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For release: 01/24/03
Release #: 03-012

Students tackle out of this world challenge

High school and college students are figuring out how to get around, but not on Earth. Their focus is the Moon. It's part of their preparation for NASA's 10th Annual Great Moonbuggy Race April 11-12 in Huntsville, Ala. The teams will race a human-powered vehicle over lunar-like surfaces in the event inspired by the NASA team that developed the original lunar roving vehicle some 30 years ago.

The holidays are over.  Classes are back in session.  And, on university campuses and in high schools scattered across the country, small groups of students are turning their attention back to the problem of getting around … on the Moon.

Come again?  The Moon?

That’s right.  Well, to be more precise, getting around on a lunar-like surface.

Dozens of student teams have undertaken a similar challenge to that faced by NASA engineers some 30 years ago: develop a vehicle that can travel on the rough terrain of the “lunar” surface.

The student teams revisit the same, unique and daunting mix of problems once faced by NASA.  And, just as engineers at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center and the Boeing Company in Huntsville, Ala., overcame those problems with an overwhelming success, many of these teams also will meet the challenge of building a human-powered “moon buggy “ for NASA’s 10th annual Great Moonbuggy Race.

NASA’s lunar rover was driven on the Moon during the last three Apollo missions. According to Apollo 17 astronaut Harrison Schmitt, one of the last to explore the lunar surface during that mission,".... the Lunar Rover proved to be the reliable, safe and flexible lunar exploration vehicle we expected it to be. Without it, the major scientific discoveries of Apollo 15, 16 and 17 would not have been possible — and our current understanding of lunar evolution would not have been possible.”

The next “lunar” showdown is set for this spring in Huntsville, the site where many of the most important milestones in the U.S. space program began.

Participating student teams in the Great Moonbuggy Race must design a vehicle that can fit into a space no more than 4 feet by 4 feet by 4 feet, be quickly unfolded or opened to its operating configuration, and be light enough for its two drivers to carry.  During the race, the two operators — one male, one female — power and drive the vehicle over a half-mile obstacle course of simulated moonscape terrain.

To get ready for the competition, student teams begin work months in advance. In fact, even during the actual Moonbuggy race, some teams begin work on the next year’s buggy specifications.

Winners in each category, high school and college, are determined by the fastest vehicle assembly time, plus time through the course.  An additional prize is awarded to the team with the best technical approach to solving the engineering problems of navigating the “lunar” surface.

Event details, race rules, information on the course and photos from previous competitions can be found at the Great Moonbuggy Race Web site:

For more information:
News release
2002 college winner photos
2002 high school winner photos

Jerry Berg
Public Affairs Office
(256) 544-0034

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