Braving wet weather and a space-age terrain, a total of 47 high school and college teams participated in NASA’s 14th annual Great Moonbuggy Race at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center April 13-14 in Huntsville, Ala.

The Huntsville Center for Technology was named champion of the high school division. The Rochester Institute of Technology team of Rochester, N.Y., rumbled to victory in the college division, overcoming not only the simulated lunar terrain, but also wet, stormy weather that interrupted the race several times throughout the day.

Sponsored by Northrop Grumman Corp, NASA’s Great Moonbuggy Race is inspired by the original lunar rover of engineers at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, whose creations rumbled across the moon during the last three Apollo missions in the early 1970s. The NASA engineers had to design and build a compact, light, flexible and durable vehicle to carry astronauts on the lunar surface.

Students faced some of the same challenges while preparing for their race across a simulated lunar surface, complete with “craters,” rocks, “lava” ridges, inclines and “lunar” soil.

“For these teams, the challenge began long before race day,” said Frank Six, university affairs officer with the Marshall Center’s Academic Affairs Office. “For months, they’ve been building and fine-tuning their vehicles, along with their skills in math, science and engineering.

“With the education and experience they’ve gained through this competition, they may be inspired to someday participate in other NASA ventures, such as returning to the moon, reaching Mars and exploring destinations beyond.”

“When it comes to learning, there’s no substitute for real-world challenges,” said Doug Young, vice president of space exploration systems for Northrop Grumman’s Integrated Systems sector. “Through this event, the students were able to take what they’ve learned in the classroom, add their fresh ideas and come up with new solutions to classic engineering problems. How do you make something better, stronger and best able to accomplish your desired task? It’s not easy, but these students rose to the challenge.”

The first Great Moonbuggy Race was run in 1994, commemorating the 25th anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landing. Eight college teams participated that first year, and in 1996 the race was expanded to include high school teams.

During the high school competition, the Huntsville Center for Technology team finished the course in three minutes and 34 seconds — 10 seconds ahead of the second-place team, also from the Huntsville Center for Technology. Lafayette County C-1 in Higginsville, Mo., finished in third place and also won a special development design award.

During the college competition, the Rochester Institute of Technology team finished the course in four minutes and 38 seconds — nine seconds ahead of the second-place team from the University of Puerto Rico in Humacao. Pittsburg State University of Pittsburg, Kan., finished in third place.

Many volunteers from both the Marshall Center and the space industry ensure the success of the event. This is the second year Northrop Grumman Corp. has sponsored the Great Moonbuggy Race. Other contributors include the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA); ATK Launch Systems, Inc.; CBS affiliate WHNT Channel 19 of Huntsville; Jacobs Technology; Morgan Research Corp.; Science Applications International Corp. (SAIC); the Tennessee Valley Chapter of the System Safety Society Inc.; and the United Space Alliance, LLC.