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UW Takes Third in National Moonbuggy Race

April 21, 2009
Man and woman on a moonbuggy
Kate Burton and Eli Krahenbuhl speed around the track during the recent NASA Great Moonbuggy Race in Huntsville, Ala. (Pete Spehar Photo)

Four University of Wyoming students brought national attention to UW when they placed third at the recent NASA Great Moonbuggy Race in Huntsville, Ala.

The four mechanical engineering students on UW's team were Kate Burton of Vancouver, Wash., Eli Krahenbuhl of Cheyenne, Pete Spehar of Rawlins and Matt Straka Casper. They designed, built and raced the buggy as part of their engineering senior design project. The team competed against nearly 90 other teams from around the world.

NASA regulated the competition and required moonbuggies to meet certain requirements -- a maximum assembled width of 4 feet, collapsible to fit within a 4-foot square and a vehicle weight of less than 120 pounds, among other requirements.

The design work began last fall semester and continued into the early weeks of the spring semester. Construction began in February, and the students fabricated the design with some help from workers in the UW Engineering Machine Shop.

"We never would have been able finish this project without the help and advice of the shop personnel Rob Erikson, Mike Allen and Mike Schilt," says team member Spehar.

Burton and Krahenbuhl were chosen to ride the moonbuggy, and they practiced on the UW campus before traveling to Huntsville for the NASA race.

The NASA track included moon-like terrain features such as craters, rocks, undulating ridges and low-friction surfaces like sand and gravel. Teams had two runs and were timed on assembly as well as the actual race. The UW team had a winning time throughout most of the race but crashed seconds from the finish line in the second run. The crash broke the buggy in two and the team was unable to finish the run.

Even with the one-minute penalty for falling and violating the NASA requirement that riders must be 15 inches off the ground at all times, the UW team finished the first run in 4:41, capturing third place.

"The competition was a good experience because it allowed all of us on the team to be able to see what other universities are doing and be able to compare ourselves to them," says Spehar. "I think we would all do it again."

Posted on Tuesday, April 21, 2009

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