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Feature Story

tudents Christine Woodard (front) and Patrick Speece of East Limestone High School in Athens, Ala., compete in the 18tth annual Great Moonbuggy Race, which helped to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the first moon deployment of NASA's Lunar Rover Vehicle.

NASA

Students Christine Woodard (front) and Patrick Speece of East Limestone High School in Athens, Ala., compete in the 18th annual Great Moonbuggy Race, which helped to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the first moon deployment of NASA's Lunar Rover Vehicle. The event, hosted by NASA and sponsored in part by Boeing, was held April 2 at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Ala.

Off to the moonbuggy races

Luis Vazques (front) and Yanitza Arrogo

ERIC SHINDELBOWER/BOEING

Luis Vazques (front) and Yanitza Arrogo from Teodoro Aguilar Mora Vocational High School in Yabucoa, Puerto Rico, placed first among high school teams with a race time of 3 minutes, 18 seconds. For the second year in a row, the University of Puerto Rico Humacao team won in the college division.

It’s only hours 'til prom night, but Christine Woodard, a senior from East Limestone High School in Athens, Ala., isn’t worried about getting a manicure.

Instead, she’s using duct tape to reattach the faux antenna that fell off her moonbuggy racer during a trial run the previous day. After five months of preparation - giving up nights and weekends to torque ratios and welding projects - she and her team have no time to think beyond this Saturday afternoon competition in Huntsville, Ala.

"Our biggest worry is the moguls," she said, referring to the gravel mounds layered along the race course to simulate the moon’s cratered surface. "They took our wheel off yesterday."

The 18th annual Great Moonbuggy Race, hosted by NASA and sponsored in part by Boeing, was held April 1-2 and helped to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the first moon deployment of the Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV), also known as the moonbuggy. The LRV was built by Boeing and NASA at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville and used in three moon-exploration missions.

East Limestone High School team

Eric Shindelbower/Boeing

The East Limestone High School team explains its design to moonbuggy race proponent and Boeing Huntsville chief engineer Dan Olberding, far left.

The race also was meant to inspire high school and college students from around the world to pursue careers in science, math, engineering and technology, including space exploration. Eighty-four teams from 16 states and seven countries competed this year, fielding a wide range of buggy concepts, from a six-wheeler to a buggy made of PVC piping. Teams from Puerto Rico won in both the high school and college divisions.

The buggies had to be powered by two people - one male, one female - and collapse into a four-foot cube for storage. Each buggy also had to simulate some aspects of the actual LRV, including space for batteries, cameras, antenna, and radio control equipment. With only those parameters, innovation ruled the day.

"Watching what these kids can do with the parameters they’re given is what it’s all about," said Ron Creel, a former Boeing employee who worked on the LRV as a NASA engineer. "You have to work with what you’re given and that takes a lot of ingenuity."

NASA’s Lunar Rover Vehicle, also known as the moonbuggy, is the inspiration for the Great Moonbuggy Race.

NASA

The Lunar Roving Vehicle, built by NASA and Boeing and also known as the moonbuggy, is the inspiration for the Great Moonbuggy Race.

Kelly Ford, faculty advisor to the East Limestone team, said learning from the project is more important than winning the race, so adult guidance to the team was intentionally limited. And funding was even scarcer.

"Problem-solving and working tradeoffs in functionality, schedule, budget - those are the real-world challenges in engineering," Ford said.

The East Limestone team’s design included plenty of low-cost, low-tech materials, including cardboard and duct tape.

"It’s not a thing of beauty, but they learned a lot, even if they don’t win," said Russ Woodard, Christine’s father and a Boeing engineer.

And win they didn’t. Their buggy hit a mogul hard, bending a wheel rim and preventing them from finishing the race.

"We thought we had the best wheel size and built the buggy around that spec," said Jessica Edelman, an East Limestone senior. "By the time we realized the wheel wasn’t the best solution, it was too late. We’d run out of time - and out of budget."

But the team wasn’t discouraged and was already analyzing how they could improve the buggy. Among the ideas: use stronger shocks and better bearings, and conduct more tests.
Leaning over the team’s somewhat mangled buggy in his "Never give up, Never surrender" t-shirt, 11th-grader Patrick Speece declared, "The testing needs to be a lot tougher next time."

To view video of the race, click here.

More information about the race, including written stories and additional photos, is available on NASA’s website at http://moonbuggy.msfc.nasa.gov/index.html and http://www.nasa.gov/topics/moonmars/moonbuggy.html.

To view Boeing's LRV history page, click here: http://www.boeing.com/history/boeing/lrv.html.