Monthly Archives: April 2009

Team Carleton: The Aftermath!

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The Carleton University team is back home in the wake of NASA’s Great Moonbuggy Race in Huntsville, Ala., April 3-4. They’re heading into the home stretch on their spring term at Carleton, as are most colleges and universities, but our resident blogger and 2009 Carleton moonbuggy co-driver Lindsay Los took time out to send us some final thoughts…

Well, after a year of buildup, the 2009 Great Moonbuggy Race is finally over. After an eventful and dramatic two days of racing, it was time to pack up the buggy and team and head back home.

Not before handing out some Canadian souvenirs though! On Sunday morning Raakesh decided to sacrifice his case of Molson Canadian beer to give as gifts to some of the other international teams at the competition. We dropped off some bottles for the German and Indian teams and snapped some pictures with them before starting the long trip home. 

Twenty-one hours later, we finally pulled into Carleton at 9 a.m. on Monday morning, April 6.  I didn’t think it would be possible to experience such an array of weather in such a small time period, but I guess that’s what happens when you drive across half a continent!  On the way down to Alabama we turned on the radio to hear tornado warnings and half an hour later experienced torrential rains. Then we had beautiful weather during the races — only to return home to Ottawa with fresh snow and wintery weather!

Once we were home, it was back to studying and regular school activities — like watching ourselves on Discovery Channel’s “The Daily Planet!” It was fun to see the 10-minute compilation of three days of filming, though we all had a feeling there would be a lot of footage of the “finger incident” — which turned out to be correct.

Re: the “finger incident” — Lindsay’s fellow driver Chris Polowick suffered the most noteworthy injury of this year’s GMBR. When his chain slipped during the first day of racing, Chris put a hand down to try to get it back into place — and inadvertently put a finger into his sprocket. Even with his glove on, he was cut deeply. But after a quick visit to the ER, some stitches — and, we’re guessing, a little good-natured ribbing from his teammates and competitors — Chris was right back in the buggy with Lindsay on Day 2, battling it out. What a trooper!

Also on the agenda, now that this year’s moonbuggy race was over, was figuring out who would take over for next year. Because the moonbuggy team is a project within the Carleton SEDS (Saturday Engineering and Design Sessions) club, Curtis and Brian decided to include the moonbuggy leader positions with the CuSEDS annual election.


Lindsay and Chris push hard on Day 1, but Chris’s injury and a harrowing
2009 course knocked last year’s third-place victors down to 17th place.
Nonetheless, we know Carleton will be back in 2010 — and they’ll be
back to win! (Credit: NASA/MSFC/D. Stoffer)

On April 7, we had a big electoral meeting of the CuSEDS group and the new execs were elected for next year. It turned out all the executive positions were filled by this year’s moonbuggy team members — good job, team! The actual moonbuggy project positions, however, are still in the process of being decided. Because leading the moonbuggy team is such a big job, we agreed that it would be better for Curtis and Brian to interview the candidates one on one. So I guess you’ll have to wait til next year to find out!

For more about the CUSEDS program: http://cuseds.engsoc.org/

We’ll be glad to have you back in 2010, Carleton racers! And Chris — fingers and toes inside the moonbuggy at all times… =)

Team Germany: Race Reminiscences

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NASA’s 16th annual Great Moonbuggy Race is behind us! See our Facebook and Twitter pages to catch up on all the action and learn the results. Here’s the events of the penultimate pre-race day, as seen through the eyes of Anne Geyer of the German Space Education Institute team hailing from Leipzig, Germany. Take it away, Anne…

Registration, UAH and Thunderstorms – April 2, 2009

After a quite short night of four hours, getting up at 6:45 a.m. seems to be very hard. And actually it is. I spend too much time in bathroom so breakfast I miss out a little bit. We went to the Huntsville Center for Technology like the days before. There we get a truck for our moonbuggy to be brought to the Space & Rocket Center. At 9 a.m. we do all the registration for the race and check out our pit. Some teams had already brought their buggy there. We feel watched every step we take.

But we had to go on. The Moonbuggy has to be driven to the University of Alabama in Huntsville — which is just some feet away over the highway. To give our pilots a break, Christian and I take this challenge. I have to say it is a little bit alarming to drive just between all these fast-going cars on the highway! We have to be careful with steering and speed to avoid any accident. But it is a really exhausting workout. Our chase car made it safety, driven by Ralf. So we were happy and proud after reaching the Von Braun Research Hall. We take some pictures in front of the building. Afterward we visited the UAH technological building where the UAH moonbuggy team was. And they could not believe that we pedaled the whole way from Space & Rocket Center up to here!


Surely the most unique wheels on the roads of Huntsville last week! Christian and
Anne drive to the UAHuntsville campus. No, they didn’t get a speeding ticket. (Photo: R. Heckel)

The other way around we are amazed by their construction. Their buggy consists of aluminum, plastic and carbon fiber parts, which makes it very light. Surprisingly they have the same 14-speed-Rohloff gears too. Having a look at their great equipment (the university even has a helicopter!) we take ride on their training course. Lisa and Thommy have some problems to get over the obstacles. Although racing conditions are harder than in the real race they get along with it.

Then we met Suzanne at the office to talk about internships at UAH. We eat lunch like real engineers — having a meeting and getting important information on UAH. We ask if it is possible to do an student exchange. And they really like us to study there for a while. We all get booklets with information on this topic. Dr. Benfield and Dr. Turner show us the IPT class. This is a special project with NASA. The students have to solve a real problem for NASA and their solution will be judged by them after a semester. I am really fascinated by this program. And I definitely will return to Huntsville within the next years to study one or two semesters at UAH and to take part in the IPT class.


The German team visits the University of Alabama in Huntsville. (Photo: R. Heckel)

About 3 p.m. we go to the TV station [Channel 31 in Huntsville] on top of the Monte Sano Mountain. It is quite exciting to see the interior of broadcasting studio. But at the same time it makes you nervous when you realize that you get interviewed and filmed and broadcasted! The anchorman is pretty nice and friendly so our heartbeat slows down a little bit. We talk about the moonbuggy race and our journey to America, about ourselves and the Mars 500 project (http://www.imbp.ru/Mars500/Mars500-e.html).


Team Germany participates in a studio interview for a weekend news report on
WAAY-TV, Channel 31 in Huntsville. (Screen-capture: R. Heckel)

The time in studio passes like nothing, and soon it is time to move on to Space & Rocket Center again.

At 5 p.m. the opening ceremony starts. A long chain of speeches were given. Even though we are tired it was quite interesting and motivating. The donators remind us how important it is to work in a team and to put your hopes and dreams into practice. Half an hour before leaving we get an tornado warning so we have to stay inside of the building. We watch a movie about the history of rocket development beginning with Wernher von Braun up to the latest inventions of the Ares Program. It is quite interesting although we have learned a lot of it at our Institute.

After the tornado all-clear we spoke with the Chief of Northrop Grumman. He spoke German and was very nice to see if he can invite us to an internship. Then we try to get back to the motel as fast as possible. Dinner we eat at Dreamland BBQ which we get recommended at UAH. The evening is filled with writing reports. Our pilots Lisa and Thommy are send to bed early so that are fit for tomorrow.

We really hope Anne and her teammates get to come to America to continue their studies — and to tackle next year’s race, of course. The team moves ever closer to the top winner’s circle. Will 2010 be their year?

Good Times, Bad Times and We Become a Fifth — April 3, 2009

This is a treat — the team takes turns recounting Day 1 of the race. Thanks to team member Christian Hein for the translation work.

Anne: 5 o’clock in the morning the alarm rings and after the strains of the last days it is hard to get up. However, suddenly I am awake. Today is the big day. Today the construction of our moonbuggy has to show its strength. But first we have to drive it from UAH to the Space & Rocket Center. We arrange the pavilion which Kay gave us and make the last racing preparations.

Thommy: That’s our moment. Most of us worked more than four months more or less intensely on the moonbuggy. Some calluses have occurred and there also flowed enough sweat. Lisa and I roll the buggy out of our box. It looks great.

Anne: Thommy and Lisa already roll into the direction of the boxing lane. Fabian packs his telemetry suitcase and gets in position. The cameras are prepared and supplied with new batteries. And I try to think of all eventualities to look after Thommy and Lisa the best I can.

Christian: Briefly before start, everybody becomes nervous a little bit and wait worriedly for the start signal. Also I wait tensely for it, because I already hold my camera in position since some time to get good pictures of the first driven meters.


Lisa and Thommy get ready to race. (Photo: R. Heckel)

Thommy: The pressure rises. Lisa’s heartbeat is already on 100. Now the number 15 is called. Now it’s our turn. The first step is the assembling. Thus we have to try a long time, because the umbrella cannot be fixed, nevertheless, the cube rack of 4-foot edge length fits exactly over the buggy. Next challenge: the buggy must be carried over 6 meters. But with the necessary adrenalin, the 200 lbs of the moonbuggy can be lifted fairly easy. Last point: the disassembling. We make it in very good 6.6 seconds. Then we go to the start line. The tension rises extensively. Lisa and I start to dither because of the low temperature and the excitement. Once more everything is checked through by the voluntary assistants.

Anne: Everybody is on board. The buggy stands at the start line and waits only for the signal. The tension is hardly endurable. And suddenly there seems to be a problem.

Fabian: The telemetry case works well. Data comes in, files are logged. TEAM GERMANY! That’s us. Suddenly there was no more data. Nothing is working. It’s getting hectic. But in the last seconds Ralf fixes the problems of the telemetry of the buggy.

Thommy: Then everything happens quite fast. A volunteer gives us a sign, counts down and the signal sounded. Lisa and I give everything. Surprisingly the first three obstacles are taken very fast. Lisa does a great job. After all reflection about the distance, the driving behavior and the fitness of the drivers I am calmed that she begins that easily and calmly.


Battling the course. (Photo: R. Heckel)

Christian: Now I have to run, run and again run. Every time I have taken photos in a position, I start to run to overtake the buggy, to position myself anew and to shoot other pictures. If one has a look at the results, it is completely worth this strain.

Fabian: Nothing keeps me near the telemetry case. I run to the course to encourage our team. They pass quickly. After some time they return to my position. They push very hard and give everything they are able to do.

Anne: I run more or less the whole distance beside the moonbuggy. Now all the strain of the last days and the last preparations discharges in eager calls of encouragement. I am really proud of our drivers and our whole team.

Thommy: It does not work perfectly, but with the calls of our team we struggle through the course and reach the target after 4min 20sec. Completely exhausted I try to take breath again. Just now I notice that my thighs burn like fire. Happily we hug each other and I can fade out everything around myself. For me, there were no reporters, no photographers and no other people. It’s only this moment which counts and for which me and my team worked so hard. The feeling of having taken this challenge is extraordinary. I’m so proud of us — nobody will ever be able to take us this moment.


Flushed but happy with her team’s performance, Lisa hydrates and wonders when
she’ll appear on a Wheaties cereal box. (Photo: R. Heckel)

Fabian: In the target the clock stops at 4:20. Fortunately, we get no penalties. Nothing is broken, no unnecessary penalties for the racing time. Both drivers have made a good job.

Anne: It is simply miraculous. Other words can hardly be found to describe this moment. We rejoice and embrace. Now the race time doesn’t count. We have made it. I distribute water and warm clothes and we slowly return to our pit, still absolutely in a mess, chock-full with adrenalin and the experiences of the running.

Christian: The rest of the day goes on in very quiet and regular way. We take our lunch in two groups, because our pit should be unattended at no time, if the jury comes along to judge our award application and our team. While we guard our pit, many very interested moonbuggy race participants come to us. We often explain our technology and where we come from. That’s good practice, because today TV people stand unexpectedly in front of us. I pass this interview better than yesterday’s. Also the VIPs are interested in our Moonbuggy, So I was able to introduce the design of my differential to Prof. von Puttkammer as well as Philip Coker from Northrop Grumman.

Fabian: Hopefully tomorrow the race will be as well as today and the weather will be fine, because the drivers have more performance if it is not too warm. Both pilots agree: Tomorrow we want to have a better than 5th place finish!

Anne: The day was so mind-blowing that now no reasonable end occurs to me. I can only say: It was great. Tomorrow we will be even better. And I am proud to be allowed to be here.


Is there anywhere in the world more perfect for NASA’s Great Moonbuggy
Race? (Photo: R. Heckel)

What a Surprising Day — April 4, 2009

Anne: And again the night is too short. Our report writers worked long until the early morning. I am tired. As so are the drivers. But this is not important now — it is the second racing day. Today we want to make everything better. Quickly we take breakfast and again we are on the way. As yesterday Christian and I drive the Moonbuggy from the University of Alabama in Huntsville to the Space & Rocket center.


Lisa and Thommy get by with a little help from their friends, Christian and
Fabian. (Photo: R. Heckel)

Fabian: There is already a lot of action on the ground. A little hectic rush arises. Lisa learns that we race today in a different order — we have to start much earlier today. For that we were not prepared. It is based on the placements of yesterday; for this reason we have to race fifth! I take the control case and go under the pavilion where our “Mission Control center” is situated. The suitcase is ready to receive data. But nothing comes. The buggy rolls already to the start line. So I cry, “I don’t receive data!” Ralf lays down again under the buggy and finds a loose plug with one look. Shortly before we start, everything is okay and I can record. As yesterday, everything runs with the telemetry smoothly.

Lisa: In the whole hectic rush we forget start number, telemetry suitcases and gloves. Because coming late is penalized, we go as quickly as possibly to the start. The tension increases. Once again everything is inspected and checked by the official. Everything is getting so fast that I forget even the stage fright.

Anne: Before the start, there is no time for thinking. I do not have time to be nervous, so quickly is our buggy at the start line. However our drivers are determined — today is supposed to be better than yesterday. I can not do anything except cheer.

Lisa: Then the start signal sounds. With full power we start our round. The first obstacle comes in a hard way and with full impact. Ralf is taking photos and jumps back. Anne runs screaming next to us. The first three obstacles are so quickly overcome that the first mean-time is near 25 seconds. Now comes the difficult part of the course, and also today it does not run perfectly. The fifth obstacle gives us problems again. Also Thommy slips once again his right click pedal. In spite of that, the second mean-time is good — 1:25 minutes.

Thommy: We lie well in the time. It is to be hoped it remains like this. Lisa operates the buggy today still more perfectly and more exactly than yesterday; in spite of that the crater round around the moon lander is the purest act of strength.

 


Team Germany pushes hard on Day 2 of the race. (Photo: R. Heckel)

Anne: I am up to the Saturn I, screaming and running next to the buggy. Now it goes into the crater round. I wait. From my position I can not see anything. Where are they? I stand excited behind the barrier. And at last they come.

Thommy: Then at the 13th obstacle it happens. Since the obstacle is quite closely marked out, we slide during the crossing from the gravel obliquely and we ram a pylon. It is not allowed to touch markers on the way. It is clear to us that it will not go without consequences. Now it becomes a torture. Under the pushing of our team we get it over the hilltop and with full speed it goes downhill toward the finish. Our problem curve of yesterday — under the nose of the Shuttle — Lisa takes today without problems, so we overcome the lunar dust obstacle with a lot of speed. In the last two obstacles we are shaken once again tidily. Then it is finished. We cross the finish line and I look at the timer. 4:20. Manure!! All the pains are covered by a new feeling — disappointment over not having improved the time of yesterday.

Lisa: Our buggy arrived at the limit of performance. More is simply not possible with a weight from approx 105 pounds. My legs hurt. However, to have gone the course once again without mistakes and problems is a small comfort. All parts held; now it must be analyzed where we can slim down the buggy. We can be proud, because we have the best time of all German teams in three years. Nevertheless, not to have received the victory is a little sad. The way up to there is more difficult than I had imagined at the beginning.

Fabian: The time is unfortunately almost the same as yesterday. Lisa and Thommy are angry a little bit in spite of the result. But from another perspective, it is the first time that the buggy went through the course well on both days and nothing has broken down. Also the telemetry and the on-board cam ran perfectly! The data is immense and will deliver a much more precise analysis.

Thommy: Through the continuous development of all our teams the results from year to year have become increasingly better. Our present time is better even compared to the university division — there, we would have had the 2nd place!

Anne: The time is super. However, we had expected more. Actually there is no reason to be disappointed… but nevertheless we are. Quite calmly and silently we drive back into the box lane. At the result chart, we slide into the 7th place from the 5th. [Note: After all results were in and assembly times and penalties were assessed, Team Germany ended up in 6th place in its division.]

 
Team Germany is packed for departure. (Photo: R. Heckel)

Fabian: We begin now to disassemble the buggy. All parts are packed again and put in the suitcases. We decided to finish this process today so that we have tomorrow free. We want to visit the brandy shop in Lynchburg, where Jack Daniels whiskey is manufactured.

And Anne wraps things up for her team…

After that, we went for a short refreshment in the hotel again, then drive back to the Space & Rocket Center by 4 o’clock for the awards. Because the awarding starts at 5 o’clock, we begin to write our daily reports. Slowly the hall fills up. Seventy-five teams meet. You feel like in a beehive. Will we get a prize? With a 7th place, this is hardly to be expected. However, we quiet because it starts.

One fabulous speech follows the next. Every one is inspiring in its own way. However, one speech pricks at me this evening. It is by Frank Six, the responsible NASA man for the moonbuggy race. [Note: Frank is our university affairs officer and a chief spokesperson for the race; he’s also one of the original course designers.] He reminds us of the journey we made and of everyone who helped us. He tells us the journey they made for us to come here. It is all about the challenge we have taken — a challenge of learning how to rely on each other, of sharing responsibility and of solving the problems which stood in our way.

But it is not only hard work, he said. We enjoyed the engineering, and meeting other people sharing these interests is even better. And we gained a lot of experience for life. But, he said, we have not done this alone. The were many people who helped us. And we are deeply grateful. Now the future of the space travel is in our hands. He speaks of dreams that we can make become true, of an enthusiasm that was never as great as it is today, and of worlds waiting to be discovered by us. At the foundation of all this is the moonbuggy race, and the many students here.

Frank speaks, his voice filled with pride because he sees this vision becoming true here and now. His voice vibrates. Tears roll on his cheeks. The full hall is moved and surprised. I feel proud, and somehow also internally engaged. As Frank’s speech ends, all get up and clap, cheering.

Then the awards are assigned. The tension increases with every award given to another team. And suddenly the number 15 is read out as winners! “German Space Education Institute!” We won an award! I can not understand it; yet there we are already shiningly on the stage and we get a blue plaque that reads MOST IMPROVED AWARD. We improved our time from the previous year; it was around 6 minutes — the greatest improvement among all teams. In an overjoyed way we sit down on our places.

However, the next surprise comes quickly. Dr. von Puttkammer steps on the stage and gives a speech about international cooperation. At the end, he announces the German Space Education Institute gets the prize for “Best International Team!” All the strain of the last days, weeks, months falls now from us. And I must confess that there are tears in my eyes.

We celebrate our success with Dr. von Puttkammer afterward at Huntsville’s rich-in-tradition Mexican restaurant “El Palacio.” Then, let out, we end the day.

The path we took was not easy. However, we have done it. We won two awards today, and that is more than I had hoped ever to dream. We made many international contacts and close friendships, won experiences and learned how to get around difficult situations. I must say it was all worthwhile.

I would like to say thanks to a few important people, and I think I speak on behalf of the whole team. First I would like to thank Yvonne and Ralf, without whom none of us would have come as far as we did. Indeed it is not always easy but it is worth it to go the difficult way. Then to our parents, who always support us in everything and help us in difficult situations. Especially I would like to thank Thorsten, who is an attendant, helping hand and particularly a friend to us. Of course our sponsors must not be missed here — without them our journey would not have happened. Also to all the ones working quietly in the background, who cleared some heavy stones away for us, I would like to thank you.

And to my team, which persisted on the journey overwhelmingly. Many thanks to you all. You created this — from actions come vision.

I return to Huntsville for the Great Moonbuggy Race next year for sure. Then, however, I will belong to the university division. And I will study engineering.

If you and your teammates stick with engineering, Anne, our future in space — and here at home — grows brighter every day. Thanks for your insight, and have a safe journey home.


One last memory: 2009 Great Moonbuggy Race competitors from the German
Space Education Institute. In front, from left, team advisor Ralf Heckel
and pilots Lisa Hartenstein and Thommy Knabe. Behind them, seated,
is Anne Geyer. Standing are Christian Hein, left, and Fabian Hoffman.
(Photo courtesy of Ralf Heckel — thanks so much, Ralf!)

Team Germany is On the Move!

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We’re on the course today — NASA’s 16th annual Great Moonbuggy Race is finally upon us! Here’s more pre-race highlights from Anne Geyer and Team Germany. If you’re not yet signed up for real-time race results via Twitter, get on the stick! Visit
http://www.twitter.com and click “Follow” on MOONBUGGYRACE to get the latest GMBR news!

March 31, 2009

And again the alarm clock rings earlier as I thought. Like yesterday I get up by 6:45 o’clock and disappear under the shower. After breakfast we should start immediately; however, unexpected problems delay the departure. The e-mail server refuses service. So we have to find another more elegant solution to avoid this problem and maintain correspondence with the home and our American friends.

There is also pleasant news. We made it onto the first page of The Huntsville Times! The interest which we have released with the media is huge. It would be nice to see the results of the camera shots. But unfortunately the broadcasting time is unknown to us.

By 9 o’clock it is done, so we can start. Before going to the HCT, we insert another short stop to meet one of the Indian teams. They arrived yesterday and are still correspondingly tired. Their moonbuggy is still on the way by ship to America. I can understand that they become slightly nervous. I would be restless too if I did not know that every part is here and that the moonbuggy works right. At the moment we cannot do anything for them, but we offer them our help if it should be needed.

At the Huntsville Center for Technology, we head immediately for our garage and make the buggy ready to go. Also today the television enrolls itself. A reporter interviews and films me. I get a microphone so that I can declare the moonbuggy and talk about our team, the journey and the SEI. Although this is not my first interview, I am a little nervous. And sometimes it is not very easy to get particularly the correct English words. And so I am happy when I can give him the microphone back!


German spokesperson Anne Geyer looks to her teammates for encouragement as
she’s interviewed by WAAY-TV, the Huntsville ABC affiliate. (Photo: R. Heckel)

The teams of HCT and Madison High School train already and want to compare their times with ours. Under competition conditions, we practice folding out the moonbuggy [for the timed assembly]. In this case we are, at 9 seconds, not far away from the best time of 6 seconds. However, we agreed to ourselves that with some more practice we can even be better.

Then the buggy goes onto the test track. Two rounds [matching the length and conditions] of the race are to be driven. However according to the first round we interrupt because it begins to rain. Unfortunately the times are not comparable because of this. Our best 3 minutes 54 seconds, which is in fact very fast. All buggies have gone back into the garages a second test run is scheduled for after lunch.

The test run showed one problem clearly. The rear-wheel brake is too heavy for Lisa to move. And so we begin to search for possible solutions. We decide on extending the brake arm for better leverage. It is our hope to find the suitable tools and materials here. When we explain the problem to Dmitri, the Russian driver of the HCT team, he says there should not be any problem. Christian and I also talk to Mr. White and the teacher for welding and they agree to help. After we find a suitable piece of aluminum and saw it, we weld.

In the spare time between, we talk us with Dmitri and the boys that work in the workshop. Jokes are done and we exchange interests. It is amazing already that we get on so well in spite of the differences.

After the welding and cooling down, we slur some corners and edges in order to avoid injuries. Then we test the result. The adjustment of the brakes requires a sensitiveness, so it takes a while until both back wheels stop again simultaneously. But nevertheless a test on the street is indispensable.

Christian and I accelerate the moonbuggy to full speed and try an emergency stop. We repeat the whole procedure a number of times — however, the result remains the same: The buggy moves to the left while braking. Back to the garage to change the attitudes correspondingly, then a further test, and everything is right.

 


Huntsville Center for Technology team members endure the rain to test their
2009 moonbuggies; they still make use of their 2008 models as well. (Photo: R. Heckel)

Back again in the garage we are called to go for lunch. Fortunately we have been invited for lunch with the local team. There is a tasty chili con carne and brownies. The secretary of the manager has cooked a giant pot of chili. The mood is loose. All are glad to sit on a dry place and to be able to relax a few minutes.

However, when the buggies are barely back on the course, it starts again to drizzle. Lisa and Thommy drive, and in the end both descend quite soaked and with bright red faces. However, their time was substantial — 4 minutes 9 seconds for two rounds. The best team reaches 4 minutes 1 second with a month of training. That’s not bad. Quite satisfied we decided to leave it at this attempt, also because of the hard rain. Lisa and Thommy put on dry clothes and have some time to recover.

Christian and I conclude to watch the other teams keep training. And when the rain stops we exchanged moonbuggies. We drive the buggy of the HCT and they get ours. The small round on the court suffices and clarifies the differences of the driving behavior. The guidance and steering are different and the higher sitting position leads to a completely different feeling while driving.

Now the load test approaches! Can our buggy move a two-ton truck? First, Ralf fixes the moonbuggy to the vehicle with a rope. I switch into the first gear. Feet on the pedals. Christian gives the signal. Three, two, one — and GO! The tires spin a little but then they grip. Slowly we move ourselves. No problems.

To sum it up: we do not need any breakdown service, we have a moonbuggy!


Fun with moonbuggies: German team members test their buggy’s load endurance
(and their own) by pulling a two-ton Chevy pickup around the parking lot
at Huntsville Center for Technology. (Photo: R. Heckel)

 
More fun with moonbuggies: Bug-of-war! The German team and their hosts from HCT
duke it out, GMBR-style. (Photo: R. Heckel)

 
German team member Lisa Hartenstein’s confidence is infectious. (Photo: R. Heckel)

Many thanks to Anne, Thommy, Ralf and the whole German team — see you race-side!

Team Germany in America: A Day in the Workshop

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The energy and efficiency of the German Space Education Institute team never ceases to amaze us. For the last couple days, they’ve been scrambling to get their moonbuggy reassembled after its cross-Atlantic voyage, putting it through its paces to ensure they’re ready for the race this weekend, spending time with fellow racers from around the globe, talking with local media and seeing the sights — and STILL team member Anne Geyer finds time to post some thoughts on the experience for the Buggy Blog! Thanks, Anne!


German Space Education Institute team member and blogger Anne Geyer.
(Photo: R. Heckel)

March 30, 2009

Today the alarm clock already rings 6:45 o’clock. A hard day approaches. Dress, breakfast and already it starts. 8 o’clock on time we drive onto the ground of the Huntsville Center for Technology. They are already waiting for us. First we greet the director, Mr. Turner, and then we take a short look into the school. We are received as we are used to — very friendly.

Tim White, the responsible teacher for the local moonbuggy team, shows us the workshop, which impresses us a lot. Lathes, upright drill presses and mills would be a dream for our garage in Leipzig. Many things might be finished considerably more quickly and in a simpler way, particularly for small changes to components a lot of work and of course time would be saved. Photos on the walls show their successes of the last years and their own test track.

The thoughts of going to race against a team that is so well prepared for the course worries me a little bit — there are already many advantages for the American teams: their own workshops, the support of the schools and the short journey, during which their moonbuggies do not have to be disassembled into pieces.

Next we get shown the moonbuggies. Yes it is not only one, there are FOUR. Two are still from the last year and two are driven for this year’s race by four teams. However, when we have a look at the moonbuggies more closely, my doubts are dispelled again. Our moonbuggy can keep up, definitively. It seems to be lighter and more flexible; however, [we won’t know for sure] until the race course itself, because we still lack experience.

We do not allow ourselves a lot of time for the comparing, because we want to begin at last. For tomorrow [Tuesday, March, 31] we are invited to a small test race at HCT and then the moonbuggy must go. However, before the assembly — the unpacking.


Team Germany starts assembling its buggy. (Photo: R. Heckel)

At last the chrome-plated parts lie cleanly and tidily on the workshop floor to be screwed together for our moonbuggy. Separately these parts seem insignificant, but in my head they get together to become a vehicle — one that is more than the sum of its components. All our hopes and dreams enter this work, and we are proud to have created it so far.

Christian and I work on the rear axle and attach the sub frame and the S-lead springs in order to mount the seat and the wheels. Lisa gets the seats with the new, freshly printed purchases. Fabian and Thommy work on the front-wheel suspension. The rear axle and the front axle are joined with each other. The basic thing is now created. Only still the front seat with the shock absorbers, some smaller precision adjustments, and the cable harness for the telemetry and the braking lines are missing. At the end, [we determine] whether all nuts are tightened. Then the moonbuggy is ready to start.

During the time we put that buggy together, a reporter and photographer of the Huntsville Times comes by. They take stock in our engineering. While declaring the construction, we notice how our enthusiasm is increasing more and more. Christian is explaining the most interesting parts, from the Schlumpf gears and the Rohloff transmission up to the differential, and with every point the astonishment became greater. Even the interior of the differential was examined with manifest astonishment.

But now it is done. After endless weekends of long work, and the 24-hour trip to Huntsville and an 5-hour uninterrupted assembling, we roll at last from the garage of the Center of Technology with our moonbuggy.

Lisa, our first pilot, describes her experiences as follows:

We turn our first round around the ground and all looks follow us. Curiously and skeptically the other teams look to us afterwards. I notice that the steering falls to me more easily today. And we are ready to go over the obstacle, a big gravel heap. The moonbuggy is put to test. At 20 kph, we direct to the obstacle, then everything works very quickly — a jump, a well subdued strike and already we are over the gravel heap. Slowly it starts to be fun, so we take another training round: jump over this and that obstacle, try us in sharp curves or test simply our high speed.


Lisa and Thommy brave the test track at the Huntsville Center for Technology.
HCT hosted the German team this year, and they’ve spent the week comparing notes
and helping each other practice. (Photo: R. Heckel)

Thommy, our other pilot, describes his first ride like this:

It is 1:30 p.m. when I drive the buggy for the first time on American ground. It is a special feeling. Lisa and I go into the sun and turn first just a small run around the building. This first test run proceeds very satisfactorily. No unexpected noises are heard and the mechanics function wonderfully. The gears work like a Swiss clockwork. We drive back to the garage and discuss the parts to be changed. Then we start onto the test course, which consists of several hills and obstacles. This training proceeds very well. We try out different situations. [We simulate getting stuck in gravel] to see whether we can fight with our gears out of this situation. Our moonbuggy masters this challenge with bravura. Indeed the wheels spin, but with united strengths, Lisa and I manage to drive it off the gravel. It is nice to know that we have a competitive buggy and that the work of the last weeks is quite exact and solid.

After long and hard practicing, we return our buggy to the garage at 5 o’clock and prepare it for the training tomorrow. We also visit with a team from India, who arrived today in Huntsville. They do not know yet how to get their buggy onto the wheels. It was transported as a whole and must be repaired now, they say.


All cleaned up at the end of the day, the team is ready to hit the town for
dinner — confident in a job well done. (Photo: R. Heckel)

It’s my idea to go to the Chinese restaurant where we ate very well three years ago. We all freshen up before we sit down in the car again and set off. Unfortunately it turns out that the restaurant is closed on Mondays! So Ralf decides we should go to the El Palacio restaurant in Huntsville to enjoy our dinner there. Presumably deserved, I think! It does not take a long time to be served. We eat our deliciousness from the Mexican kitchen. After that we sit down at our daily reports. I think that every evening should finish like this. We laugh a lot and we are totally happy that the day was successful.

'Flying by the Seat of Our Pants'

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Just when Mike Selby thought he was out, they pulled him back in! Mike, a Marshall Space Flight Center avionics engineer and head scorekeeper for NASA’s Great Moonbuggy Race, recalls his days as a moonbuggy racer at the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH):

I was part of the UAH team in 1995 and 1996, during my last two years as an engineering undergraduate. When the race started in 1994, it was held in the summer, and it had been primarily an engineering design activity for seniors. So in 1995 we had lost all our institutional moonbuggy knowledge — all the previous year’s participants had graduated!

I was a junior in 1995, when the race moved to the late April/early May timeframe. We were still racing on the original course here on Redstone Arsenal, on the very site where NASA tested the original lunar rovers in the 1960s. We finished in second place that year.

NASA avionics engineer Mike Selby, seen here with an original lunar rover, is
head scorekeeper for NASA’s Great Moonbuggy Race. And he’s psyched to see
what 2009 competitors bring to the course. (MSFC/Doug Stoffer)

In 1996, I was completing a very tough senior design project and I had a serious case of senioritis, so I really pulled back, tried to minimize my involvement. Then, the last week of classes, literally on Thursday night before the moonbuggy race on Saturday, my engineering classmates and I had a pizza party, and I took leftover pizza out to the team, which was still working on the moonbuggy. I think I got there at around 8:30 p.m. — and I ended up staying to work on the moonbuggy until 3 a.m., then went back first thing the next morning and we worked around the clock, trying to get it ready for the race on Saturday. We didn’t think we were going to make it.

It was the first year NASA had held the race at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center. On Saturday morning, the day the colleges and universities raced, there was a tornado warning that delayed the start. Everyone had to go inside, stay in the tornado shelter until they sounded the all-clear. If it weren’t for that delay, we never would have made it to the starting line in time!

As it turned out, we came in first place that year. But I don’t recommend waiting til the last minute like we did — boy, were we flying by the seat of our pants in those early years!

Mike graduated from UAH, and he joined the Marshall Center’s workforce that same summer. He became a moonbuggy race volunteer in 1997, and took on the head scorekeeper job in 2001. He’s been monitoring racers’ times ever since. Why?

I like the idea of helping to recruit bright, new minds to come work at NASA. I think the race is incredibly inspirational in that way. Whatever you choose to do with the experience beyond high school and college, it’s a great opportunity, and great fun. It keeps me young.

At Last Again in America!

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Thommy Knabe, a three-year veteran of NASA’s Great Moonbuggy Race, is the kinematic specialist for the German moonbuggy team, and constructed its first moonbuggy simulator. He and his fellow racers from the German Space Education Institute are enjoying their early arrival in Huntsville for GMBR 2009. He filed this report Monday when he arrived.

It is 4 o’clock in the morning, when my alarm clock rings. The night was short. The other ones of my team flew already on Friday to America. I could not, because I had a written examination in physics that was quite important.


Most of the team from the German Space Education Institute left together
Friday, March 27, for their trip to the United States. Thommy wasn’t among
them; exams come first!  (Photo: R. Heckel)

At 5 o’clock I set off with my suitcase and a part of our moonbuggy with the train to Frankfurt. From there it goes via Cincinnati and Atlanta to Huntsville — a journey of more than 6,000 kilometers [3,728 miles] over the Atlantic Ocean. It’s not only the long travel time of about 24 hours, but also the bureaucratic hurdles, because of entry to USA and the carrying of metal parts for the moonbuggy race. From Frankfurt it goes for nine hours to Cincinnati. There, you enter the U.S.A. and must indicate with the Homeland Security different questions concerning whereabouts and reasons of the journey.

An hour later I am again in the airplane to Atlanta. It is a smaller airplane with about 100 seats. My baggage arrived well in Cincinnati and it still had to be given up for the connecting flight. On internal American flights the baggage is guided on to the destination automatically. To this point in the journey, all important parts of the moonbuggy are still there.

In Atlanta I have three hours of stay time. The worst thing is that my flight to Huntsville is delayed because of the weather. I am quite tired. Because I slept only two hours last night, I am almost 36 hours awake. As my airplane, again a small one, starts in the direction of Huntsville it’s 23.30 [11:30 p.m.] local time. In Germany it is now 4.30 in the morning next day. Because I fly into a new time zone, when I arrive it is still 23.30. The baggage arrived already before me. Ralf fetched it and waits now for me. We talk a little bit, but I am quite tired. So we go by car to the hotel, where the others already sleep.

A hot shower and 10 minutes later I lie in a warm soft bed — still thinking that it is quite crazy to be still in Germany yesterday and now 6,000 kilometers far away in America. I close my eyes. In any case, I am quite glad to have done this challenge alone and without problems.

Congrats on making the trip, Thommy! We’ll see you and everyone else at the GMBR opening ceremonies Thursday night.


The team is reunited stateside (that’s Thommy front and center). Now to reunite all
the pieces of their moonbuggy, shipped over in multiple suitcases and
packing boxes…  (Photo: R. Heckel)


Okay, the buggy’s built — what to do before the race? Visit the Huntsville Center
for Technology, of course, and challenge them to a preview of the real
deal! The German team did just that March 30-31. (Photo: R. Heckel)


German moonbuggy team member Anne Geyer introduces her compatriots as they prepare to
assemble their vehicle upon arrival in Huntsville for GMBR 2009. (Video: R. Heckel)