Moonbuggys, Moonbuggys, and More Moonbuggys!

Apr 4, 2012   //   by Pamela Greyer   //   Latest Buzz, NASA  //  No Comments

Gearing the drive trainFIRST Robotics seems to consume my life and time between January and March but this year I decided to take on an additional engineering challenge. Having secured a workspace on the campus of the Illinois Institute of Technology I took out on a journey to involve my students in a competition I had been reading about for the last three years, NASA’s Great Moonbuggy Race! I love building things (the robots have finally broke me down and now I can’t get enough of greasy chains, actuators, T-slotted aluminum, brackets, motors, sensors, gears, sprockets, and……well you get the idea.) I Tweeted about registration for the 19th annual Great Moonbuggy race, gathered a willing crew of students who had no idea what a Moonbuggy was, and thus the adventure began. I have chronicled our progress and our challenges in a fascinating blog on CNN’s Light Years and CNN’s Schools of Thought blogs.

It has been exhilarating, exciting, and insightful while at the same time frustrating, complicated, and nerve-wrecking. Building a Moonbuggy is a 360 degree turn from building a robot. The same design and engineering principles remain but unlike FIRST you don’t get a kit of parts and there is no quick-build chassis kit. You get specifications from the Moonbuggy site as far as the dimensions, height off the ground, turning radius of the wheels, and a few other really neat requirements that the Moonbuggy has to have like a radio and a communications box. Hey, it’s just like the real Moonbuggy or Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV) that was used in the last three Apollo missions to the Moon. Yes, can you believe my high school students are building vehicles similar to the ones NASA sent to the Moon?

I find it quite fascinating myself which is why I brought the idea to my students. I mentioned it to my guys from robotics in 2010 and they looked at me as if I needed to be stuffed into a space capsule and blasted to the Moon just to get the crazy Moonbuggy idea out of my system.
In 2010 we did Moonbots, a Google Lunar X Prize LEGO Mindstorms challenge. Team Cubwano did a lot of research on the Moon and I thought our entry was pretty good. The epic fail of course was designing the Mindstorm robot in Google Sketchup because none of my robotics students had the least interest or desire to learn CAD. On the final day I found myself in a huff and puff as I realized I would need to clean up the design before we could submit it. The team left me in the lab that Friday and I made a promise to myself to never undertake a project like this again without students in the right frame of mind.

Which segues me to the next question, “What exactly is the right frame of mind?” This year I found the answer. A group of young people that look forward to challenge, especially if they are interested in engineering as a possible career once they graduate from high school, the right mentor/coach who gives all of her after-school time and weekends, effort, and sometimes money to make it work, and lastly the fun of working together as a team to take an idea off the paper and into reality. I thought I had the right students in 2010 but there was something missing. I started the Moonbuggy team with two of them as captains but thanks to their own efforts they worked their way off both the Moonbuggy and the robotics teams. It was the shot in the arm the team needed and because I believe there are no coincidences in life I found an amazing group of students at the high school I am currently working at. When joined with my other students from high schools around Chicago, we have a winning combination and a team that I am incredibly proud of.

We made a design, decided on materials, and came up with a team name. We are the Incredible Spyders!

Our two week spring break has created a lull in the action but we’ll be back next week. There is a change happening at the school so I have no idea what it’s going to be like when we return but I’m packing my bags to make the trip to Huntsville on the 12th of April. To see what it has been like over the last couple of months read my Moonbuggy posts which have appeared on CNN’s Light Years and Schools of Thought.

The first installation of the our moonbuggy story appeared on the CNN Schools of Thought and Light Years blog.  Our second installation appeared on CNN’s Light Years blog.  Follow the team as we prepare to make the journey to the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Al April 12-14.


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