The Drive for Lunar Exploration
A moonbuggy clears an obstacle

The Huntsville Center for Technology claimed first place in the high school division of the 2007 Great Moonbuggy Race. Image Credit: NASA

NASA's Great Moonbuggy Race competition began in 1994 as part of an anniversary celebration of the first Apollo moon landing. Even then, lunar rovers were a thing of the past -- it has been about 35 years since a lunar rover was last used on the moon during the Apollo 17 mission.

Today, however, the contest has ties to both the past and the future. As part of the current U.S. Space Exploration Policy, NASA is making plans to return to the moon. Work is well underway on the launch vehicles and spacecraft that will carry humans to the moon and back. NASA is working on ideas for the hardware that will be used once astronauts get there, including surface transportation.

The future engineers who will play an important role in carrying out the exploration of the moon can get a head start today, thanks to the Great Moonbuggy Race. The race challenges students to design a vehicle that addresses a series of engineering problems similar to those faced by the team that designed the original Apollo-era lunar rover. The basic challenge -- maximizing durability while minimizing mass -- will apply to the next lunar vehicles, meaning that students will be working to solve this challenge for the moonbuggy race at the same time NASA engineers are working on similar problems.

The Great Moonbuggy Race competition is conducted by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., and the race takes place at the nearby U.S. Space & Rocket Center. The event's major sponsors are Northrop Grumman Corporation, Boeing and Teledyne Brown Engineering Inc. Other contributors are the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, ATK Launch Systems Inc., Jacobs, Stanley Associates, System Safety Society (TN Valley Chapter), Science Applications International Corporation, United Space Alliance, the U.S. Space & Rocket Center and WHNT-TV Channel 19.

The competition features two divisions, one for high school teams and the other for college and university teams. Teams of six students design, build and test their moonbuggies in advance of the April 4-5 competition. (Two teams may enter per school.) During the event, two drivers -- one male student and one female -- must propel their buggy through a half-mile obstacle course featuring simulated lunar terrain, including craters, rocks, lava ridges, inclines and lunar soil.

A moonbuggy rolls between the course boundaries

The 2007 first-place winner in the college division of the race was from the Rochester Institute of Technology. Image Credit: NASA

Unassembled, the moonbuggy's components must be able to fit into a cubic volume of four feet on each side (similar to the requirement for the original lunar rover). Assembled, it must be no more than four feet wide, but there are no limits to the length or height. The buggy must also be light enough to be carried 20 feet by the two passengers. It must also carry simulated versions of equipment that the real lunar rover carried on the moon, including a TV camera, high-gain antenna, batteries and other items.

Prizes will be awarded to the top three teams in each division, and additional awards will recognize teams for accomplishment in specific areas.

Through this project, NASA continues its tradition of investing in the nation's education. It is directly tied to the agency's major education goal of attracting and retaining students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines. To compete effectively for the minds, imaginations and career ambitions of America's young people, NASA is focused on engaging and retaining students in education efforts that encourage their pursuit of disciplines critical to NASA's future missions.

Related Resources
Great Moonbuggy Race
Shaping the Moonscape: Workers Ready Course for NASA's 15th Annual Great Moonbuggy Race
NASA Education Web Site   →
Marshall Space Flight Center
NASA Apollo
NASA Student Opportunities Podcast Episode 8: International Moonbuggy Teams
NASA Student Opportunities Podcast Episode 9: Alabama A&M Moonbuggy Team

David Hitt/NASA Educational Technology Services