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OSU to compete with moonbuggies

When NASA astronauts David Scott and Jim Irwin landed on the moon and the first lunar vehicle roamed its surface, the moonbuggy was born.

More than 40 years later, in Huntsville, Ala., 84 teams of young engineers will compete in the 18th Annual Great Moonbuggy Race on April 1 and 2. This year, Ohio State students will compete against collegiate competitors from around the world in the race, looking to improve their fourth-place finish from last year.

Out of 35 schools, University of Puerto Rico Humacao won the 2010 competition, followed by The University of Utah and Rhode Island School of Design.

For the race, students must design a moonbuggy that addresses engineering problems similar to those the original moonbuggy team faced, according to the race’s website.

Each moonbuggy is human-powered and carries two people, a man and a woman, across a half-mile track. The NASA-created course features simulated craters, rocks, lava ridges, inclines and lunar soil. The obstacles change from year to year to keep returning competitors from having an advantage.

Student teams of six members are responsible for building a buggy. Faculty are allowed to give advice, but the students must design and build the buggy.

According to the race’s website, prizes will be awarded to the six registered team members on the winning three teams. Additional awards are the Featherweight Award (replaces Most Unique), Most Improved, Rookie Award, System Safety Award and Design Competition, awarded to the team with the best technical approach to solving the engineering problem of navigating the lunar surface.

Kristen Hammer, a fourth-year in welding engineering and president of OSU’s moonbuggy team, said OSU has an advantage in the competition since there’s no other welding engineering program at the collegiate level in the country.

OSU intends to enter two moonbuggies in this year’s competition.

“One team will be driving last year’s steel buggy and one will be driving this year’s titanium buggy,” Hammer said. “The designs are pretty much the same. There’s a little bit different steering that we’re reworking on both buggies, and the suspension will be a little bit different on the newer buggy.”

Dorian Matthews, a fourth-year in welding engineering, said the reason for using a titanium buggy rather than steel is weight.

“One of the areas we’re really looking to make strides in this year is weight,” Matthews said. “Light buggies go faster and it really adds to your score to take the pounds off, so that’s really what we’re looking to change this year.”

But with the lighter buggy comes new challenges.

“(Titanium)’s extremely hard to weld. So being a welding program, we knew that going into it,” said Erik Birkinbine, a second-year in welding engineering. “Any effort you put towards welding it you have to be extremely careful not to contaminate it or else you can get a bad weld.”

Hammer, however, said she was unsure if the titanium buggy would be ready for competition.

Both of OSU’s buggies feature one person sitting behind the other, instead of side to side. They are also both four-wheel buggies as opposed to a three-wheel design that some teams use.

Hammer said another signature for OSU’s buggies are that they use wide tires because they have less slippage in areas of the course covered by sand compared to several competitor’s thin tires.

OSU will compete against Youngstown State as the only other Ohio school in the collegiate level.

Lima Senior High School is the state’s only representative this year in the high school division.

NASA representatives were unavailable for comment. 

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