Saturday, April 10, 2010

Moonbuggy Race - Day One

Stephanie Fleischer
Moonbuggy Team 2010

April 9th, 2010


I get up at 5am to have a shower, then wake up the boys and Lauren. We all make our way to the kitchen to grab a quick bite to eat. We're so excited that we can't eat as much as we'd want to. Just after 6am we're off. While in the car, we make a couple of quick phone calls to people in Germany. The Chamber of Trade, for instance, has given an interview at Radio Leipzig since no-one of our team was in the country. Some of the apprentices and masters from the Vocational & Technology Center can't believe we've just descended a hill in Huntsville with 80km/hr, and I'm so excited that I can't stop talking.

We arrive at the Space & Rocket Center and the excitement in the team and the seriousness of the competition becomes obvious when we check out the other teams with their trailers and Moonbuggies. Also the cool whether causes us goose-bumps. We still have to fix the steering bar. So we're walking over to the Pit-Tent to sort it out, where other teams are already queuing to welder their buggies.

Now we're over at our own tent to warm up. Tension is mounting and it really shows with me. I can't sit still and talk non-stop. Now it's time. A last glance on my watch tells me it's just after 8am, when one of the organisers picks us up.

At first we meet the examiners who ask us to fold up the Moonbuggy and put it on the scale. Our vehicles weighs 179lb, that's around 90kg. Then we go to the area of the tournament were we have to carry the vehicle 6ft. Then we stow it away in a cube with 4ft long sides (1.21m). We've only practiced that a couple of times and always needed 8-10 seconds. The guys from Huntsville were faster with 5 seconds. We focus and take a deep breath. We're not aware of anything around us, just of the 'ready, set, GO!'. Everything works surprisingly well and quick. We lift our hands and the time is taken. We're breathless as the umpire announces the time: 6.2 seconds. That's a German Team record. The fastest the German Moonbuggy has ever been folded up was 6.4 seconds!

But we don't have time for cheers, as we're taken to the start where Angela Storey awaits us with a mike and a camera. She asks a few questions about the Moonbuggy which we answer quickly. Ralf keeps finetuning the buggy til the umpire gives the go. We start in the first gear, but our wheels are a bit in overdrive so we lose a tiny bit of time. We fly over the first obstacles and Stefan masters the curves amazingly. We slow down a bit in the Moon crater to avoid sliding off track. The final part is slower, as we're treading uphill and lose speed due to a pile of sand. But we pass the course without penalties, i.e. we don't get off track or take down hay stacks or traffic cones which are placed on the piste. Vermont Hedrick, who's hosting us at his place, cheers with extra fervour and shouts that we should honk, as we're the only team with a horn. So Stefan takes the finishing line honking. Done!

We're out of breath and stay put in our buggy for now. The journalist is straight over to ask us more questions. I'm letting the race pass again in my head and think we could have been faster on one or the other occasion. Stefan is so short of breath he can't properly answer the questions of the journalist. So she comes over to me. But all I can say at the time is that I'm really out of breath. Stefan and I get off the buggy and join our group, who's already waiting for us with some water. An umpire tells us the time: 3:31min. It's a good result for us, as the track records is just over 3min. We're content until someone walks over and tells us we're first place, faster than the Center of Technology team which was first last year. We nearly cry with joy. We all end up in a big gear hug and can't believe it.

Then we're off to the tent, where we – still amazed – talk about the race and all the different questions of our team. The Moonbuggy, which stood the test of the race without hick-ups, is checked once more and no faults are found.

Our pulse is back to normal and so we go and see some of the other teams to get to know them and admire their Moonbuggies. None is like the other and everyone we talk to is really open and very, very friendly. Some of them even chat me up at the Space & Rocket Center and ask whether I wasn't Steffi, and that they saw me on Channel 31 with the weather guy on Easter Sunday. Or that they read the reports I wrote in English and Spanish, or that they saw my picture on the frontpage of NASA. I blush every time and can't believe the traces I'm leaving during my first ever visit to the US.

It's a long and hot day. I'm glad our race was in the morning when it was still nice and cool. Our group goes out and visits the Space & Rocket Park again. We ride a centrifuge, see Darth Vader and cheer on other Moonbuggy teams who we'd made friends with.

The afternoon is spent in the cafeteria where we meet with some other international teams to start a Moonbuggy-Tour Europe. We want to collaborate with a lot of different schools and convince others to consider doing Moonbuggies. This is important, since our constructions could be precursors for a Marsbuggy. The team of Puerto Rico which comprises of many schools is really interested, and so are Canada and India. That means the international teams might be doing a tour and races already next year, where everyone could join and check out the Moonbuggy and the idea behind it.


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