They’re working in classrooms, garages and shops all across the country — and beyond — inspired by past space explorers and future space missions. They’re trying to figure out the best way to design, build and race a human-powered buggy capable of traveling around a half-mile track on Earth.

These high school and college students are preparing for NASA’s 12th Annual Great Moonbuggy Race in Huntsville, Ala., April 8-9.¬† Seventy-two teams from 20 states, Puerto Rico and Germany will take on a course that will test not only their physical endurance, but the reliability and strength of the moonbuggies. In 2004, 55 teams from 18 states and Puerto Rico participated in the competition.

The Moonbuggy challenge is to design a human-powered vehicle no more than 4-feet high, 4-feet long and 4-feet wide and light enough for its two drivers to carry. Buggies, unassembled prior to the race, must be quickly assembled on race day by two operators¬† — one male, one female. Those drivers must power and drive the vehicle against the clock, over a half-mile obstacle course of simulated moonscape terrain at the U.S. & Rocket Center in Huntsville.

The high-school and college teams participating in the Great Moonbuggy competition gain invaluable experience that could qualify them to become the nation’s next generation of astronauts, designers, engineers and scientists. They could be contributing to the goals of the Vision for Space Exploration which includes returning the Space Shuttle to flight, completing the International Space Station, traveling to the Moon, Mars and beyond.

But it’s more than just a race. It’s the continuation of a challenge faced and conquered more than 40 years ago by the NASA team which designed Lunar Rovers — vehicles that were compact, durable and able to handle the rigors of the tough, unflinching environment of the Moon. Astronauts used separate Lunar Rovers on the final three Moon missions — Apollo 15, 16 and 17 — to travel 52.51 miles, gather 620.6 pounds of rock and soil samples, and return them to Earth.

“The spirit of those space pioneers is still alive in these young people who compete in the Great Moonbuggy Race,” said Durlean Bradford, the race coordinator and an education specialist in the Academic Affairs Office at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville. “They work on their moonbuggies for months and learn about design, engineering and manufacturing. And sometimes they even have to make repairs on the buggies during the race.”

Although the moonbuggy racers don’t haul soil and rock, they do encounter many of the same design and engineering problems faced by the original lunar rover team. But the challenges don’t break their spirits.

“They give it their all,” Bradford said of the students. “They approach the project with the same level of enthusiasm you find on a football or basketball team. The crowd cheers them on, they get pumped up and really compete. They also know what they are doing is giving them great skills they can use in their future careers.”

Prizes are awarded not only for the fastest vehicles, but also to the team whose design represents the best technical approach to solving the engineering problem of navigating a simulated lunar surface.

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

For information about other NASA education programs on the Internet, visit:

For information about NASA on the Internet, visit: