Going for gold – Carleton’s moonbuggy team heads to Alabama

In an effort to recreate the Apollo missions, a group of Carleton engineering students have designed a moonbuggy to compete in an international race at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center this month.

Eight lucky members of Carleton’s moonbuggy team are packing themselves and their buggy into a van and making the 20-hour journey to Alabama, where they compete with teams from around the world in the 16th Annual Great Moonbuggy Race on April 3 and 4.

The competition challenges students’ engineering abilities in a fun and creative way.

This year’s moonbuggy team, which consists of about 40 Carleton students and is supported by several engineering professors, will be competing in the NASA moonbuggy race for the third time.

The students design, build and race vehicles that function on the moon. However, these bike-like apparatuses must meet several conditions that were also met during the Apollo missions.

For example, the bikes must fit into a box no larger than one metre by one metre. As well, they must be light enough that two people can carry and assemble them quickly.

During the competition, two students will assemble their moonbuggy and then manoeuvre it around a one kilometre course of simulated moon terrain, complete with boulders, crevices, sand and gravel.

“It’s a difficult challenge between making [the moonbuggy] manoeuvrable and strong enough to take the bumps,” says Curtis Parks, a third-year

mechanical engineering student and the project manager.

“It basically has to be strong enough not to break by the end of the course.”

Lindsay Los, a third-year mechanical engineering student, had the opportunity to ride the moonbuggy in last year’s race, when Carleton took third place. Los says she had such an amazing experience with the project last year that she didn’t hesitate getting involved for a second year.

“It was so much fun,” says Los of last year’s trip, adding that she not only met some of the men who were in the control room during Neil Armstrong’s trip to the moon, but also listened as they regaled competitors with their tales of the historic moment. “I was in a daze thinking ‘I can’t believe I’m here.'”

Parks says the project, which began in September, is a great opportunity for students to experience all aspects of an engineering project, from design to manufacturing.

“The project gives students the confidence and abilities for their fourth-year engineering projects and helps with finding a job,” says Parks, adding that team members work up to 40 hours a week as they get into the final preparations for the big trip.

While the team is proud of Carleton’s third-place finish last year, Parks says they have learned from their mistakes.

“We got third last year and we need first this year.”

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