Moonbuggy Road Show — Make That a 'Rhode' Show

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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:

http://moonbuggy.msfc.nasa.gov/
https://www.nasa.gov/centers/marshall/news/moonbuggy.html
https://www.nasa.gov/moonbuggy

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

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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 msfc-cs20-social-media@mail.nasa.gov 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 http://www.flickr.com/photos/spaceeducation/sets/72157623619379794/show/

Sweet Home Chicago

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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:

http://moonbuggy.msfc.nasa.gov/
https://www.nasa.gov/centers/marshall/news/moonbuggy.html
https://www.nasa.gov/moonbuggy

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

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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:

https://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/nasatv/index.html

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.

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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:

http://moonbuggy.msfc.nasa.gov/
https://www.nasa.gov/centers/marshall/news/moonbuggy.html
https://www.nasa.gov/moonbuggy

Above the Dixieland: Final Thoughts From Team Germany

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Ralf Heckel, advisor for Team Germany, shared these thoughts with us as he winged his way back home to the German Space Education Institute in Leipzig. Can’t wait to have your racers back next year, Ralf!

Delta Comair flight from Huntsville to Atlanta, 04/10/2009 12 a.m.

The small plane has reached its travel altitude of nearly 10,000 feet. We float in the midst of white mountains of clouds. Weirdly, they form gigantic summits, sloping bridges and deep valleys beside, behind and in front of us. Below, there is the fresh green country with the pink blossoming trees. Lakes sparkle. It is spring in Alabama.

The sun shines brightly on the giants of cotton. The pilot often changes direction and height. He seems to fly around the clouds. I feel like a fly in a gigantic white cotton field.

And I am exactly above that scene. Cotton was the main source of income here for many years. A small steam railway brought millions of fleecy white bales from the fields to the Tennessee River where workers packed them in small wheezing steamboats and navigated to cotton mills along the river. Then the bales were loaded into huge steamboats with gigantic red paddlewheels and were brought downstream from Mississippi to New Orleans.

That’s all been over for 50 years now. Only the culture of thousands upon thousands of agricultural laborers and their traders remained. In the evening they played their own music — a mixture of blues from the South and the mostly Scottish folklore of the north. They formed their traditions.

Today it’s known as Dixieland, as a kind of music. But only this word describes the country below me. At this height, you can hardly see a thing, but you can feel it. It is the southern mentality of the people down in Huntsville, Ala. They are kind and always ready to help.

The steamboats were drowned out by the tumult and quake of the rocket engines which became more and more dominant in the area. In a few years, the town and her surroundings developed from an agricultural idyll to a high-tech center which shortly thereafter sent 12 people to the moon.

The southern coziness was complemented with German precision and a hard-sounding dialect, and today this union, with deliberation and aim, moves not just mountains but worlds. The mentality of the German rocket engineers is not foreign at all; it’s the same. Everything is simply made or done, without grumbling; that’s the way to reach a goal.

The two words “Team Germany” are simultaneously an honor and an obligation in this town. Our moonbuggy team received this honor on the cover of The Huntsville Times this year (read the story here: http://tiny.cc/ahDXD) and I’m carrying two awards the team won at the race.

In the meantime, the countryside underneath me has disappeared. I reach the airport in Atlanta with its multinational character. The accents mix and let me know that here the whole world is at home. Everybody complements this big country in his or her own manner, with his or her own traditions.

We have had so many unique experiences these past days with the NASA Moonbuggy Race. I am curious how our students can use those experience, and how their achievements will be accepted by the people of my country.

There is one result only: For my generation it is a bond, a point of honor, to support the international youth in their discovery and pursuit of space exploration. So I use my time on the transatlantic flight to ponder ideas for a moonbuggy promotional tour across Europe and Asia, with international workshops in Germany.

Read more soon.

Thanks to Team Germany’s Christian Hein for translating!

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.

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