Registration is Under Way — Tomorrow We Race Moonbuggies!

We’re welcoming moonbuggy teams to the U.S. Space & Rocket Center today! At last count, we have 92 teams still registered and planning to participate in NASA’s 17th annual Great Moonbuggy Race April 9-10. It’s going to be the biggest race weekend ever!

And you can watch LIVE on your computer throughout the day Friday! We’ll be embedding live race coverage on our Web site — or go straight to our UStream page to keep up with the live video, Twitter feed and Facebook updates!

Then keep up with the rest of the race — and the awards ceremony Saturday evening, via our real-time, track-side Twitterthon! We averaged 220 Tweets per day during last year’s race, including course finish times, commentary from racers and audience members, and news updates… With the explosion of teams this year, our fingers will be flying!

Here’s 19-year-old German racer Steffi Fleischer of the International Space Education Institute, with some reflections on the last few days and thoughts on the build-up to the race. We’re just glad she’s all in one piece after “Team Germany’s” madcap, speed-record-setting training session in Huntsville earlier this week. They clocked their moonbuggy at 50 mph! Check out the video evidence.

Take it away, Steffi — and we’ll see the rest of you tonight at the opening ceremony!

During my first night in America, during the night I can’t sleep because I have a headache and I think I’m getting a cold. At 8 o’clock in the morning we meet at the lobby of the hotel and have breakfast together. We eat typical food of America, like bagels, muffins, waffles and orange juice and coffee. After the very sweet breakfast we get together for a briefing.

At 10 a.m. we leave and visit the Space & Rocket Center. After that we make a fotoshooting. With a lot of team spirit and good mood we can take beautiful pictures in the warm sun. Then we visit the Marriott Hotel, where we chill in the swimming pool. Because of the hot weather in Alabama we leave the hotel and go to the Wal-Mart. There we buy something to drink, energy shots for the race, creams and shampoos and my favorite thing — Cosmopolitan magazine.

 The 2010 International Space Education Institute team makes its first
visit to the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville. (Photo: Ralf Heckel)

To stop our hungriness we stop by Checker’s, a fast food restaurant. There we buy a lot of burgers and pommes — oh no, here they are called “fries,” a new vocabulary word for me.

At 2 o’clock in the afternoon we meet Terry, our friendly driver and friend, who visited the Maple Hill Cemetery with us. We visited the grave of Professor Ernst Stuhlinger, also called the “navigator of Wernher von Braun.” Then we drive to the grave of Konrad Dannenberg and a lot of other important engineers from Germany who were in the Apollo Project. The graves in America are very beautiful, with a lot of flowers or pictures.

The team paid their respects at the resting places of several German-born
aerospace engineers, among them Ernst Stuhlinger, who helped forge the U.S.
Space Program. (Photo: Ralf Heckel)

After that we drive to several Houses where we get to know the house where other famous scientists live, like the house of Wernher von Braun. After a while we drive to Monte Sano — you can call it “Sauerkrautberg” too, with a lot of buildings from the 1950s and 1960s. Most of the original German engineers who worked in Huntsville got a house there. But that is not all. We drive to the top of the mountain, where Ralf organizes an interview with Brad Huffhines, the weatherman of Channel 31.

In the afternoon we drove all together to the downtown, for taking a walk in the nice park near the Von Braun Civic Center, where we watched a very big picture and a stone of remembrance of the famous scientist.

After dinner we are on the way to the TV station where a lot of people are waiting for us. We all are standing in front of this dark camera, which sees everything and records everything you say and do. So nervous. What will he ask, will I find the right words to answer the questions? How is my hair? I am so frightened of failing on air in Alabama. But Ralf answered the questions like a master and me, I explained about the moonbuggy chassis. I AM ON AMERICAN TV IN ALABAMA.

Later when we arrive at our hotel I was jumping like a four-year-old. When Terry visited us in the hotel it got worse — he made a recording. I see myself on American TV. I cannot stop smiling.

Well done, Steffi and the team from the International Space Education Institute! Log on to UStream Friday and watch the team in action!

Moonbuggy Road Show — Make That a 'Rhode' Show

Editor’s Note: On April 9-10, nearly 100 teams with more than 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. Ahead of the race, the “Moonbuggy Road Show” is visiting some of the racers on their home turf and checking out the buggy-building in progress.

From Harford, Connecticut, we found ourselves on the road to Providence, Rhode Island, our country’s smallest state: 48 miles north-to-south, and 37 miles east-to-west. Rhode Island may be small in size, but it certainly offered us big opportunities and rewards!

Our first day dawned to remnants of rainy weather from the recent floods. Since we arrived around lunch time, we decided to try out a local restaurant  — Iggy’s Doughboy and Chowder House. We wondered, so you can, too: “What is a doughboy?” Lori decided to buy an order so we could try it and a doughboy is…drumroll, please…fried dough sprinkled with powdered sugar. We only ate a couple of bites, so we didn’t exactly soak up the “local flavor” there — time to call it a day.

The next day was our spot on “The Rhode Show.” which we found funny because that’s exactly what we’re doing for three weeks.

And talk about organized chaos! The show was shot out of three different sets with several producers and interns and anyone else you could think of running around putting microphones on people, all while offering coffee and water. We were left in a green room — really, the walls were green! — to wait our turn. We met up with students and an advisor from the Rhode Island School of Design, affectionately referred to as RISD (RIZZ-Dee). It’s their first year to compete and we couldn’t wait to see the buggy they had designed.

RISD isn’t a typical engineering school, but a fine arts design school. The students were very excited and we chatted about what they could expect at the race, while ‘The Rhode Show’ evolved around us. We were seated next to a kitchen set where a chef was cooking up something that smelled really good! It made us ready for lunch.

They may have a huge fancy cooking set, but it was Mike who came to their rescue. Nobody could find a corkscrew for the wine — PANIC MODE! — until Mike, the always-prepared engineer, whipped out a Swiss army knife. We left the knife with them as we were whisked off to another set to prepare for our interview. I heard Mike pleading with Lori, “Don’t let my knife get away!”

In the studio, the Rhode Island School of Design had brought in their buggy, and all eyes were on the interesting contraption. This room held the main news studio and the weather set. We were impressed that the weather lady could just go about her live forecast with so much other stuff going on right beside her. That’s concentration! 

The ‘Rhode Show’ anchor swooped in with about a minute to spare. “Okay, what’s this all about?” Mike quickly filled him in, and by sheer osmosis the students and Mike were told what would be asked. At one point Mike shot me a frightened look…but I winked at him to let him know it’s okay and not to worry…because, in my famous everyday words, it ain’t that deep. And just like that, we were on, and the students talked about their design, and why they wanted to participate, and Mike gave the NASA answers about the race …and it was over in a flash. 

The minute Mike walked off the set, he found Lori and asked, “Where’s my knife?” Something tells me he was a bit distracted through the whole interview. We didn’t have it, so Mike rushed to the kitchen set, and there lay his pride and joy. Whew!

We were exhausted from an early morning, so we went back to the hotel to rest before having dinner with the advisor from the Rhode Island School of Design and the RISD representative to the Rhode Island Space Grant Consortium…otherwise known as the money man who funded the school’s project to be in the race. We met at a restaurant just steps from the school called Park Side — a lovely place I would highly recommend!

The next day found us back at the Rhode Island School of Design to meet with students, tour the shop where they built their buggy and do another interview with WJAR — the NBC affiliate in Providence. This was a really neat setting as the students were able to ride their buggy outside with the downtown skyline of Providence in the background. 

Although, the whole time we were worried about our car. The advisor told us that parking was tight and just to pull up and block someone in and leave a note on the dashboard with our cell phone number. We looked at each other, wondering if this was such a great idea. The advisor must have noticed the looks. He said, “Don’t worry, we do it all the time. If you get a ticket, just wad it up and throw it away.” Very reassuring. 🙂

And those weren’t the only curious looks. You should have seen the looks on drivers’ faces as this weird moonbuggy came pulling up to a red light beside them. I heard Lori say, “The cops must be pretty forgiving in this town.”

After spending a few hours at the school, it was time to pack up…literally! Time to see if we could shove everything we’ve acquired during the past two weeks — including dirty clothes — will fit into our suitcases for the plane ride home.

Finally, home sweet home in Alabama! We have just enough time to do laundry over the weekend as we prepare to go from the Bay of Rhode Island to the Bayou of Louisiana — or in food terms, from “chowdah” to gumbo.

You can learn more about the race at these links: