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UW Team Finishes Fourth at NASA Great Moonbuggy Race


April 15, 2008 — What's it like to drive on the surface of the moon?

Ask University of Wyoming students Brittany Fain and Jared Houfek. They've done it, sort of.

With Fain and Houfek at the controls, UW placed fourth among 23 collegiate teams at the recent 15th annual NASA Great Moonbuggy Race, a half-mile simulated lunar terrain course that includes craters, rocks and lava.

In just its second year in the competition, held annually at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Ala., UW earned the "Most Improved" award by bettering its time by 72 percent over last year's 10th-place finish. Fain (Wellington, Colo.), Houfek (Waterloo, Neb.), Andrew Robbins (Cheyenne) and David Wenig (Laramie) -- all seniors in mechanical engineering -- designed and built UW's vehicle.

"The students did a remarkable job!" says Michele Stark, associate director of the Wyoming NASA Space Grant Consortium, which funds the project through a grant from the NASA Exploration Systems Mission Directorate. "Some of the other schools have had teams participating in this event for many years, yet the UW students still managed to place fourth overall and showed the greatest improvement of any team in the competition. That's a testament to the ingenuity and ability of these students."

Unlike some other teams, UW's vehicle didn't incur any design-related penalties and, better yet, survived the competition in one piece.

"The race was an exciting, educational experience for all of the University of Wyoming participants," Robbins says. "It was interesting to see the different ways in which the competitors addressed similar design-related problems and I think it was nice for all the schools to be able to compare themselves to one another."

He adds, "We sincerely hope that this design project will become a legacy for mechanical engineering students at UW."

The four-student UW team worked on its vehicle over the course of two semesters as part of a senior design curriculum offered through the Department of Mechanical Engineering.

The students were assisted by Scott Morton, Nancy Peck and David Walrath, all members of the mechanical engineering faculty, and Rob Erikson, Mike Allen, Mike Schilt and Korey Kreitman of the UW Engineering Machine Shop.

"None of this would have been possible without their support," says Robbins.
Each moonbuggy is human powered and carries two students, one male and one female, by race rules. In the competition, each team navigates a simulated lunar course of gullies and ridges made out of plywood and tires and covered with a realistic layer of gravel and sand.

The University of Evansville (Evansville, Ind.) won first place in the college division, followed by Murray State University (Murray, Ky.) and Carleton University (Ottawa, Ontario).

It's only a matter of time, Stark predicts, before UW is fighting for the top spot.

"If UW students were able to make such a significant improvement in only one year, we look forward to even more improvements in the years to come," she says. "Building off the experiences of this year's team, we are confident that, in no time at all, a UW team will be taking first place in the competition!"

Photo
These University of Wyoming students competed in the recent annual NASA Great Moonbuggy Race in Huntsville, Ala. From left are Jared Houfek (Waterloo, Neb.), Andrew Robbins (Cheyenne), David Wenig (Laramie) and Brittany Fain (Wellington, Colo.).

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