It'll be a tough course, littered with rocks and craters and paved with powdery lunar "soil." But a few dozen teams of college and high school students will give it a go this weekend, as they compete in the Great Moonbuggy Race at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama.
Each team will assemble its buggy, then pedal it over a course that resembles the lunar surface. The designs have to be built like real lunar rovers -- lightweight and compact, but tough.
Moonbuggies are actually serious business these days. NASA plans to start sending astronauts to the Moon in a little over a decade. But instead of brief "grab-a-rock-and-go" jaunts, the explorers will stay for weeks at a time.
To truly explore the lunar surface, they'll need wheels -- tough, reliable rovers that can carry them far across the lunar landscape. The buggies will need to carry lots of equipment, plus samples of rocks and soil.
Eventually, explorers will need bigger rovers to serve as remote living quarters, too -- like lunar RVs. The buggies will have to support a crew for days at a time, providing air and water, and protection against radiation from the Sun. The buggies will also have to screen out the lunar soil, which clings to everything and could gum up delicate electronics.
Engineers are already working on designs for the new moonbuggies. But some of the people who end up driving them may just be getting in some practice runs this weekend.
Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2008
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