Moonbuggy Madness

A moonbuggy on the course

A few years ago, in 2007, I wrote the feature article “International Teams Join Moonbuggy Race” about the first international teams, from Canada and Germany, to join the NASA Great Moonbuggy Race. In the short time since, the international participation in the race has grown astoundingly with multiple teams from multiple countries designing and racing! This year, more than 70 teams from 22 states, Puerto Rico, Canada, Germany, India and Russia took part in the race.

I and other moonbuggy workers who were stationed at one of the course’s toughest obstacles — the “Luna-tic” Curve — witnessed some spectacular spills at Friday’s race. One moonbuggy toppled backwards when the front of the buggy came up the first mound in the obstacle but couldn’t make it over. Others took the near 90-degree curve too fast and skidded sideways. The obstacles in the course push the moonbuggies to their limit. It’s fascinating to see where moonbuggy designs both fail and succeed. The buggies’ performances are testaments to students’ ingenuity and engineering.

Hungry for more NASA Great Moonbuggy Race details? Check out the offical NASA Great Moonbuggy Race webpage for photos, video and the list of winners.

The Big Impact of Three Small Letters

Stephen Pace in front of a NASA aircraft and hangar
A Q&A profile about NASA intern Stephen Pace was posted this week on NASA’s For Students Higher Ed webpage. When I was reading through and editing Pace’s answers, I felt compelled to highlight here for students his story about how his GPA almost kept him out of grad school.
Pace was an A student in high school but primarily a C+ student in college. In his last year at Virginia Tech he decided he wanted to go on to graduate school, but the low GPA that resulted from his C+ study habits was a problem.

He hadn’t planned on going to graduate school until that last year, so GPA wasn’t something he had worried that much about. As part of his senior design class, Pace helped design a futuristic aircraft as an entry in the NASA Fundamental Aeronautics University Student Aircraft Design Competition. He discovered he enjoyed aircraft design and that he wanted to do more of it and that he wanted to continue with a graduate degree.

Unfortunately, the GPA was below the requirement to be accepted into graduate school at Virginia Tech, and his application was rejected. While disappointed, Pace worked hard on the NASA challenge in senior design class, and that hard work paid off, literally. Pace and his team members won the $5,000 cash first prize, coming in on top among 15 university undergraduate teams from around the world. After the win, Pace petitioned the university to reconsider his graduate school application based on his role in the team’s success in the contest. The response from the deciding official was no. The success in the contest showed that Pace would make a good engineer but a low GPA didn’t bode well for a successful graduate school experience.

Disappointed yet again, Pace didn’t give up! He did some research and found out about a program that would allow him to take graduate-level courses in a non-degree granting program, regardless of undergraduate GPA. “I took the same graduate-level courses I would have taken as if I had been accepted into the master’s aerospace engineering program,” Pace said. “After a year of graduate study, my graduate-level GPA was sufficient for acceptance into the graduate school and I was admitted. After another year of graduate study, I had completed all of the courses and requirements and earned my master’s degree in aerospace engineering in 2010. If I had never gotten involved in the NASA-sponsored aircraft design competition, I most likely would not have found my focus in aircraft design and be inspired to go on to graduate school.”

While writing up Pace’s profile that story about GPA stuck out to me, and I thought it was one that students out there might need to read because it demonstrates just how important things like GPA and NASA projects can be in directing and determining next steps.

A Good Reason to Wake Up Early

Taking Up Space welcomes guest blogger Joel Stein, a student at Virginia Tech and an intern at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. Stein participated in the March 4, 2011, in-flight education downlink with astronauts on the International Space Station.

Joel Stein

Joel Stein enjoys a light moment prior to the downlink withthe space station. Image Credit: Emmett Given/NASA

Waking up at 4 a.m. is difficult for any college student, but Friday I had a particularly strong incentive to get up that early with the opportunity to speak with astronauts aboard the International Space Station.  I was specifically asking (astronaut) Al Drew whether there was anything his training failed to prepare him for in space.   I arrived at the Huntsville Operations Support Center at Marshall Space Flight Center at 5, where Joe Charbonnet and I were briefed on logistics for communicating with the ISS. At 6:08, we received a phone call from the ISS.

So what is it like speaking with people 300 kilometers above you? Beyond acknowledging that this would likely be the most expensive conversation I would have in my life, I had to adjust to hearing numerous echoes caused by the lag between the audio in our headsets and voices in the room. While I was warned about this in the briefing, I was disoriented at first when someone would seemingly cut off the astronauts in conversation because there was less lag in the phone through which we were speaking than in the headsets we were listening through the rest of the time.

Once I got accustomed to the numerous voices, speaking with the astronauts on the ISS was like speaking with friends over Skype, though the occasional weightless somersault reminded me they were in freefall. The crew was fun to talk to and it was interesting to hear about life and operations on the ISS.

Joel Stein and Joe Charbonnet

From inside NASA’s Payload Operation Center, Joel Steintalks on the telephone to astronauts on the space station. Image Credit: Emmett Given/NASA