College students from across the nation and beyond will be moonstruck this weekend, racing across lunar-like terrain in their moonbuggys.
Tennessee Tech University engineering students will join 67 other teams in NASA's 9th Great Moonbuggy Race at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., on Saturday.
"The key to a successful race is teamwork," said Andy Kirby, a team member. "Sometimes good work is a result of arguing, sometimes a result of agreeing, but we all contribute and appreciate the teamwork it takes."
Tennessee Tech has competed in the race since forming a moonbuggy team in 1999, finishing as high as 10th place in 2000. Sponsored by TTU's Industrial Technology Department, the six-person team will test its skills in design, engineering and construction.
College and high school teams from 19 states, Puerto Rico and South America will race human-powered vehicles over a course composed of craters, rocks, "lava" ridges and lunar-like soil. During the race two team members -- one male and one female -- power and drive the vehicle over the half-mile route.
But racing is only half the challenge. The moonbuggies must arrive at the start line unassembled, no bigger than a 4x4-foot cube. The drivers must carry the vehicle 20 feet in the folded position, assemble it and get in, all while amassing a time that will be added to race time.
The fastest moonbuggy assembly time plus time through the course will determine the winners of the race. Prizes will be awarded to the top three teams. An additional prize will be given to the team with the best technical approach to solving the engineering problem of navigating the "lunar" surface. College teams will race on Saturday; high school teams will race Friday.
The Great Moonbuggy race is inspired by the development of the lunar roving vehicle 30 years ago, a program managed by the Marshall Space Center. The LRV team had to design a compact, lightweight all-terrain vehicle that could be transported to the moon in the small Apollo spacecraft.
To follow the Tennessee Tech team's quest to conquer the moon, results and photos from the race will be posted to the Marshall Space Flight Center's newsroom web site at http://www1.msfc.nasa.gov/news/releases.