Sunday, May 30, 2010
by Ralf Heckel
International Space Education Institute
Leipzig, May 20th 2010
Last Thursday our initiative welcomed official space agency representatives of our country for the first time in the 8 years of our existence. This visit was designed for us all to get to know each other and we've toyed with the idea as early as December 2008 in Philadelphia.
Mr Michael Heinze, advisor to the board of directors, DLR, and Dr Wolfgang Mett, scientist and director of business development Neustrelitz, DLR, arrived by plane from Cologne. Their first impression was surprise about the changes of the Leipzig area during the post unification years.
It was the intention of the International Space Education Institute to show the delegates as much as possible of the enthusiasm, excitement and pioneering spirit in the area of space education in Leipzig as bridge between Huntsville and Moscow. The focus was to present an overview of the achievements of networking outside state funded schemes, in particular how this resulted in a winning team at the NASA Moonbuggy Race 6 weeks earlier.
Accordingly, the schedule was packed and there wasn't time to visit all ports of call on the itinerary. But at all times there were constructive conversations on an almost visionary level. At the end of the day both parties gained profound insights into each others' work and formed a strong basis for future cooperation. Throughout the day, they surprised each other with an open and cordial air, subject competency and a personal interest at the core of change for education and vocational orientation.
The following places and people were visited:
Mr Henri Schulz, Director
This is private, self-constructed observatory acts as school observatory for SEI students and their high school science projects. It also broadens the horizons (optical and philosophical) of young people. The designer, builder and owner is a member of the institute and has acquired all related knowledge and skills autodidactically and through practice. Both guests appeared impressed and interested in all details. Mr Schulz cherished the spotless subject matter expertise of his guests.
Chamber of Crafts, Leipzig
Mr Joachim Dirschka, President
Dr Andrea Wolter, Communications Director
The surprise success of the trial project Mooonbuggy as vocational orientation measure has made close allies of the Chamber of Crafts and the International Space Education Institute.
This meeting served as encounter of two industries who, according to received wisdom, don't go together. SEI understands craft, engineering and science as integrated unit and practices that in its training programme.
The discussion mainly focused on necessary ways for a new approach to education and vocational orientation. A common denominator was quickly found.
At the end of the visit, ambassador Yvonne Heckel presented the president of the chamber with the world champion award of the Moonbuggy team and thanked them for their support. The Chamber of Crafts displayed selected parts of the Moonbuggy and its processes and engineering background in a cabinet.
Discovering Leipzig's unknown space history
Tour guide Ralf Heckel
The guests of DLR were shown the remains of the houses were Prof Dr von Puttkamer, Prof Harry O Ruppe and Rudolf Bromme were born, as well as the early workplaces of Eberhad Rees. Thus they learned a lot about the historical roots and their evolution from crafts and engineering into today's spaceflight industry. It was a surprise for the guests to find that parts of the Korolyev family (Sputnik) have been in Saxony already since 1907 and are still here today.
International Space Education Institute
The core cell of the institute is the recently acquired estate in Wurzener Straße 4. The five storey Wilhelminian style building boasts 2000 m² of green grounds, workshops, seminar rooms and dormitory, and is a popular meeting point for youngsters who want to get ahead. The simplicity of the building and its interior encourages down-to-earthness and hard work in home-rule. Remaining overnight accommodation is utilised as part of the "Space Hostel" during fair season to cover overheads and project costs during.
Sports Grammar School and Moonbuggy
Mr Rädler, Head Teacher
Dr Wolfgang Gerber, Geography & Astronomy Teacher
Max Frank (17), Moonbuggy Team Trainer
As sports elite school, the Sports Grammar School Leipzig presents an opportunity of professional sports for students without chances of further education. They support vocational orientation in crafts and techology without neglecting sports and fun. On one hand the Moonbuggy offered the perfect prerequisites and combined them with the necessary thrill of the new for the students. On the other, the sports students focus their construction team on a single mission goal with their enviable training drive. The SEI has learnt to appreciate this symbiosis very much.
Max Frank trained the world champion Moonbuggy-Team 2010 and held a talk to 8th graders. The DLR guests observed that lesson and saw the student's enthusiasm sparked by Max during the break when all admired the Moonbuggy on display. The cabinet also contains parts, processes and awards. They made a big impression on the guests. The meeting with the students, enthusiastic teachers and the competency of Max opened hearts.
Space Hotel Leipzig ***
As the Space Hostel's "big brother", the Space Hotel Leipzig *** recently opened as trial project in Gräfestraße 15. This low budget business model benefitted from the experience of over 70 flight trips in the framework of SEI. The conference hotel is intended as venue for international exchange groups, workshops, seminars, and of course as another business and vocational instruction centre.
The interior walls consist of hundreds of images from our many excursions through the world of spaceflight. In the tradition of the third US president Jefferson, the bible usually found in the drawers of hotel room furniture was swapped with the books "On the trails of chief constructor Korolyev" and "To the Moon with Bolts and Nuts" (about Eberhard Rees). Thus the focus was placed on science, craft and technology. The Business-Centre was rebuilt into a Miniclub. The former breakfast buffet is now an online-restaurant with PCs. All food is delivered in 15 min on the push of a button while you work next door in an integrated NASA-style way.
This is where we have lunch together with the director of the Vocational & Technology Centre, Dr Schmidt. There's the local speciality Leizpiger Allerlei, followed by kettle goulash and red cabbage.
Vocational & Technology Centre Borsdorf
Dr. Schmidt, Director
This place combines 35 vocational apprenticeships under one roof. The fragrances change from motor oil and welding smoke, from butchery, wood workshop to construction. We don't have time to look at everything. Nevertheless, the integrated concept and the enthusiasm of new possibilities through the Space Euducation Institute convince with their ability to provide visions and goals for the apprentices.
Dr Schmidt guides the delegates through the halls and earns their praise and recognition at every stop, above all through the innovative combination of apprenticeship and further education. During a coffee break at around 4pm, we reflect on the visit and decide it was not the last one.
At 5pm a long but very eye-opening day ends for everyone.
Some Statements of all Parties.
Hi Mr Heckel,
I hope you had a successful day yesterday. Have only heard positive news from Dr Schmidt.
Dr. Andrea Wolter, Communications Director, Chamber of Crafts Leipzig
Dear Mr Heckel
I was impressed by your considerable historical and up-to-date knowledge of spaceflight in the US and equally in Russia. I don't know of anyone who is that excellently connected to the contemporaries of the beginnings of spaceflight and their descendants.
In particular I liked how, as space visioneers, you and your wife managed to win youngsters, industry and even the Chamber of Crafts for your Moonbuggy project, and thus sparked their fascination for spaceflight. We should couple your approach (fascination of space, sports ambition, student-led high tech development, cooperation with industry) with ours at DLR (DLR_Campus) and make sure that, for instance "your" spaceflight fans visit our DLR_School_Lab in Neustrelitz and we do a Moonbuggy event there at the same time. We could also think about a collaborative summercamp.
Before I end I have another compliment for the owner of the private observatory, Mr Henri Schulz (correct name?): He has fulfilled the dream I had as a teenager aged about 18. And he did it without formal degrees in astronomy, electronics, optics or construction. Amazing!
Dr Wolfgang Mett, DLR
Leipzig is still worth a trip today
It was hardly known a few years ago that this town was home to some of the godfathers of spaceflight. Those roots were found only after the investigations of the SEI, and they reach far into the past into times where the term spaceflight itself was still unknown. But from an aviation, aerospace and astronomy perspective, Leipzig is not only a historically interesting venue. There are also new approaches to get young people into engineering.
The broad range of activities in technology and science are given the cutting edge by aviation and space. This paved the way through integration of private intitiative, and the areas of enterprise and education. It is great to see that representatives of DLR came to get a first hand impression and were able to witness themselves what was created here in the past years.
Now it's important to focus the existing forces to sustainably and continuously strengthen the position of the area as a location for vocational orientation. The successes of the Moonbuggy as product of international collaboration of motivated youths show us a direction where the results of future collaborative support through the areas of aviation and space could make Leipzig into a source of future technology development.
I will continue to support the students of SEI in the future. This is what I see as my commitment as a member of DGLR and, to be honest, it's fun to work with motivated youngsters.
Teacher for IT, astronomy and amateur radio
Wednesday, May 12, 2010
written by Ralf Heckel
International Space Education Institute
translated by: Regina Peldszus BA MA
Kingston University London
Leipzig, May 8th, 2010
On Saturday night, May 8th, we celebrated a world champion. More than 60 invited guests, among them sponsors, supporters, family and instructors, joined the NASA Moonbuggy Team of the International Space Education Institute for the annual award ceremony. (press releases: http://www.flickr.com/photos/spaceeducation/sets/72157620442432603/)
The Chamber of Trade shone with a lush buffet, put together by the food technology apprentices of the Vocational Technology Centre of the chamber. The apprentices had also produced the 50 awards to be presented that night.
A big surprise was the cheque of €2,000 presented to the International Space Education Institute by the owner of Frank-Fahrzeugbau Ltd. The gift was part of the prize money the company received recently as winners of the PUULitzer Prize. Sponsored by PUUL Ltd., the Chamber of Trade Leipzig, IHK Leipzig, Sparkasse Leizpig and ARGE Leipzig, the award honours "Exemplary Organisational Culture". A keg of beer was thrown in, too.
Other companies joined Frank-Fahrzeugbau and assured their continuing support based on the achievements of the Moonbuggy Team. Thus, HinzTec presented us with an additional data module for modulating telemetry with the hint for additional Moonbuggies. Mr Hinz also pledged to support the furnishing of the Moonbuggy-trailer with a protective SMS security system.
Mr Ronny Hessel of the turnery Günter Jakob counted pennies of serial production costs of the Moonbuggy differential gear and said: "Since the students designed this themselves, since their drawings were accurate and the development was free, I can now batch-produce these high precision parts for only €250 a piece". He offered free production for the next five Moonbuggies. The serial drive is supposed to go into production immediately in order to give more than 100 interested Moonbuggy teams worldwide the opportunity to acquire and assemble them during an engineering workshop in Leipzig. These workshops will be lead by existing German team members in the framework of a management course.
Around 8pm all guests assembled in the conference room for a presentation of SEI director Ralf Heckel. The talk touched on recruiting in Russia, the team's preparations in Leipzig and the race in Huntsville. An introduction with an excerpt of the film "Magnificent Desolation", narrated by Tom Hanks, was received particularly well. Also the Moonbuggy Race films "Speedrecord", "NASA-TV" and "Russian Moonbuggy" were met with great applause.
At 9.30pm it was time for space education ambassador Yvonne to present the long awaited awards. More than 30 guests received the valuable stucco work that night. More awards will be presented at the ILA in Berlin and sent to Moscow and Huntsville.
A team of young journalists produced a news story.
Photo gallery: http://www.flickr.com/photos/spaceeducation/sets/72157623911089177
Wednesday, April 14, 2010
translated by Regina Peldszus, Kingston University London
corrected by Terry Wall, MSFC
Huntsville, April 12th 2010
The unexpected has happened. Beating 2nd place team by just one second, our team became the 1st place winner this year. The following 4 teams were close behind, within 4 seconds. Of all the scores, even of the university class, our team is the best worldwide. It's not explicitly mentioned, but it's a fact.
One team (Jupiter High School of Florida, USA) was faster by 4 seconds on the race course, but their design was lacking when un-folding the buggy. While our team was ready to gorace in 6 seconds, the faster team took 16 seconds. The fastest assembly time was only 4 seconds, but that team's parts wouldn't have fit into a collection of luggage suitcases.
Thus in this sense, our team is the world champion! – a title that's logic, but which wasn't mentioned.
Today is a cosmonautics celebration day. 49 years ago, Yuri Gagarin went into space, and 29 years ago the Space Shuttle first orbited Earth. I'm looking towards the future: Will we succeed in having a Russian team join us in the upcoming anniversary year? It could be a small but important "space race" for the youth. For next year, also the Lunar Rover celebrates its 40th anniversary. In my experience, national thinking is not easily left behind when not working in multi-national teams. Here, it could serve for motivating all parties to achieve their best.
I'd like to recap the previous hours while they're still fresh in my mind. Again I'm taking the team to the Space & Rocket Center. The kids are full of energy and drive, cool and focused, ambitious and deliberate in their striving to unite their feelings for a single cause. This is how I've known them for four years. This is the most amazing time for every teacher or youth educator. But this moment only happens before the Moonbuggy Race or in Moscow / Star City. No-one but me, Yvonne and a small number of teachers really know how this moment feels.
I know that this moment won't last and that it really depends on the success and attention of the organisers. We lost too many students during the last years due to "burn out" following the race – the requirements in addition to the long journey and high costs are too tough. Those who stuck with it and didn't give up are here behind me. I'm driving as carefully as if I was carrying the national gold reserves in my van.
It's not busy yet on the course. The team is toughened up after the success yesterday. Max goes through his training drill with the drivers and I re-position the cameras. This time the van will become a Mission Control Center for the telemetry data that we cherish so much. It has a long antenna mounted to the roof.
I notice that there is none of the usual Moonbuggy excitement as there's hardly anyone in position. The team isn't worried. There are no typical worries such as: "Do we need to be faster today? ... How are the others doing? ... What do we need to take special care of?" To be in pole position is a heavy lot. However, the birds are chirping and the warming sun reaches out over the tree tops and doesn't distract from the goal. Both drivers have watched their board video and telemetry data for a long time yesterday. They have developed new strategies with their 17 year old trainer Max, and position their pedals in a cross. That's how they want to avoid progressive thrust and slip during the start.
The reward comes promptly: NASA twitters: "Steffi and Stefan get off to a killer start – no Obstacle 1 penalties". I'm at the toughest obstacle, the Lunatic Curve and have three cameras ready. The two come in with incredible speed (according to telemetry 15mph/24kmh). Stefan looks relaxed after experiencing his speed record of 50mph/80kmh on a trail, and hits the brakes 2ft/50cm before the obstacle. After a fraction of a second he immediately releases the brakes. He knows that he's now in control of more than 1g, which in turn heats up the brake discs to 600°C. He is steering a machine with a combined mass of more than 400 pounds/200 kg.
For a short time, the buggy dives as far as it's able to into its front axle suspension travel and then, released again, rises over the steep hill. After checking telemetry, Stefan managed an acceleration of 36,5 ft/s² (11.5 m/s²). That's an overload of more than 1g. Well done! This is how you turn "Hase-shock absorbers" into kangaroo legs with gauge airpressure. While the wheels touch the uneven gravel, they are not strained. Stefan's front wheels cannot grip and the moonbuggy starts to fishtail slightly. Steffi's rear wheels have reached the obstacle. She has S-Ply-Springs from glass fibre, a material that Mercedes is using for their rear axles in the new S Class. Although Stefan is immediately regains control of the vehicle again, the momentary swerve of the front wheels causes an undeliberate sideways shift to Steffi. Her end of the vehicle twists sideways like an untamed mustang, riding on a single wheel for several tense seconds. After our off-road training she knows to stay cool and trust the moonbuggy's design and construction. Nevertheless she utters a loud "ooops". At 30° floor pitch the angle limiter in the torsion joint of the vehicle frame grips. The right rear wheel starts to deform menacingly sideways. Then Steffi is catapulted back into horizontal, both drivers go full throttle and speed away, after they brush a concrete block from the course with their left rear wheel.
The onlookers – at this point still few – hold their breath for a second. When they realize that all went well, they break into a loud and astonished laughter. Nevertheless, I'm not happy – we lost about 2 seconds here. In my head, torsion bar absorbers and double track rims with double upright profile flash up. But there is no time. I run straight over to meet them at the next position.
In the moon crater, I can see no mistakes nor faults. The vehicle delivers an outstanding performance. They drift around the concrete curves. This puts strain on the rear wheels that are not entirely finetuned yet for a Moonbuggy Race. Here we have to sit together with our tire sponsor "Schwalbe" and soup up "Big Betty" (a new profile at 3.75inch tire width). Until now we had used suitable tires for the rear bar, but they were not the sponsor's – not very sophisticated. "Schwalbe" will have to step it up in future to stay on board. The photos and videos are taken. I hurry onwards.
Max leaps over a hedge and positions his camera as agreed below the obstacles in front of the Saturn I rocket. When the buggy shoots by, there is a swerve on the obstacle and he recoils. I sense that both drivers have reached their limit and that we need a steering damper when the buggy is flying. When it's going uphill, I'm cheering them on. And I'm out of breath myself. I point the camera at the two and run after them.
When they reach the downhill track in front of the Space Shuttle, Steffi is catapulted up. Here we definitely have to increase the damping effect of the rear absorbers. Then they speed away to the sand obstacle. I don't worry about that one. That was never a real problem for us. I take a shortcut and try to meet them at the finishing line. I just about manage to take two pictures when they thunder through the finish with a loud honking of our 120psi (8 atmospheres = 118psig) pressure tank for our DEKRA-sponsored air horn (a superlight green plastic Sprite bottle).
Again, both drivers are absolutely exhausted and only listen to the time for their run. It is announced as, again, 3:31min. This is the exact same time as yesterday. Nobody knows what to think of this. Now, is that good or not?
The other teams make it through the course in quick succession. It's a festival without comparison. Wheels give way, tires burst with a loud pop, tie rods bend, chassis break up. Some of them make it through, even in the same time as we did – but none of them reach our total score. Then there is a fleet from India. Some call it "Rikshah-fleet". Many buggies are too high and not stable enough. I feel compelled to offer some advice, but have to get back to the laptop. The tips can wait til our Moonbuggy summer workshop.
I collect videos and photos. We had 6 cameras on duty! Then I start processing them, evaluate telemetry and upload first results online. The organizers have measured the race time exactly. With board video and telemetry I'm getting the same results independently – and in our case this is exact like an atomic clock. After 6 hours my head is smoking and I'm hungry. We're still number one.
I walk towards the buggy. It's 2pm. There are only the "bones" left of the German Moonbuggy. Everything is dismantled. I sit down in the tent and work away in the shade while the team is busy getting the buggy flight-ready. Terry gets the truck and everything is loaded. There a 6 suitcases left and a few parts of our "fighter jet".
We send the final emails off and are ready just before the awards ceremony. Good timing!
Now it's uncharted territory for us. According to the rules of the hosts we should receive two awards – "Winning Team" and "Best International Team Award". We already got this award, endowed by NASA Headquarters a year ago. But this year we have managed the best time amongst all international teams – even better: amongst all participating teams. I particularly remember the meeting I had with the director of the organizers, Sabrina Pearson, in the Marriot Hotel in December 2008. Then I reported the additional hurdles an international team has to take and asked for a small acknowledgment. I was heard – even at NASA administration. Prof. von Puttkamer himself, born in Leipzig, came from Washington and presented that award to us from Leipzig.
This award ceremony was different. We received an award for "Winning Team", without getting a receipt like the US teams, which is the actual purpose of this award. The regulations for "Best International Team" were apparently changed without notification. Another team got that award. Also, we were very surprised when the "Most Improved Award" was this year endowed with a cash price of $250 for the US team. We received this award last year, but had to pay €50 customs for it – without a cash price, although it was presented by the same founder, "Jacobs Industries".
The assumption is starting to form that the hosts are not yet ready to meet the immense increase in international demand (caused and promoted by NASA HQ) of the Moonbuggy Race. There is a real need for support so as to avoid a loss of sophistication of the race. I am in the process of thinking how I can assist in this respect as an integrated adviser. We really need to reduce the progression of international participants without damping their enthusiasm. We need continental rounds. We can take care of Europe and Asia, but not more.
For this to work, the hosts need to be prepared to share reputation and workload, as the NASA values suggest.
ddp (german press agency):
German Press in english:
Info-TV Leipzig (same as channel 31):
Start-Up Magazine, Germany:
chamber for handicraft:
Sunday, April 11, 2010
Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala.
NEWS RELEASE: 10-029
NASA ANNOUNCES WINNERS OF 17TH ANNUAL GREAT MOONBUGGY RACE
Teams from Germany, Puerto Rico top high school, college divisions
HUNTSVILLE, Ala. -- NASA has announced the victors in the 17th annual Great Moonbuggy Race: The team representing the International Space Education Institute of Leipzig, Germany, won the high school division; and racers from the University of Puerto Rico in Humacao took first place in the college division.
The teams bested more than 70 teams from 18 states, Puerto Rico, Canada, Germany, India and Romania. More than 600 drivers, engineers and mechanics -- all students -- gathered with their team advisors and cheering sections to take part in the matchup of wits and wheels at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center April 9-10 in Huntsville, Ala.
The race is organized by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville. It challenges students to design, build and race lightweight, human-powered buggies that tackle many of the same engineering challenges dealt with by Apollo-era lunar rover developers at the Marshall Center in the late 1960s.
The International Space Education Institute, known among moonbuggy racers as "Team Germany," has been a prominent contender in the competition since they debuted in 2007 as the German Space Education Institute. Their team this year included two Russian students, reflecting the school's expanded international scope.
The University of Puerto Rico in Humacao -- the only school in the world to enter a moonbuggy in every race since the event was founded in 1994 -- won the second-place prize in 2009, and finally took home first place in this, their 17th appearance.
The winning teams posted the fastest vehicle assembly and race times in their divisions and received the fewest on-course penalties. The International Space Education Institute finished the roughly half-mile course -- twisting curves, treacherous gravel pits and other obstacles simulating lunar surface conditions -- in just 3 minutes 37 seconds. The University of Puerto Rico at Humacao posted a time of 4 minutes 18 seconds.
Finishing in second place this year in the high school division was Fajardo Vocational High School of Humacao, Puerto Rico, which entered the competition for the first time in 2009. Third place in the high school division yielded a tie: race newcomer Jupiter High School of Jupiter, Fla., matched perennial top-three winner Huntsville Center for Technology Team 1
of Huntsville, Ala. -- who also tied last year for the top high school trophy.
The University of Utah from Salt Lake City won second place in the college division, boosting them onto the trophy platform for the first time since they debuted in the race in 2007; and the Rhode Island School of Design from Providence, R.I., took home third place in their first race appearance -- despite having no engineers on their team (all team members are industrial design students).
Race organizers presented both first-place winners with trophies depicting NASA's original lunar rover. NASA also gave plaques and certificates to every team that competed.
The first-place high school team also received $500 and a week at Space Camp, courtesy of race sponsors ATK Aerospace Systems of Huntsville. ATK awarded the second- and third-place high school teams $250 each. Race sponsor Lockheed Martin Corp. of Huntsville also presented the winning college team with $5,700 in cash. Individuals on the winning teams also received commemorative medals and other prizes. (For a complete list of additional awards for design, safety, innovation and spirit, see below.)
"Each year, NASA's Great Moonbuggy Race clearly demonstrates the popularity, worldwide reach and intrinsic value of the agency's education initiatives," said Tammy Rowan, manager of the Marshall Center's Academic Affairs Office, which organizes the race. "It's our goal to augment and enrich the classroom experience, and inspire a new generation of scientists, engineers and explorers to carry on NASA's mission of discovery throughout our solar system and deliver untold benefits back home on Earth."
The moonbuggy race is inspired by the original lunar rover, first piloted across the moon's surface in the early 1970s during the Apollo 15, 16 and 17 missions. The first race, held in 1994, commemorated the 25th anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landing. At the time, the event was only open to college teams, and eight participated. Two years later, the event was expanded to include high school teams.
NASA's Great Moonbuggy Race is hosted each year by the U.S. Space & Rocket Center. Major corporate sponsorship is provided by Lockheed Martin Corp., The Boeing Company, Northrop Grumman Corp., and Jacobs Engineering ESTS Group, all of Huntsville
For photos of winning teams, visit:
For more information about the race, visit:
For information about other NASA education programs, visit:
NASA's 17th annual Great Moonbuggy Race
ADDITIONAL AWARDS AND PRIZES
Best Moonbuggy Design (for solving engineering problems associated with
o Teodoro Aguilar Mora Vocational High School Team 2, Yabucoa, Puerto Rico
o University of Alabama in Huntsville, Ala.
o Jupiter High School, Jupiter, Fla.
o University of Puerto Rico in Humacao, Puerto Rico
Best Performance by an International Team
o Fajardo Vocational High School, Humacao, Puerto Rico
o Krishna Engineering College, Ghaziabad, India
NASA Systems Safety Award (for the safest approach to building, testing and
o Tudor Viamu National High School of Computer Science Team 2, Bucharest,
o University of Alabama in Huntsville, Ala.
Pits Crew Award for ingenuity and persistence in overcoming problems during
o Carlisle County High School, Bardwell, Ky.
o C.T. Institute of Engineering, Management & Technology, Jalandhar, India
Crash and Burn Award (for the team that endures the most spectacular vehicle
o Erie High School Team 2, Erie, Kan.
Best Team Spirit (for overall team energy, enthusiasm and camaraderie)
o Pana High School, Pana, Ill.
o Wright State University, Dayton, Ohio
Rookie Award (for fastest course completion by a new race team)
o Jupiter High School, Jupiter, Fla.
o Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, R.I.
Most Improved Award (for the most dramatically improved engineering and
o Fairhope High School Team 1, Fairhope, Ala.
o Cameron University, Lawton, Okla.
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Saturday, April 10, 2010
Mission 3, Moonbuggy 2010
Huntsville, April 9th, 2010
It's 5 in the morning when Steffi tries to wake me up gently. Despite the short night I'm quite awake. After a hearty breakfast we're on our way to the Space & Rocket Center. Upon arrival, we take the Moonbuggy straight to the welding machine to finally fix our handle bar. With a mix of metric and imperial tools we tweek away at an improvised solution. Then we're back at our booth and spend 15min warming up, 10min less than planned. Max changes the programme and warms us up with several scuttling exercises. We get on the buggy, get our energy drink and focus on the race.
5 minutes to go. Surprisingly I'm hardly excited at all. Nevertheless Max goes through the course with me mentally and tries to prepare me perfectly for the race. I'm glad to have a veteran like him in our team. Steffi who's behind me on the buggy can hardly keep quiet. She chats to anyone who passes by and keeps getting off the buggy. That's probably her way of dealing with the pressure.
Team 5 passes by. As we're directly next to the gate of the start, we can join Team 5, as we're ready to go. Someone from the official NASA team comes over and asks us whether we're ready. We agree and drive over to the spot where they evaluate whether you're complying with all the rules. Also, the buggy is folded up and carried a short distance. Then we get the first timed race. We have to get the buggy ready to start as fast as we can and sit in it with all buckles fastened. If you look at the video, I'm amazed myself that we managed to do it that quickly. In all our previous attempts we've managed about 8 seconds. But now we're full of adrenalin. The umpire measures an amazing 6 seconds. That's fantastic.
Motivated we proceed to the start. It's almost too swiftly for me. I almost can't focus on the course, but I'm glad we've done that before the race. After a short interview, it's time. Ready, set, go! We tread the pedals. Both wheels go into overdrive. We give less juice. At once there's the first obstacle, funnily enough the buggy flies over the first obstacle. The rest goes smoothly and we don't realise the remaining bumps. Then it's downhill, followed by a difficult obstacle which you need to take with a lot of speed. The problem is that there is a 90° hard shoulder straight afterwards and you can easily jump off track. That proved the buggy killer number one in previous years! A lot of rims gave up here in the past. Also because Steffi shouts "break!" from behind, I'm taking the hurdle with more respect. When it's behind us, I realise that the officials have made this quite a bit smoother than last year.
Now there's the horizontal part with a few pebbled tracks. After that there's another 90° curve with a hurdle. That means I have to aim to get into the curve in a wider berth to approach the hurdle directly and use the entire force of the drive to avoid falling of the side of the bump. As planned we pass the dirt bump. The track goes on uphill over two obstacles and along a couple of pistes into the crater. As in the final years, this is the most exhausting part in the middle of the race. I try to negotiate as many loose rocks as possible, since in the concrete crater it is in fact the rocks that make driving hard.
Then there are more curves with more or less difficult hurdles where I start feeling my legs. A sharp curve below the rocket and through to the final steep ascent. He're everyone's down to walking speed. That means you're exerting your final power reserves, if you have any left.
Then it's just downhill, over a couple of dirt hills back to the Shuttle. Here another few tricky hurdles await. There's a 4m long sandbank and dovetailing hills on which we've tailored the steering mechanism in our buggy perfectly. Nevertheless, we lose, as all the other teams, a lot of time here as the ground is soft an offers a lot of resistance.
That's why the final meters are pure torture. I remember that I'm supposed to honk the horn and enter the finish with Steffi, totally exhausted. Everything worked out and is still stable. My gutfeeling tells me that the race must have been good, around 4 minutes and therefore maybe a score in the front area of the field. I've given everything and can't even sit up straight when the NASA reporter is there to ask me questions. I try to answer but can't string a coherent sentence together, so she goes over to Steffi. She still has some strenght left and kann answer, at least in short sentences. The only thing I want to do is lie down. I unfasten my seat-belt, summon my last ounces of strength and sit down on the dewy grass, knees shaking. That my clothes get wet doesn't bother me. I notice how someone jumps on me with a great shriek. It's Steffi who announces amazedly that we were 3 seconds faster than the team of the Huntsville Technology Center who scored best last year. At once we wonder how long they need to fold up their vehicle. After a short while we get confirmation that we drove the annual track record with 3:31min and also needed 3 seconds less for the fold-up.
I'm absolutely speechless. We're first!!! And that despite of the fact that most of the best teams started before us. I'm proud of our achievement. But somehow I knew that the buggy had matured into a single unit with Steffi and myself in order to pull of a miracle and reward our hard work during the past years. The team gathers together around us, who're still on the grass, exhausted but elated. We can hardly believe it. The track record is about 3:15min. But as it will turn out later today, this isn't nearly reached.
On getting some strength, we're off back to our booth. Apparently the news spread through the grapevine, as there are congratulations from everywhere. A lot of people make a point of dropping by to congratulate us, and also when we move around the area we're met with beaming faces, some of whom are even German and wish us all the best in our mother tongue. It's so unbelievable how nice and open everyone is.
We spend the remaining long day in the area. We either go and see other buggies on their test drives, check out the rides or stroll through the museum. We regularly come back to the score tables on which we're leading for a long time. However, towards the end of the race we get the news that another team beat us by 3 seconds. Again we're asking ourselves immediately how long they needed to fold up the buggy. With a small delay, there are the news that they actually took 10 seconds longer. So we keep the first place until the end of the day and are overjoyed. Finally, we invite the other international teams for a little get-together to get this international community to further coordinate their collaborative efforts and to promote the Moonbuggy Race in the entire world.