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Take a Drive on the Moon
12.14.06
 
A moonbuggy in front of a lunar lander model
What a difference a few years can make.

Not too long ago, NASA's Great Moonbuggy Race competition celebrated the history of space exploration. It has been about 34 years since a real moonbuggy -- the lunar rover -- was last used on the moon, during the Apollo 17 mission.

Image to right: A team pedals a moonbuggy past a model of a lunar lander during a competition. Credit: NASA

Today, though, the contest is a celebration of both past and future. As part of the Vision for Space Exploration, announced in January 2004, NASA is making plans to return to the moon. NASA has already established guidelines for the launch vehicles and spacecraft that will carry humans to the moon and back. Now, the agency is working on ideas for the hardware that will be used once astronauts get there, including surface transportation.

The future engineers that will play an important role in carrying out the Vision 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 competition is conducted by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, and the race takes place at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Ala. The event is sponsored by the Northrop Grumman Corporation, and receives support from several other organizations.

A team member works on the front of a moonbuggy
The competition features two divisions, one for high school teams and the other for college and university teams. Teams of six build their own moonbuggies in advance of the April 13-14 competition. (Two teams may enter per school.) During the event, two drivers -- one male student and one female -- must pedal their buggy through a half-mile course featuring simulated lunar terrain, including obstacles inspired by craters, rocks, lava ridges, inclines and lunar soil.

Image to left: Team members must be prepared to make quick repairs to their buggies if something breaks. 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 feature simulated versions of equipment on the real lunar rover, including a TV camera, high-gain antenna and batteries, among others.

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

Related Resources
+ Great Moonbuggy Race

+ NASA Education Web site

+ The Vision for Space Exploration

+ NASA -- Apollo
Teams interested in participating in the competition must register by Feb. 1, 2007. However, event organizer Durlean Bradford stresses that teams should not wait until then to begin preparing their buggy, as they would likely find they did not have enough time to complete it before the event.

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 engineering, scientific and technical missions.

 
 
David Hitt/NASA Educational Technology Services