Students Gear Up For NASA's Annual Great Moonbuggy Race

The Apollo 17 rover on the surface of the Moon. Credits: NASA

NASA is looking for a fast set of wheels. The 15th annual Great Moonbuggy Race is set for April 4-5. During the race, dozens of high school and college teams careen around a track at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville. They pilot wheeled rovers of their own design, and perhaps launch their future as the next generation of lunar explorers.

More than 40 student teams from 18 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Canada and India have already registered. The student competitors design, build and race their very own lightweight, two-person lunar vehicles. The buggies are modeled after the historic rovers that Americans first drove on the lunar surface during the Apollo 15 mission in 1971. The teams exhaustively test their creations to ensure the sometimes delicate vehicles can negotiate the punishing terrain of the half-mile, obstacle-strewn course.

"The experience is more than just fun. Participation in the race offers valuable real-world experience in practical engineering, teamwork and problem-solving," said Tammy Rowan, manager of the Academic Affairs Office at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, which organizes and hosts the race along with the Space & Rocket Center. "These talented, creative young minds learn lessons they'll take back with them to the classroom - and hopefully onward throughout their careers and their lives."

Students race their human-powered vehicles in time trials across a simulated moon surface. Moonbuggies race against the clock, rather than side-by-side. The event is open to the public.

The three fastest-finishing moonbuggies in both the high school and college categories win prizes from the race sponsors. Students win additional awards for the most unique moonbuggy design, best overall design, most improved team, best rookie team and most spirited team.

Only eight college teams participated in the first Great Moonbuggy Race in 1994. That event commemorated the 25th anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landing. The race was expanded in 1996 to include high school teams.

The 2008 race is sponsored by NASA's Space Operations Mission Directorate as well as outside partners including: the Northrop Grumman Corp., Jacobs Engineering Science Technical Service Group and the Boeing Company, all of Huntsville. Additional Huntsville-area contributors include the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics; ATK Launch Systems, Inc.; CBS-TV affiliate WHNT (Ch.
19); Stanley Associates; Science Applications International Corp.; the Tennessee Valley chapter of the System Safety Society Inc.; the United Space Alliance, LLC; and the U.S. Space & Rocket Center.

The deadline for registration is Feb. 1. For more event details, race rules, information on the course and photos from previous competitions, visit:

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