NASA and students find one of the best ways to learn is to make it fun.

In classrooms and workshops, high schools and colleges across the country, students are having fun working on what some teachers call one of the more effective and challenging classroom projects: NASA’s 13th annual Great Moonbuggy Race.

After the months of design, manufacture, testing, breaking, fixing and re-testing, the pay-off finally arrives when teams check in at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Ala., for race day. The event runs April 7-8.

The challenges student teams take on start long before the buggies pull up to the race’s starting line. They begin when teams enthusiastically decide to take on the project.

The students face some of the same challenges NASA engineers faced when building the original lunar rover used on the moon in the 1970s. The original lunar rovers were designed at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville.

“My advisor sent me to the Great Moonbuggy Race Web site to see what I thought, and I was hooked,” said Geremy Draper, a junior at Flinthills High School in Rosalia, Kan. “I immediately started drawing plans with my classmates. We had to figure out how to build a moonbuggy, then work to make it smaller and lighter while keeping it strong.” Draper will be one of the drivers in the school’s first entry into the Great Moonbuggy Race.

One high school team that’s a veteran of the competition offers advice for first-year competitors: “Even if you don’t think you’re ready to run, bring your machine,” said Jeff Breece, advisor to the Madison County Career Center team from Huntsville, winner of the 2005 high school division race. “You can learn a lot by making mistakes and fixing them. Plus, you can see how more experienced teams fix problems they encounter on the course.”

The excitement about the race is not exclusive to first-year competitors. Many competing schools make the event an annual project. Pittsburg State University in Pittsburg, Kan., is entering its 10th year of competition. The race is so popular among its students that it’s now part of the school’s curriculum.

The process of designing, building and racing a moonbuggy helps students in high school and college learn practical applications for math, physics and analytical thinking. Jim Ellis, manager of the Academic Affairs Office at the Marshall Center, believes those intangible benefits far outweigh the trophies awarded to race winners.

The first Great Moonbuggy Race was run in 1994 to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Apollo lunar landing. Eight college teams participated that first year. In 1996, the race was expanded to include high school teams.

Many volunteers from both the Marshall Space Flight Center and the space industry ensure the success of the event. The Northrop Grumman Corp. sponsors this year’s Great Moonbuggy Race. Other contributors include the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA); ATK Thiokol; CBS affiliate WHNT Channel 19 of Huntsville; Jacobs/Sverdrup; Morgan Research Corp.; Science Applications International Corp. (SAIC); the Tennessee Valley Chapter of the System Safety Society Inc.; and the United Space Alliance, LLC.

For more event details, race rules, information on the course and photos from previous competitions, visit: