GREENFIELD — Next month, a group of Greenfield-Central High School students will travel to Alabama for a unique competition – moon buggy racing.
The G-C group is the only high school team from Indiana competing in the 20th annual contest in Huntsville, Ala., sponsored by Marshall Space Flight Center.
The contest seeks to recreate the conditions under which the original moon buggy operated.
Between now and April 25, the first day of the three-day competition, seven G-C students will work together to design and build their own lunar rover replica, one that can traverse simulated conditions of the moon.
Each man-powered moon buggy will address a variety of engineering problems similar to those faced by the NASA scientists who designed the original lunar rover. The rover was used on the last three Apollo missions to the moon, in 1971 and 1972.
G-C’s team is comprised of students from Rebecca Schini’s earth space class and Angela Crumlin’s engineering design and development class.
Schini said she is always looking for new ways to interest and challenge her students.
For this project, which she first proposed to students in her earth space class, she had her eye on a group she knew was fascinated with building cars.
“They like doing that, so I figured if I can find something that’s ‘spacey’ that deals with that arena, I can hook them into space,” she said. “I can talk about the moon; I can talk about us going to the moon … and gravity and all that, but it’s kind of cool for them to use their talents in a space-type of problem.”
Schini did a Google search with a few specific terms, including engineering and NASA.
What popped up was the Great Moonbuggy Race.
Schini said for the first year she has asked students to aim for being competitive – not competition winners. It’s a more realistic goal, considering the majority of their opponents will have been working on their Moonbuggy design for the past year.
“Next year, we’ll have a year instead of three months (to prepare),” Schini said.
For the Moonbuggy Race, which has high school and college divisions, participants will navigate a half-mile course of simulated lunar surface including craters, lava ridges and inclines.
“It’s mimicking exactly what they did on the moon, so it’s pretty exciting,” Schini said.
Each team will be judged by how quickly the students can assemble their rover and complete the course.
Lizzy Fields, 17, said she’s not worrying about how little time G-C’s first team has had to prepare.
“We just aren’t intimidated,” said Lizzy, a senior.
Fields’ family owns an auto parts store, so she has contributed some of the materials the team will use.
The team is estimating its budget at about $2,500 to cover parts and travel costs.
Senior Joe Hudson said the race will give him an opportunity to do the kind of work he plans to do for a living one day.
Hudson, 18, wants to study mechanical engineering at college next year.
“My interest is more toward bigger cars and motorcycles, … but I thought it’d be a good idea to get my feet on the ground about the design process … and actually building it,” he said. “That all just sounded really cool to me.”
For those who aren’t as certain about their futures, the race should help them hone their interests and skills, Hudson said.
“For the kids that never pick up a screwdriver or anything like that, … it really gives kids like that a chance to get their hands dirty a little bit if that’s what they’re interested in,” he said.
Senior Wyatt Huber, 18, is also planning a career in engineering. Huber has his sights set on Purdue University and hopes to ultimately obtain a master’s degree in civil engineering.
Huber said the Moonbuggy project sparked his interest from the beginning.
“We’re not planning on taking home a gold, but we can put up some competition,” he said. “It should be fun.”
Schini hopes students will make the most of this chance to compete and pick the brains of professionals in the field.
“We are going to be able to interact with NASA engineers, astronauts,” she said. “It has the capability of really developing contacts and networking with a prestigious organization. And who doesn’t want to meet an astronaut? That’s just cool.”