'Flying by the Seat of Our Pants'

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At Last Again in America!

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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

Leipzig to Huntsville: Anne Geyer's Travel Blog

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Anne Geyer is a member of the German moonbuggy team. As I write this, she and her fellow racers from the German Space Education Institute are already in Huntsville. They’re doing some pre-race sightseeing — and engaging in some friendly competition with teams from the Huntsville Center for Technology, the Madison County Career Technical Center and fellow early arrivals from the Punjab Engineering College in Chandigarh, India!

Here’s Anne’s reminiscences on her trip across the pond (with thanks to translator and fellow team member Thommy Knabe).

The long journey (March 26-27, 2009)

After packing hours it is at last so far. The Moonbuggy is disassembled, labeled and packed into 12 suitcases. Relief, because it became once again late. However, an important component of our Moonbuggy is still missing. The cable harness for the telemetry must still be soldered. Interested I look over Thorsten’s  shoulder, nevertheless in fact I can help him unfortunately not. And so it comes that Lisa and I are ready by 1 o’clock with our work and can still sleep for a few hours. While Ralf and Thorsten go on tirelessly and make the last preparations.

However already 3:30 o’clock we have to get up. In the kitchen Yvonne waits for us. She regret that she isn’t able to come with us, because she disassembling a children. Quickly we put on the team T-shirts. Then everything happens very quickly. The suitcases are gotten, a last once weighed and loaded onto the trailer. Also our hand luggage enriches with that or other part. We starts 4:15 o’clock with a little delay. Our first destination is Frankfurt. However, already on the first meters the convoy is stopped. Thorsten, Fabian and Christian get into a routine traffic control. Much more I don’t realize from the journey, because the short night requires their toll and I fall into a deep sleep.

Arrived in Frankfurt we have to wait again. Another two and a half hours up to the takeoff. Fabian, Ralf and Thorsten drive the cars and the trailer to a parking place and nevertheless the rest fits onto the baggage. Another one hour up to the takeoff. Impatience spreads. Why do they not return?  Now they come running through the check in hall. The time is urgent. And that also the nice ladies at the baggage tasks mean. Everyone gives up two suitcases and sorts his hand luggage. And already it goes on for the security controls. Putting aside everything with metal and getting laptops out of their bags. After nevertheless Fabian had to subject itself to another more precise search, the Boarding can begin. 11:25 o’clock everyone sit on his seat facilitated. Next stop Cincinnati.

In the airplane it’s again time to relax. We read, write travel blogs and make Rubber bear- Gang-Partys celebrated. They all can’t Sleep in fact. On the one hand because the excitement and tension onto the imminent time is too large and on the other hand because nevertheless it is not very comfortable to sleep in the airplane. We land after 10 quite uneventful hours 16:40 local time in Cincinnati. And here the whole airport hubbub begins again. Entry control with fingerprint and photo, security gates, baggage fetch, baggage check in and wait again.

After we have eat something we mount 20:00 the very small airplane to Huntsville Alabama to the final destination of our journey. The one hour flight goes by quickly. Already we can recognize the Rockets of the U.S. Space & Rocket Center from the air.

In the airport hall, Mr. Turner the director of the Huntsville Center for Technology already waits for us. He organized the transportation of the suitcases to his school in which we can build up the buggy again. Monday at 8 o’clock we start. We only take the personal things with us to the motel.

The evening fades away with a dinner in Arbys and the happy feeling of being in Huntsville again — this city that formerly was magnet for young constructing engineers and becomes magnet again today through the new space programs. In any case I am very happy to be here and maybe to start my career in the industry of the space exploration here. Tightened onto the next day I close my day report at 23:50.

At home it is now 6 o’clock in the morning. A long day ends.

Discovering Huntsville (March 28, 2009)

Getting up at 8 o’clock. It is easier than I thought after that relative long night. Today we have no time pressure so I can have a longer shower and prepare myself for the day. The breakfast turns out to be a little bit strange for European tastes. We have cornflakes with 0.3% milk and bagels without anything.

Around  9 o’clock all are ready and we can set off after a group photo in front of our motel. Ralf shows us the city and tells us a lot about the changes in the last years here have carried out. Huntsville is a typical south states city. With the beginning of the space and rocket time houses and industry settled around the old town center.

The first stop of the day is on the rainbow mountain west from Huntsville. Here we visit the Headricks Ralf knows already since his first visit in the USA. Although it’s still relatively early, we are received extremely hospitably and feel well immediately. The conversation goes up to the extraordinary hobbies of the Headricks to our Moonbuggy about Huntsville’s space history and the anecdote of the first meeting with Ralf and Yvonne. Both drive motorcycle passionately with pleasure and own three BMW motorcycles that show it to us fully pride. Very amazing is also, that they made the lead glass windows in their house self. Similarly also the home cinema of the Headricks inspires us. An own room with comfortable armchairs and multimedia equipment.  At least we are invited spontaneously to the dinner food with subsequent film for Wednesday, something we very delighted and thank accept.

Again in the car we continued our sightseeing tour. Ralf shows us a new shopping center in that we us to decide to eat. That is the bridge street town with exclusive businesses and artificial lakes. Then it goes on through the old town to the Mount Monte Sano. The mountain was settled in the 60s by German members of the von Braun team. Today still descendants of this engineers live there. So drive also to the house of Prof. Dr. von Puttkamer. Ralf can’t tell fast enough, he knows so many anecdotes and histories above this mountain.

Suddenly we stop at one small house. Walter Jacobi stands at the name plate. He is one of the last still living engineers of the Paperclip program. Without knowing whether he has time for us, Ralf rings. Spontaneously we are invited to a coffee. We sit down on the veranda and have many questions. Mr. Jacobi tells us about his work in Huntsville and about events from his life.  It’s insanely thrillingly and interestingly to listen to somebody, who formed the beginnings of the space exploration with. But it makes me simultaneous sadly, however, that there are less and less people who can tells us and that the entire knowledge and the experience of this old generation for future generations goes lost. However this that makes this conversation very unique and moving does, because who can say from himself to have talked to one of the founders of the present space exploration.

After the cordial discharge we keep on going to the Tennessee River. Hardly there arrived it starts promptly raining and a short thunderstorm moves over the country. However, after short waiting the sky clears up again and the sun shines. We get out and walk onto the shore. The air feels cleanly and smells of rain wonderfully. Because it is already relatively late we can gaze a wonderful sunset. After many photos it goes on to the supermarket in order to enlarge the offer of our breakfast. After that we still go into a small restaurant named Humphreys , where we make the evening finish and wait until Thommy arrives.

More to come from the German team and others, including some great photos and some pre-race thoughts from Anne’s teammate Thommy. If you’d like to drop the German team a line, they’re always thrilled to talk GMBR and space education: moonbuggy@spacepass.de.

Team Carleton: A Day of Discovery and a Final Week of Prep

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We wrap up the week — the last full prep week before GMBR — with some updates from Lindsay Los and the Carleton University team…

Last week was a particularly exciting one for the moonbuggy team. Curtis Parks, our project manager, got a call from Hilary Bird, a friend of a friend of one of our team members — who turned out to be a journalism student doing a week-long work placement with Ottawa’s CTV news channel. Hilary had been invited to our comedy night — which was a big hit, lots of fun and raised more than $700! — and though she couldn’t attend, she thought our team would make a really great news story!

So last Thursday afternoon, Hilary and a CTV cameraman came over to Carleton to get some footage and interviews. Curtis, Chris Polowick and I were interviewed and they got lots of footage of us working on the buggy, rolling it around and building parts in the machine shop.

It was all very exciting — but as soon as it was over, we had to start getting things organized for the next day when the Discovery Channel would be sending over a film crew to spend the entire day with us!


A TV crew from Discovery Channel Canada interviews Curtis Parks, Carleton’s
moonbuggy project manager, about his team’s progress toward the
2009 race. (Photo: Carleton University)

Bright and early Friday morning, the Discovery film crew rolled in and started filming us working on the buggy. The first thing they did was hook Curtis up to a hidden microphone so they’d be able to follow all the action over the course of the day. At that point, the buggy had everything on except one set of pedals and the seats, which the film crew was hoping to film being made — it’s an exciting vacuum-forming process done by Industrial Design team member Andrew Lowe. [Note: Lindsay’s brief Q&A with Andrew appears below.] 

We took the buggy for a little spin from our team room down to the machine shop, with the film crew running behind, then set to work for the rest of the day. Everything seemed to be a little bit more exciting and intense with the film crew hovering around. They were in on all the action and would stop us every once in a while to capture our work and explanations of what we were doing. After lunch, Curtis and I were taken aside for extensive individual interviews with one of the producers to give a more detailed explanation of exactly what we were doing this year, how it was different from last year, some experiences we’ve had and what we hope to achieve.


Carleton team member Rakesh Bharathi (rear center) walks the Discovery film crew
through the intricacies of moonbuggy development. (Photo: Carleton University)

After an exhausting but exciting day, we finally got the buggy back to the team room and were just sitting down to figure out what needed to be done next… when we realized it was 5:50 p.m. and our CTV news story was being aired in 10 minutes on the 6 o’clock news! We ran down to the university pub, and got there just in time to watch ourselves on TV. Our story also was put on the Internet newscast and was seen across the country all weekend. Talk about awesome publicity!

We also finally selected our moonbuggy riders for this year’s race. Taking advantage of the machine shop’s lunch break, tryouts were held Tuesday at noon in our athletic center. We decided on a recumbent bicycle tryout to simulate our buggy’s riding position — turns out riding a recumbent bike is a lot harder than it looks! Though there were no other girls and therefore no need for me to try out, I decided to do it anyway, to see how I ranked with the guys. It ended up being a tie for first place between me and Chris Polowick, who will be our male rider. Time to start the serious training now!
 
Q&A with Andrew Lowe, third-year Industrial Design student

How did you get involved in the Moonbuggy Project? 
I got involved in the project after Curtis and Brian [Mattock, Curtis’ fellow project manager] appealed to us designers to help them build a better buggy. The project looked interesting, and I love working with my hands, building things. The ability to apply design principles to the project, and being able to manufacture major parts of the buggy, is what sold me.

What are your contributions as the token Industrial Design student on the team?
I’ve been dealing with the human factors of the moonbuggy. It seemed to me that previous Carleton moonbuggies had been well engineered, but rider, pedal and seating positions had been left as an afterthought. Research into recumbent bicycles and cycling ergonomics led to the initial positioning of the pedals and seat in relation to the riders.

Speaking of seats, they have been my main contribution to the project. The seats were designed through a series of development sketches and then refined and modeled in SolidWorks 2008. They are made of a folding aluminum frame with vacuum-formed ABS plastic bottom and back panels. After a few tweaks, the seats are quite comfortable and definitely spice up the look of our moonbuggy.


Carleton industrial design major Andrew Lowe joined the moonbuggy team this
year to help punch up “the human factor.” He designed this innovative, ergonomic
seat, left, using SolidWorks CAD software; the finished product, right, awaits
installation. (Photo: Carleton University)
 

What have you enjoyed most about the experience?
I’ve enjoyed working with all the engineers involved in the project. I normally work with other designers, and its been nice to work with some more technically minded people. I’m looking forward to representing Carleton’s School of Industrial Design, as well as being one of the few industrial designers at NASA’s Great Moonbuggy Race.


Andrew conducts the vacuum-forming process. To get a look at more of his design
work, visit
http://www.lowe9.com. (Photo: Carleton University)

Team Germany: Final Preparations and Inspiring Demos

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Ralf Heckel’s got an update on technical work being concluded on the German moonbuggy. His team is preparing to depart for the United States at the end of this week. Race time is nearly upon us!
 
Our new, self-designed differential gear finished its first long-term test. There was normal abrasion after fabrication; a surprise was the abrasion of the brass — the carbon fiber pieces scraped at the brass rings. They are smaller after the 24-hour-test (1,5/100 mm). We bonded them together with two-component glue, and now the four small pinions work perfectly without abrasion.
 
Our electronics department is a disaster. Our student specialist leader is ill, so all the other students must make his work too. But it works! All components are working: data-logger, radiotelemetry, short message display, sensors. Now we assemble all together in our Telebuggy computer case. Tomorrow, our students must make a difficult cable tree with lots of data lines. One is a multiple clip located between the Telebuggy computer and the Moonbuggy. Such a clip [interrupted] a space shuttle launch last year. So it must be very secure.


German moonbuggy CAD designer Fabian Hoffmann hard at work. (Photo: R. Heckel)


Primary work is complete on the German team’s 2009 moonbuggy.
Y’all ready for this? (Photo: R. Heckel)


German moonbuggy teammates Lisa Hartenstein and Thommy Knabe put the
buggy through its paces in bustling Leipzig, Germany. (Photo: R. Heckel)

On March 24, our partner team and their professors from the Moscow Aviation Institute visited us. All liked to ride the moonbuggy. All want to be a part of our Russian team for 2010. The summer school for this team starts in summer 2009 in Leipzig. Also, we got an invitation to visit “the Krim” (Crimea) on the Black Sea. There is an international aerospace conference there for students — we should present the moonbuggy there. Near this place, former Russian rocket chief designer Sergei Korolyov tested his first self-constructed plane.

Heckel and the moonbuggy team also visited recently with Germany’s next generation of Olympic hopefuls at the “High School for Sports” in Leipzig. Check it out at http://www.sportgymnasium-leipzig.de/.

This is Germany’s “elite school of sports” — the most successful school for training of the national Olympics teams’ future generations.
 
Students of athletics and bicycle sports were testing the moonbuggy. This was a complete new experience for all — it was fun and was the ignition for a lot of discussions. The event was organized by the science advisor at the school and by the German Space Education Institute.


German sports students — potential future Olympians — try out the moonbuggy
and talk sports strategy with the GMBR team from the German Space
Education Institute. (Photo: R. Heckel)

The science results of the moonbuggy team are an inspiration for the sport students. Now they are ambassadors for the moonbuggy spirit at the next Olympic games.

Glad to see Germany’s moonbuggy team making such an international impact, and we look forward to the Russian team’s entry in 2010! Certainly, the Germans are putting together a formidable entry in pursuit of this year’s new “Best International Team Race Time” award, one of numerous prizes NASA and its corporate sponsors will present to participants in the 2009 Great Moonbuggy Race.

Will YOUR team take home a prize? We’ll find out in a few short days!

Carleton Woos Discovery,Nears Buggy Completion

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Here’s Lindsay Los with more news and insight from the Carleton University moonbuggy team:

 

We’ve had some really exciting developments with the media this week.  After getting some advice from the Media Relations team at Carleton, we managed to get in contact with a couple different TV programs. This led to some chatting with The Discovery Channel and they decided they’d like to get some footage of us doing various moonbuggy tasks! Because they’re based out of Toronto, they asked us to film our team members building parts in the machine shop and assembling the buggy. We happily agreed and spent Friday morning filming each other finishing up parts in the machine shop. When we finally completed our work in the shop, we started building the buggy, and eight hours later, it was assembled!  It still isn’t 100 percent complete — it’s missing pedals and seats, and various other things need to be adjusted, but it was complete enough for a photo shoot with the university publication Carleton Now.

 

Upcoming highlights include making the seats and our rider tryouts. Andrew Lowe, our Industrial Design team member, will be building the seat mold and vacuum-forming the seats followed by some CNC’ing in the machine shop. Tryouts will consist of a short individual time trial on a stationary bike in our Athletics Center. Hopefully we’ll be riding our buggy by the end of next week!

 

 

Carleton team members Curtis Parks, front, Lindsay Los and Brian Mattock show off their nearly finished moonbuggy. (Photo courtesy of Carleton University)

 

  

Hard at work: Clockwise from top: Team members Rakesh Bharathi, Brian Rutkay, Chris Polowick, Brian Mattock and Ayron Catteau. (Photo courtesy of Carleton University)

 

Lindsay also cornered her busy teammates with a quick Q&A. Here’s Brian and Chris in the interrogation seat:

 

Brian Mattock, moonbuggy tech manager

Third-year aerospace engineering student

 

How did you get involved with the Moonbuggy Project?            

I started with the project when it first began here at Carleton. I was young and naïve and was drawn to the glamour of NASA and a trip to Huntsville. I’m glad I got involved — the entire project was one of the coolest things I had done!

What do you do as tech manager?
This year we’re trying to move the project in a direction more critical of engineering principles. As tech manager, I’m responsible to take the work from each design team and make sure they did their math properly. I’m also Curtis’s right-hand man when it comes to the administrative and financial work.

What’s your favorite part of being on the moonbuggy team?

It’s hard to pick just one part that I enjoy the most. If the project wasn’t as much fun as it is, I probably wouldn’t be doing it. But if I really had to pick, it would be seeing the buggy go together. It’s especially rewarding to see paper designs become a reality.

 

Chris Polowick, team welder/all-around superhero

Third-year aerospace engineering student

 

How did you get involved in the Moonbuggy Project? 
I was having a conversation with Brian, our tech manager, about how I wished that [our engineering curriculum] had more actual design projects for students. He told me about the moonbuggy team and said he had an opening for someone to design the suspension. I told him I was interested and it just went from there.

What have you liked best about the project?
I’ve really enjoyed the build so far. I’ve always liked hands-on projects, and actually seeing our design taking shape has been really exciting.

Is there anything in particular that you are looking forward to?
It’s going to be really cool to see it finally completed. When the buggy is finished, and we ride it around for the first time, it will be really exciting. We’ve all put a lot of hard work into the project so far, and I’m really interested to see how the final product will turn out. Also… winning.

 

Carleton’s moonbuggy team this week held its Comedy Night fundraiser — get in touch with them to talk about how your school can come up with similar ways to raise money for your Huntsville trip!

2009 Teams to Watch: Team Germany

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Ralf Heckel’s back with a spotlight on the German Space Education Institute and its 2009 moonbuggy team.

 

Our claim: “As a space engineer, you must decline what is not the best as you can give.” — Wernher von Braun

 

The German Space Education Institute

The German Space Education Institute (SEI) in Leipzig is a grassroots association of public utility and support for the engineering professions in the astronautics sector. More than 60 prominent international specialists work for this unique initiative. They offer international students excursions and internships in the aerospace industry via Germany to the United States and Russia. There is a variety of possibilities among the association’s programs, including full-time activities for 8th grade students, international competitions, advancement for A-level students, exchange programs and various special tasks for talented school students.

 

Participants who graduate excellently in Leipzig (in workshops and excursions on weekends or on holidays) are delegated to the Cosmos Olympiad in Moscow or to NASA’s Great Moonbuggy Race in Huntsville, Ala. Because of the Institute’s relationship to industry and business, graduating from the German Space Education Institute opens doors: helping students get jobs, or get accepted for further studies.

 

The German Space Education Institute is launching its first international space-student exchange program in 2009. It is about the common construction of a test mobile for the preparation of the manned flight to Mars. U.S. students from Huntsville and Russian space students will meet German space students in Leipzig and elsewhere. They can trace the historical paths of Dr. Wernher von Braun and Sputnik designer Sergei Korolyov, complete technical internships in large factories and produce parts for their moonbuggy at Leipzig‘s small handcraft factories. (Leipzig is home to numerous key players in early space exploration, including Dr. Eberhard Rees, who earned his diploma there as a young engineer, then managed a local engineering company before coming to the United States. Rees eventually became the second director of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, which organizes the Great Moonbuggy Race!)

 

The German Space Education Institute is thankful for every interested engineer and industrial partner who has helped to build science bridges for exploration around the globe. Its international education partners in Russia are the Institute for Biomedical Problems (IMBP) in Moscow, the Youth Space Center Moscow, the Baumann Technical University Moscow and the Professorship for Life Support Systems in Space.

 

Institute registration starts now!

 

The 2009 German Moonbuggy Team

Ralf and Yvonne Heckel have been advisors at the Space Education Institute in Germany since 2001. Yvonne is representative of the Space Camp® ambassador program and the Russian space agency ROSCOSMOS. She is the financial part of the German Moonbuggy team. Ralf is the technician and is teaching and selecting the German students to take part in high-level space challenges, university and jobs. He has space contacts around the globe — and into orbit. He writes books and is the organizer of the German Moonbuggy team.

 

Lisa Hartenstein of Chemnitz, Germany, started at SEI this year. She is the female moonbuggy pilot and specialist for marketing, sponsorship and security.

 

Thommy Knabe of Plauen, Germany, has been an SEI student and part of the moonbuggy team since 2006. He is the kinematic specialist for the German moonbuggy, and constructed the first moonbuggy simulator. See Thommy’s work here.

 

Fabian Hoffmann of Leipzig, Germany, has been an SEI student since 2005. He is the CAD designer for the moonbuggy body.

 

 

Christian Hein of Stendal, Germany, joined SEI in 2008. Working with younger students, Christian designed the differential gear and carbon pieces. See Christian’s work here.

 

Christian Schmidt of Dusseldorf, Germany, joined SEI this year. He is the electronics and software specialist for moonbuggy telemetry. A sample of his work can be seen here.

 

  

Cosma Heckel like to fly with her parents around the world. She made 32 airplane flights in two years, saw two rocket launches and was present for the Great Moonbuggy Race in 2007 and 2008. Here, she’s visiting the Soviet robotic lunar rover Lunokhod in Kaluga, the Russian hometown of Konstantin Tsiolkovski.

 

 

German designer Bruno Banani is our main sponsor. He is Germany‘s only non-government main sponsor for space education. We are also thankful to all our other sponsors and partners.

School Pride the HCT Way

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John Stingel, Huntsville Center for Technology computer electronics instructor, is back this week with some proud school history and a little race insight for newcomers. From the GMBR perspective, it’s terrific to see an entire school embrace its moonbuggy race team the way HCT does! Does yours? Spread the love! Talk to your advisor about getting a team spotlight into your school paper; try putting your buggy on display for a week outside your cafeteria or auditorium; or work with your school administration to launch “Moonbuggy Appreciation Day” for classmates and faculty to come out and watch you put the vehicle through its paces. We’re proud of your hard work and ingenuity; we know your school is too! Here’s Mr. Stingel:

Let me tell you a little about HCT. We are part of the Huntsville, Ala., city school system. Our school opened with the 1967-1968 school year. Presently we have 16 teachers teaching 14 different courses or skill areas. We love technology and get involved, as a school, in numerous projects like NASA’s Great Moonbuggy Race, the “HUNCH” project — High School Students United with NASA to Create Hardware — and our latest project, designing and building a hovercraft. 

As far as the moonbuggy team is concerned, the true “team honcho” is Mr. White, the Precision Machine Technology instructor. Mr. White takes students from all the other HCT classes, trains them and develops them into a racing team. The building of the moonbuggies is a school-wide project, but all aspects of the design and build come under Mr. White’s supervision. My students and I assist Mr. White with the blog and any computer-related tasks.

It is true that HCT has had several amazing racing teams and moonbuggies over the past several years. It is also true that we have worked very hard as a school to accomplish these wins. If Mr. White needs help, or a technical skill not found in the machine shop, he knows he can call on any class, instructor or individual within our school and he will get 100 percent effort.

If you’ve been around the Great Moonbuggy Race, you know the competition is getting more and more intense. The difference between placing and not placing is seconds. As a result, you must have your racing and design skills highly tuned.

I was talking to Mr. White just last week about our very first Great Moonbuggy Race entry. We knew we had designed a winner. We had a powerful team and a great buggy — we could not lose.  “We had first place in the bag,” Mr. White said, “right up until the start of the race.” 

That first moonbuggy lasted about three-fourths of the way through the first heat, if that. I must tell you, however — the team carried it to the finish line. We were so wrong about the design of the buggy… but right about the heart of the team.

So get your team and moonbuggy together and come and compete!

Mr. Stingel will be back next week with a spotlight on HCT’s moonbuggy team members and their thoughts on the race.


The very first winning team… with its losing moonbuggy! (Photo: HCT)

Bringing Something New to the Contest?

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Got an innovative idea for a three-wheeled moonbuggy? Placing your riders side-by-side, or back-to-back? How about a custom paint job? Whitewall tires? Cupholder? What unique spin will your team put on its moonbuggy design to win the “Best Design” award come race day?


This six-wheeled moonbuggy built for the 2000 race by students from Autauga
County Technology Center in Prattville, Ala., couldn’t stand up to a punishing
gravel pile. How will your moonbuggy stack up? (NASA/MSFC)

“I think our design award guys get a little frustrated, because you just don’t see quite the same colorful variety of vehicle designs anymore,” says Mike Selby, NASA engineer and GMBR head scorekeeper. “Teams take on the course and endure breakdowns and learn from them. They go back and revise their designs for next year’s race, and they talk to one another — and so, over the years, a basic, proven design strategy has emerged.”

Innovation is still out there, of course — just ask German team advisor Ralf Heckel about composite materials, electronics and onboard software! But in terms of basic structural design, latter-day moonbuggy entries tend to look a lot alike.


Pick up the pieces and run! A team from New Century Technology High School in
Huntsville, Ala., also ran into problems in the 2000 Great Moonbuggy Race.
Pretty standard vehicle configuration… but that mainframe just couldn’t take the
pounding. (NASA/MSFC)

“You do still see some three-wheeled buggies now and then,” Selby says, “but that’s a lot of stress and punishment to put on just one wheel, whether it’s in the front or the back. Those vehicles often just don’t hold up over what turns out to be a pretty punishing course.

Are new teams prepared for all that punishment? “New teams may have a basic understanding of what they’re getting into,” Selby says, “but a lot of veteran racers agree — you’ve got to come to Huntsville and actually compete in the race one year before you really get it. Because no matter how many pictures you’ve seen, how much you’ve studied the layout online… this course can really be a surprise once you’re on it.”

Fitting Inside the Box

It’s not just the course that can be a surprise. Engineering teacher Kanika Vessel, who advises the moonbuggy team at Scotlandville Magnet High School in Baton Rouge, La., told the Buggy Blog her racers dealt with another surprise in 2008, their first year as competitors:

Scotlandville’s team really struggled last year when it came time to assemble the moonbuggy for the race. Due to the fact that the buggy was not able to fit within the 4-foot-by-4-foot-by-4-foot box, we were forced to remove items from the moonbuggy, such as steering and the wheels — therefore adding to our assembly time.

This year we have designed the frame of the moonbuggy so that we will not have to disassemble it to fit inside the box.

Overall the team is gradually making progress. We are using the lessons we learned from our mistakes last year to better the design and performance of our moon buggy.


Now THAT’s an innovative buggy design! Sadly, it’s not a GMBR racer; this
“Moonbuggy” was an entry in the “Baltimore Kinetic Sculpture Race” in 2007. But we
like their gumption! (American Visionary Art Museum, Baltimore)

Bringing something new to the competition this year? Let us know — show off photos of your cutting-edge moonbuggy here in the blog and elsewhere on GMBR’s Web presence! E-mail your images to richard.l.smith@nasa.gov.

Where's a Team to Weld?

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The troupe from
Carleton University was dealing with machine shop woes this week — and with the local limelight. Here’s Lindsay Los with an update on Carleton’s moonbuggy team:
 
With a presentation and various media photo shoots scheduled, everyone has been putting in all available time this week (including class time) at the machine shop, getting parts ready to be welded. 

When we showed up Wednesday morning, however, ready for a day of welding, we found that the MIG welder had been taken over by the 4th-year students’ Formula SAE Car project — and the TIG welder had been broken all week! Things started to get a little stressful as we frantically thought of our limited options. 1) Pay to use the university’s maintenance machine shop… not sure if they would do that for us though… 2) Use the Industrial Design program’s machine shop. We do have a few ID students on the Carleton moonbuggy team, but that shop is specifically for ID school projects, so… 3) Well, there really wasn’t a third option!

While Curtis was frantically trying to figure out some way for us to weld, I was dealing with e-mails and phone calls from university and city publications and media, all of whom wanted photo shoots and interviews during the presentation. Scheduling photo shoots during my morning tutorial — while receiving text messages saying the buggy wasn’t going to be ready in time — was stressful, to say the least! Finally, we managed to get some time with the welder in the ID shop, and while Brian, Curtis and Chris finished the welding, I finished my Materials test in my tutorial so I could join them to help assemble the frame. 
 
After a frantic morning, everything worked out in the end. The photographers from the Ottawa Citizen and Carleton Now showed up, and after seeing our semi-assembled buggy, agreed to come back next week, when we could do a “cool” photo shoot with us actually riding the buggy. Luckily, the TV station that was going to come as well didn’t show, so hopefully we’ll be able to contact them for an interview next week. 

We hope by then Lindsay and Co. will be ready for their close-up! Happy assembly period, teams!

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