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For release: 03/04/04
Release #: 04-029  

Students ready to buggy across the 'moon' as teams gear up for NASA's 11th Annual Great Moonbuggy Race, April 2-3

Photo description: Students race moonbuggies

Seventy high school and college teams are getting ready to "buggy" in NASA's 11th Annual Great Moonbuggy Race April 2-3 in Huntsville, Ala. The competition requires quickness and physical endurance, plus a wide range of skills to design, engineer and build a moonbuggy. The Marshall Center is a sponsor of the event.

Photo: Students race moonbuggies. (NASA/MSFC)

Note to Editors: You have received this news release because a high school, technical school, college or university from your area has registered to compete in the 11th Annual “Great Moonbuggy Race.” In some instances there may be multiple entries from your area. To get the name of the contact at your area school for pre-race coverage e-mail: .

They're getting ready to "buggy" at high schools, trade schools, colleges and universities. Student teams from 19 states and Puerto Rico have their eyes on the Moon. But their thoughts and energies are here on Earth — as they put finishing touches on some strange-looking machines called "moonbuggies."

They've worked long hours designing and building a vehicle they'll race across a simulated lunar terrain at NASA's 11th annual Great Moonbuggy Race. This year 37 high school teams will race April 2 and 33 college teams will take to the challenging course April 3 at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Ala.

"The students learn some valuable lessons in this challenge that will prepare them for the future," said Durlean Bradford, Great Moonbuggy Race coordinator in the education department at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville. "They have fun, too. And yes, I expect to see some of them on teams that will take humans back to the Moon, on to Mars and beyond."

The race is a grueling endurance test over a half-mile course that includes twists, turns and inclines, as well as simulated Moon craters, rocks, lava ridges and soil. Like the Moon's actual terrain, the course is tough, and the two buggy drivers who power the vehicle must be in top athletic condition. To be fit for the race, the drivers perform physical conditioning exercises and practice riding the buggy in their hometowns.

But to get to the race, teams of students work from the beginning of the school year, designing their buggies, building them and testing them – in much the same way that NASA engineers design space equipment. The students configure it to fit in a container no larger than 4 feet by 4 feet by 4 feet before it's assembled. Two racers, one male and one female, must lift and carry the unassembled moonbuggy 20 feet, without any assistance, and assemble the vehicle while being timed. Many teams use lightweight materials, bicycle gearing systems and bicycle wheels to pull together what they hope will be an award winner. Just like NASCAR, the teams even have pit crews ready to repair buggies that suffer damage while trekking the course's rough terrain.

The competition was inspired by the original Lunar Rover team of the 1960s, in an effort managed by the Marshall Center. That team had the challenge to design and build a compact, light, flexible and durable vehicle that would carry astronauts on the Moon's surface during the Apollo missions. They met the challenge, as astronauts used separate Lunar Rovers on the final three Moon missions — Apollo 15, 16 and 17 — to travel 52.51 miles (84.5 kilometers), gather 620.6 pounds (281.5 kilograms) of rock and soil samples, and return them to Earth.

"The Great Moonbuggy Race teams won't be taking soil samples or hauling rocks, but their challenge is pretty tough," said Bradford. "They have to work hard to get to the race. The design, fabrication and building of the buggies test their engineering and math skills. They also may learn a greater understanding about what teamwork can achieve, and all that it takes to the get the job done."

Additional inspiration for the 2004 race also comes from President Bush's new goals for America 's space program to return to the Moon and explore beyond. The students who are building and racing moonbuggies now could be among those who return humans to the Moon, or whose designs are adapted for future vehicles that explore the lunar or Martian surface.

"I think these young people are motivated by the President's message. And they'll come here to race, expecting to be challenged," Bradford said. "The race course is tough, and students find that out pretty quickly. They have to deal with real-life, real-time situations of buggies breaking and repairing them — and sometimes the heartbreak of not being able to fix them."

Prizes go to the top-three finishing teams in both divisions. A design award goes to the team in each division that represents the best technical approach toward solving the engineering problem of navigating the lunar surface.

The Marshall Center, U.S. Space & Rocket Center, American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics Alabama-Mississippi Section, Aerospace Development Center of Alabama, Morgan Research Corporation, Jacobs Sverdrup Technology and television station WHNT, all of Huntsville, are sponsors of the event.

Event details, a full listing of the competing teams, race rules, information on the course and photos from previous competitions can be found at the “Great Moonbuggy Race” Web site at:

For more information:
News release
2003 High School Photos
2003 College Photos

Martin Jensen
Public Affairs Office
(256) 544-0034

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