's our first time and we've been really lacking in support out here, our biggest concern, our number one goal, is making this the best we can and getting out there just to show that we can. Oh, that doesn't rule us out. I wouldn't say we're definitely not in the running for winning the race. We've pooled the people who are interested in riding, and they've been training all year because we've been working on this all year. We've put the bug in the back of their minds that if you want to ride the moonbuggy, make sure you're in shape. So we're doing tryouts, and we're going to try to get the best people out there to ride it and make sure the buggy's in the best condition. We could win. If it happens, that's great. If not, I'll be happy that we made it there and we were able to compete.

Deana: The Canadian team will compete against 24 colleges and universities from 13 states and Puerto Rico. The German team will compete against 35 high schools representing 14 states.

Next week we'll check in with members of the Alabama A&M moonbuggy team to get a glimpse of their activity in the final days of preparation for the moonbuggy race.

Perhaps you'd like to consider entering next year's moonbuggy race. 2008 registration information will be available this fall. Links to the Great Moonbuggy Race Web site and NASA Education articles about the race are available in our show notes for this week's episode. Go to www.nasa.gov/podcast and click on the NASA Student Opportunities podcast.


Here's an opportunity for college students preparing to teach in an elementary or middle school. The Pre-Service Teacher Institute at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., is a two-week residential institute designed to increase skills in teaching mathematics and science while incorporating technology into the curriculum. The institute is held July 15-27, 2007. Participants must be enrolled in the school of education at one of the designated member institutions listed on the Pre-Service Teacher Institute Web site. Applications are due by May 30, 2007.

For more information, go to www.nasa.gov/podcast. Click on the NASA Student Opportunities podcast and check out the show notes for this week's episode.

If you have any questions or comments about NASA learning opportunities, we'd like to hear from you. Send an e-mail to: educationpodcast@nasa.gov

Thanks for listening.

NASA Student Opportunities is a podcast production of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

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