Nine Days Out…Central Connecticut State and (the Former) Team Germany are Ready! Are You?

We’re nine days away from the start, racers! Everyone’s hunkered down and working hard, from the brief e-mail correspondence we’ve received, but we’re still hoping teams will send us updates and photos of their buggies! Drop an e-mail to today!

Here’s some news from Central Connecticut State University. They made their debut in the Great Moonbuggy Race in 2009, and were among the many, many racers foiled last year by our daunting lunar course; they were able to complete neither of their runs. But we anticipate a lot of clever design revisions and a field of racers newly determined to beat the track. Central Connecticut’s sure to be among them — watch this team on April 9-10! Here’s their report, courtesy of co-manager Jeffrey Cloutier:

The Central Connecticut State University moonbuggy team is working overtime to prepare for the upcoming race in Huntsville. Project managers Walid Alomari and Jeffrey Cloutier reported a nearly finished vehicle as of March 19.

We are slightly behind schedule but we are confident that our vehicle will run well. The testing and tuning phase should go well, because each of the systems teams knows their area well and will be able to troubleshoot any problems quickly.

One half of the Central Connecticut State University buggy, mid-construction.
(Photo courtesy of Jeffrey Cloutier) Mid-terms are over, and with spring break to
concentrate, the team has a chance to complete its fine tuning.

The final decision about drivers for the two heats are going to be competitive decisions.  A two-part course will be developed [at the school], and all applicants will have an opportunity to compete for time in the endurance and maneuverability events.

We will keep you posted!

Thanks, Jeffrey — and good luck in the driver challenge!

Also checking in this week is race mainstay Ralf Heckel, advisor for the International Space Education Institute in Leipzig, Germany — formerly the German Space Education Institute, or “Team Germany.” Looks like we’ll have to find a new shorthand way to identify this popular team, which always bring an infectious excitement with them across the pond. Here’s Ralf:

The NASA Moonbuggy Race demands utmost commitment of its participants. 11 months after the last event, we’re in final preparations again!

After experiencing four moonbuggy races and taking part myself three times successfully, I would have thought there’d finally be a routine. But far off. Again, we’re under pressure to get everything done on time. Many things are different this particular year, and that’s why I want to offer some insights and encourage people to participate.

The original Team Germany does not exist anymore. Most of them have graduated from high school and are now all over the world — also thanks to the unique references of the moonbuggy race. Therefore we have been focusing on promoting the moonbuggy race and space education throughout 2009. The German moonbuggy was on the road in eight European countries, traveling more than 10,000 km (6,200 miles).

Our core task was to raise awareness in Eastern Europe, especially Ukraine, Hungary and Russia. There was a lot of interest and astonishment everywhere. We did 120 workshops and events with and for students. We invited Russian space students to moonbuggy workshops in Germany and gave countless talks at schools.

German team members Vita, left) and Anna at the port of Sevastopol, Ukraine.
(Photo courtesy of Ralf Heckel)

We were especially delighted to cooperate with the Chamber of Trade in Leipzig, and their vocational education center. As a result, our moonbuggy is now entirely modeled in CAD, and with a prototype series of five slightly different types, we have a proper fleet that serves test and training purposes.

In the past few years, the only important topic for the first three months of the year was the moonbuggy. That required the team leader and most of the students to put in 18- to 20-hour days. It’s a bit different today. We’re still very busy, but we manage to call it a day on time and make time for family now and then. The students are more independent, and there are more of them. It’s not just individual responsibilities anymore, but more delegation of tasks throughout the team.

International Space Education Institute team members whoop it up with Romanian
engineering students at a traveling workshop. (Photo courtesy of Ralf Heckel)

However, traveling to the competition is still an open book. There are new hurdles to take. There are different luggage regulations. Last year, each passenger was permitted to bring two pieces of baggage for free — today, the second suitcase carries a fee of 100 Euros (and a third is 400 Euros!). Our moonbuggy fits into seven suitcases, but we’re only 4-5 passengers. So we’ll have to pay dearly to get ourselves and our buggy to Alabama.

The selection of racers and the Huntsville-bound team has become more complicated. The old hands have left high school. The youngsters, however, have a lot of respect for the race. But most of them don’t feel ready for it yet, or aren’t able to raise the high travel costs (German schools don’t sponsor the program financially). It has been even more difficult to find our female racer: One of our initial candidates is in another competition; another is abroad on a student exchange; a third had a skiing accident.

The actual construction of the moonbuggy is more routine now. But will it — with its many new refinements in stability and weight reduction — be ready in time? And will the new test driver meet the requirements? We will find out in April!

Good luck getting the travel worked out, ISEI racers! And we look forward to meeting the new team.

Our thanks to Regina Peldszus for translating Ralf’s material. You can read the International Space Education Institute’s own blog here. For more photos of the team and their buggy, go to

Sweet Home Chicago

Saint Patrick’s Day in Chicago WAS a lucky one, and it proved to be “our kind of town.” Thanks to those of you who wished us well!Not only did we capture the interest of the Chicago Tribune and NBC affiliate WMAQ, we also talked Moonbuggy with Chicago’s own WGN.

We visited East Chicago Central High School in East Chicago, Indiana. We arrived around 9 a.m. and couldn’t find a parking place.  Mike was behind the wheel — again — while Lori and I were busy scoping out the visitor’s parking lot to see if someone was going to move their car. Senior staff personnel, moonbuggy team members and advisors from Purdue University Calumet were also meeting us there, and we were anxious to get inside to greet them. 

Finally, someone came out to move their car. Lori and I decided to take ownership of the space and save it while Mike circled the parking lot to get to the side where we were standing — along with a truck that was hoping to get the same space. Lori, in a very polite and Southern way, said, “I’m sorry, we’re visiting the school from NASA and we really need to park since they are expecting us right now.” The young man driving the truck said okay and sped off, then I exclaimed, “Oh my goodness…there’s a moonbuggy on the back of that truck!”

Needless to say we had to smooth things over when we met face-to-face with those guys from Purdue University Calumet! They’re  racing for the 7th year and were gracious enough to bring their buggy for the TV shoot. It was really refreshing to learn that the Purdue Calumet students have been helping the East Chicago team by mentoring them and even giving them a moonbuggy frame they had used last year. The classroom was quite modern. Students were using laptops to program robotic equipment to perform simple tasks. Mike even commented his high school classroom was never that high tech. He also explained to Lori and me what they were doing, but he might as well have been speaking a different language — I said that’s why you’re an engineer and that’s why we do what we do!

The first reporter on the scene was Marcus LeShock from WGN-TV. And it just proves that a moonbuggy brings out the kid in all of us — as Marcus couldn’t wait to climb on board…

…but first he interviewed Mike and then the East Chicago advisor Deandre Hudson. They both did well, but he needed to get some perspective from the students about the competition. Funny thing though, you just never know what kids are going to say. He asked one of the female students how psyched she was to go down to Huntsville for the race and she said, “Well, um, that’s like around prom time, so I don’t know if I’m going to make it.” We laughed about that all day.

So then we took a walk outside where Purdue Calumet’s team put Marcus in the driver’s seat of their buggy. As he rounded the parking lot, he said, “This rides like a Cadillac!” That’s what he thinks — the simulated lunar craters on the racecourse aren’t as smooth as a parking lot! We finally got Marcus off the buggy and on his way, just in time for WMAQ to arrive. They interviewed the students and Mike and all went very well.

Once it was a wrap, we decided to take in some of the Chicago attractions. It was Mike’s first time to the windy city so we took him to the highest point — the top of Willis Tower (formerly known as the Sears Tower) The view is quite amazing from the tallest building in North America…although we had a small mishap on our way up. We had to go through security and Lori’s purse got hung and destroyed in the conveyor belt. Let’s just say she was not a happy camper.

From there it was on to 1060 West Addison, home to the historic Wrigley Field. After a few snapshots and a HUGE slice of pizza we headed back to the hotel to pack…AGAIN! So Mike got to see the Willis Tower, Wrigley Field, but no Jake and Elwood. (That’s a Blues Brother’s reference in case you didn’t know.)

An early morning flight from Chicago’s Midway Airport carried us to the next leg of our trip — Hartford, Conn. We had the hook up from one of Lori’s old TV buddies at WTNH. Meteorologist Matt Scott had us on his Saturday morning show, “Good Morning Connecticut.”

While Lori and Matt caught up on old times, Mike and I greeted the moonbuggy team from Central Connecticut State University. Students Hitesh Shah and Jeff Cloutier brought their buggy down for the show. Although it still needs a few finishing touches, it was very impressive to see. Everyone did great!

We couldn’t leave Hartford without taking in a joint right next door to our hotel that came highly recommended. “Black Eyed Sally’s” was the place that made us feel most at home. Known for its BBQ and “chowdah,” it didn’t disappoint! And what did we see on the wall, but a painting of the Dreamland BBQ logo from Tuscaloosa.

You can learn more about NASA’s Great Moonbuggy Race at these links:

Gearing Up for the Race — Online…on TV…and Around the World!

Greetings from Huntsville, Ala., where preparations continue for NASA’s 17th annual Great Moonbuggy Race, to be held at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center April 9-10. And it’s gonna be a bigger, bolder and wilder race than ever before!

Racers from Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Ill., compete in
NASA’s 16th annual Great Moonbuggy Race April 3-4, 2009, at the U.S.
Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville. (NASA/MSFC)

First, as previously noted, we’re anticipating the largest number of moonbuggy racers in the history of the competition — more than 100 teams are now registered, including more than 1,000 high school, college and university students from 20 states and Puerto Rico, Canada, Germany, India, Romania and Serbia. More than two dozen teams are signed up from India alone, helping to make this year’s event a truly international experience!

Next, how would you like to watch live race action from your home computer? NASA will Web-stream the event live on Friday, April 9 — the kickoff day of racing. Web users can catch all the action here:

And if your school has access to the NASA Education Channel, you’ll be able to watch television coverage of the race in your classroom. Stay tuned for more details on TV coverage!

In the meantime, you can check out updates about the race on Facebook, and once again we’ll provide real-time race updates from trackside via Twitter — including racers’ finishing times and all the award winners at the close of Day 2 of racing.

We’re proud of NASA’s Great Moonbuggy Race here at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, where we organize the event each year. It’s the culmination of a lot of hard work on the teams’ part, too — and in coming weeks we’ll hear from some of them about their experiences leading up to the main event.

In the meantime, learn more about the race, the course, the teams and the awards here.

Let’s roll!

Get Ready to Race! The 2010 'Moonbuggy Roadshow' Goes on the Road. Again.

On the road again —
Just can’t wait to get on the road again.
The life we love is talking Moonbuggy with our friends…
And we can’t wait to get on the road again
Going places that we’ve never been
Seeing things that we may never see again
Can’t wait to get on the road again
Like a trio of gypsies we go down the highway
We’re now the best of friends…

Paraphrasing “On the Road Again” by Willie Nelson seems appropriate as we embark on the third Great Moonbuggy Race Roadshow. Mike’s behind the wheel and Lori and I and are booking interviews, while constantly filling his head with moonbuggy facts so he really sounds like the expert that he is.

Okay, if you’re new to all this and didn’t follow the blog last year, you may be wondering, “What the heck is a moonbuggy?” If past designs mean something, it may look like this:

On April 9-10, over 100 teams with over 1,000 students from high schools, vocational schools, colleges and universities around the world will converge on at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Ala. For the 17th year, teams will propel wheeled rovers of their own design around a simulated alien landscape — and maybe launch future careers as next-generation engineers, scientists and space explorers.

Even though the Great Moonbuggy Race is still three weeks away, we decided to visit some of the racers on their home turf and check out the buggy-building in progress!

We started out Sunday meeting at the Huntsville International Airport — not to catch a plane, but to pick up a rental car. I was at Alamo with Mike telling the rental agent that we needed something bigger than an HHR so we could have a place to sit after putting our luggage in the car. Meanwhile, Lori was looking for us at the Avis counter, where I apparently told her we would be. I promise I wasn’t trying to leave her.

After scoring a Chrysler Town and Country minivan, we left Huntsville about 10 a.m. Sunday morning headed to Ohio, where we were scheduled to be on WDTN in Dayton on Monday. In past races, high school and college teams from Ohio have carried home multiple awards from the Great Moonbuggy Race for speed records and pit crew performance — so this is definitely moonbuggy country!

The state of Ohio might be known as the Buckeye state to most, but we saw items of interest that made our “eyes buck” while driving on Interstate 75. Little did we know that we’d see Jesus on the way! I told Lori and Mike about a sculpture that stands in front of the Solid Rock Church in Monroe, Ohio. It’s suppose to be the largest statue of Jesus Christ in the United States, and you can definitely see it while driving up Interstate 75. BAM! There it was! We got off the interstate so Lori and Mike could get pictures, and while I was praying for safe travels, I overheard Lori say to Mike, “You never know what you’re going to get into when you’re traveling with Angela!”

Then again, you never know what you’re going to get when you race a moonbuggy either. Check out this photo from the 2009 race. Don’t worry, no one was hurt!

We arrived in Dayton about 6:30 in the evening local time. We checked into hotel #1, got a luggage cart, made it to our rooms, met for dinner and then called it a night. On a side note, it’s really difficult to unpack two suitcases full of clothes for two weeks when you just have to pack back up the next morning and move on. Let’s just say our suitcases were a mess…and this is only Day One?

Day Two began with Mike’s first big show: a noon booking on station WDTN. The funny thing is, everyone thought we were with Wright State University because that was the team we were there promoting. Every time someone would come up and introduce themselves, they’d ask, “Wright State?” The reply? “No, NASA.” It became rather humorous to always be “wright” and still always be wrong. Mike even got on the set and the anchor said, “Wright State?” Well, no… He explained that we were with NASA in Huntsville, so the anchor said, “I’ve been there. My cousin lives in Madison.” Just to show you what a small world it is, the anchor’s cousin lives in MY neighborhood!

So now you see what we do. We travel to various TV stations, targeting places where participating moonbuggy race teams are from. We contact media outlets to let them know that a high school/college/university in their coverage area will be in Huntsville to race a moonbuggy that they designed and built on simulated lunar terrain at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center. We give a ballpark date of when we’ll be in the area and ask to be on one of their shows, then pull all the dates and “takers” together to plot our course. (Our news chief refers to it as the “Moonbuggy Death March Across America.”)

This year the road takes us from Dayton to Lima (Ohio); from Chicago (Illinois) to Hartford (Connecticut); then on to Providence (Rhode Island); traveling to Mobile (Alabama); onward to Baton Rouge (Louisiana); then a rapid-fire tour of Birmingham (Alabama), Nashville (Tennessee); and finally back to Huntsville — all in just under three weeks. All in all, we’ll cover a gazillion miles…I’m pretty sure that’s a technical term. We’re glad you’re along for the ride with us!

By the way, this is what a “simulated lunar terrain” has looked like for past moonbuggy races. I don’t think our minivan would be a good choice for this place:

Day Three finds us on the road to Chicago after a live noon appearance on WLIO in Lima, where we were joined by some of the Lima Senior High School team. This one we have to admit was a pretty easy sell because the news anchor’s twin daughters are on the team! Mike even commented how nice it was to be interviewed by someone with “insider scoop.” From there we were invited to Lima Senior High School, where we were greeted by their entire team and advisors in their “shop” where they have built two moonbuggies to race. Mike talked with them about their different designs — he is an engineer, you know — while Lori got a big head as the students recognized her from emceeing and announcing at the race every year. 🙂

We also talked to the students about how we’ll be streaming the race live on our Web site this year so their friends and families back home can watch. They showed us the many awards they’ve won just in the past three years of competing in the race — and we hope their fourth year is the luckiest year ever for them!

Wednesday will take us to Chicago TV stations, so wish us luck! (Get it? It’s St. Patrick’s Day!)

You can learn more about the race at these links: