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The 2008 Great Moonbuggy Race

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April 7, 2008: Not one of the participants in NASA's 2008 Great Moonbuggy Race was old enough to have seen the 1969 movie, Those Daring Young Men in Their Jaunty Jalopies. Nevertheless, the racers all looked like stars of that film as they careened about the simulated lunar terrain race course in a motley variety of strange vehicles.

These high school and college students, representing 20 states, Puerto Rico, Canada, Germany and India, were having a blast in their home-made moonbuggies. They were spinning out in "moondust" and rumbling over "craters" at the US Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama, on April 4th and 5th, competing to traverse the 0.7-mile course faster than any other team.

Above: These students from Canada's Carleton University in Ottawa, Ontario, scored a third-place win in the college division of NASA's 15th annual Great Moonbuggy Race. [More]

The two-person crews had to first assemble their odd conveyances as part of the race before setting off from the starting line and competing against the clock on a solo run. Course challenges included obstacles like craters, rocks, hardened lava ridges, inclines, lunar soil and -- one thing never found on the moon -- a gullywasher of a rainstorm. Amazingly, most of the vehicles held up well enough to finish their runs, and a few of the crews actually did so with no penalties at all, whizzing across sandpits and the like as adeptly as the drivers in that 1969 movie they never saw.

While awaiting their turns on the track, crews worked on their buggies out in the parking lot. A Fairhope, Alabama, team was elevating the use of duct tape to high art, securing all the required parts (simulated radios, simulated cameras, simulated batteries, etc.) in place.

"Our buggy isn't as fancy as some of the others, but we're proud of it," said one of the Fairhope crewmembers: photo. Indeed, his buggy went on to make a respectable run, all in one piece. (Is it any wonder?)

Dr. Paul Shiue, faculty advisor for the Memphis, Tennessee, Christian Brothers University crew, was on hand to support his team. He laughingly called duct tape their "best engineering tool."

Several teams based their buggies on junk yard parts, resulting in (predictably) tough vehicles: "One of the high school teams badly bent both rims on one side of their buggy in a leap over obstacle #3, then blew out the intertube with a bang on one of those wheels a few obstacles later," describes onlooker and NASA physicist Dennis Gallagher. Despite all that, "they managed to finish the race."

Right: A pair of drivers from Puerto Rico High School in Fajardo, PR, endure a fearsome, buggy-flipping crash. The two racers recovered quickly enough to post the fastest race time among competition newcomers, earning them the 2008 "Rookie Award." [More]

"Meanwhile, a team from India made do without critical parts that never arrived in a lost luggage bag," he continues. "They also forgot their safety helmets, goggles, and gloves, but another team gave them theirs. One of the event highlights is how teams are willing to share their knowledge, tools and parts."

Cooperation, seat-of-the pants ingenuity and serious engineering know-how were on full display--just as they were 30+ years ago when NASA engineers created the original Lunar Roving Vehicle for the Apollo program.

The moonbuggy of that era had to travel in breathtaking vacuum across a dusty, bumpy landscape, in temperatures exceeding 200 degrees Fahrenheit with very little gravity (1/6 g) to hold it down. Weighing only about 450 pounds on Earth, or just 75 pounds on the Moon, the moonbuggy could carry up to 1000 Earth-pounds -- more than twice its own weight. As if that wasn't enough, it also had to fit in the tight confines of the lunar lander. Designers made it fold up (a bit like a Transformer toy) for the voyage to the moon and easily unfold for adventure when the lander descended to the lunar surface. All in all, the original moonbuggy was a nice little ride!

Here on Earth, in the 2008 Great Moonbuggy Race, all the "daring young" men and women, winners and losers alike, seemed to have fun, and their vehicles were remarkably well constructed. Erie High School Team II from Erie, Kansas, won the high school race, charging through the course in a mere 3 minutes and 17 seconds. The college winner was Evansville University from Evansville, Indiana, with an impressive time of 4 minutes and 25 seconds.

And they didn't even use much duct tape.

Author: Dauna Coulter | Editor: Dr. Tony Phillips | Credit: Science@NASA

more race results 

Great Moonbuggy Race home page

High School Division

First Place - Erie High School Team II, Erie, Kansas

Second Place - Huntsville Center for Technology Team II, Huntsville, Alabama

Third Place - Huntsville Center for Technology Team I, Huntsville, Alabama

First Place Best Design - Erie High School Team I, Erie, Kansas

Second Place Best Design, and Best Spirit - Scotlandville Magnet High School, Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Pits Crew Award for ingenuity and persistence in overcoming challenges - Niles Homeschool Hub in Niles, Michigan

Most Unique Buggy - Alexandria High School, Alexandria, Alabama

Safety Systems Award for best safeguarding moonbuggy drivers - German Space Education Institute, Leipzig, Germany

Rookie Award for fastest time among newcomers to the race - Puerto Rico High School, Fajardo, Puerto Rico

Most Improved - Lima Senior High School Team II, Lima, Ohio

Other high school participants:

Saks High School, Anniston, Alabama
East Limestone High School, Athens, Alabama
Fairhope High School (two teams), Fairhope, Alabama
Elk Valley High School, Longton, Kansas
Carlisle County High School, Bardwell, Kentucky
Calloway County High School, Murray, Kentucky
Murray High School (two teams), Murray, Kentucky
Pinewood Preparatory School, Summerville, North Carolina
Soddy-Daisy High School, Soddy-Daisy, Tennessee

College Division

First Place - Evansville University, Evansville, Indiana

Second Place - Murray State University, Murray, Kentucky

Third Place - Carleton University, Ottawa, Ontario

Most Original Design - Delhi College Engineering Team I, Delhi, India

Best Design - Pittsburg State University, Pittsburgh, Kansas

Best Spirit- University of Central Florida, Orlando, Florida

Pits Crew Award for ingenuity and persistence in overcoming challenges - Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio

Most Unique Buggy – Middle Tennessee State University Team I, Murfreesboro, Tennessee

Safety Systems Award for best safeguarding moonbuggy drivers – Delhi College of Engineering Team II, Delhi, India, and Middle Tennessee State University Team I, Murfreesboro, Tennessee

Rookie Award for fastest time among newcomers to the race – Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio

Most Improved –University of Wyoming, Laramie, Wyoming

"Crash and Burn" prize for the racers that endure the most spectacular vehicle breakdown - Middle Tennessee State's Team I

Other college and university participants:

Purdue University Calumet, Hammond, Indiana
Alabama A&M University, Huntsville, Alabama
University of Alabama, Huntsville, Alabama
McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Southern University, Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Rochester Institute of Technology, Rochester, New York
Youngstown State University, Youngstown, Ohio
Cameron University, Lawton, Oklahoma
University of Puerto Rico at Humacao
Tennessee Tech University, Cookeville, Tennessee
Christian Brothers University (two teams), Memphis, Tennessee
a second team from Middle Tennessee State University, Murfreesboro, Tennessee
University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah

Sponsors of NASA's 15th annual Great Moonbuggy Race (2008):

NASA's Space Operations Mission Directorate, Northrop Grumman Corp., Boeing Company, and Teledyne Brown Engineering (all of Huntsville). Other contributors include the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics; ATK Launch Systems, Inc.; CBS-TV affiliate WHNT (Ch. 19); Jacobs Engineering Science Technical Service Group; 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; ITT Corporation of Huntsville, Alabama.