HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – It’s no ordinary driving test and they won’t have to parallel park, but future astronauts will learn what it will take to some day drive on the surface of the moon. NASA is looking for the world’s best moonbuggy drivers who can also create and build their own original “lunar rover.”

Teams of high school and college students from across the country and around the world are hard at work designing and building their own lunar vehicles in preparation for NASA’s 14th annual Great Moonbuggy Race, sponsored by Northrop Grumman Corp. The event, open to the public, runs April 13-14 at the U.S Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Ala.

Entries from the United States, Puerto Rico, Canada and Germany – 60 teams in all – will converge on the space museum – and home to Space Camp – for the ultimate learning experience. Co-ed teams will race their human-powered vehicles in time trials across a half-mile, simulated moon surface.

“The students are challenged to design and build their own version of a lunar rover and bring it to Huntsville to race against the clock,” said Frank Six, university affairs officer with the Marshall Center’s Academic Affairs Office. “In the process of preparing for this exciting event, they learn valuable lessons in science, technology, engineering and math in a real-world situation. Events like the Great Moonbuggy Race help NASA foster learning environments that inspire young people to set their sights on venturing to the moon, Mars and beyond.”

Awards are given to the top three teams in both high school and college divisions that complete the course with the best times. Awards also are presented for most unique moonbuggy; most improved from previous competition; best overall design; fastest first-year contestant; and the vehicle with the safest design.

Success in the Great Moonbuggy Race, however, is not so much about winning as it is about participating.

“The trial and error process involved in designing, developing and testing a Moonbuggy is not unlike the struggles, failures and ultimate successes that accompany great breakthroughs in science and technology,” said Doug Young, vice president of space exploration systems for Northrop Grumman’s Integrated Systems sector. “Students involved in this event will learn valuable lessons in teamwork, engineering and creative problem solving… all lessons that can be applied to future careers in space exploration or any other technically challenging field.”

The excitement of driving a moonbuggy won’t stop with the competitors. This year, race organizers will give spectators a chance to discover the rigors of controlling a vehicle first-hand. They will have the opportunity to drive a moonbuggy created by the University of Alabama in Huntsville.

The race is inspired by the lunar rover vehicles astronauts drove on the moon during the three final Apollo missions in the 1970s. The original lunar rovers were designed and tested by engineers at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville. 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.

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. is sponsoring 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.

With this program, NASA continues its tradition of investing in the nation’s education programs. It is directly tied to the agency’s major education goal of strengthening NASA and the nation’s future workforce. Through this and the agency’s other college and university programs, NASA will identify and develop the critical skills and capabilities needed to achieve the Vision for Space Exploration.

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