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Mt. Juliet students reach for the moon

By Kimberly Jordan kjordan@lebanondemocrat.com • Updated May 1, 2014 at 1:45 PM

Students from Mt. Juliet High School participated in the inaugural NASA Human Exploration Rover Challenge April 11 and 12 and came in 25th out of 38 competing high schools.

Team sponsor David Haines, a STEM teacher at MJHS, said this is the school’s third trip to the event, formerly called The Great Moon Buggy Race.

“The race is going back to where they had the lunar rover and you had to put it on the spaceship and it had to fold up in a certain area. It was usually about a 4-foot square,” Haines said.

He said the two-day competition is broken up into two sections. The first day is devoted to weighing the team’s moon buggy and timing how long it takes for the buggy to be constructed.

“The second day is a race-only event. There are one or two people on the course separated by time. They have a bunch of craters and things to simulate what it looks like on the moon that they race through,” Haines added.

Team members were freshman Emma Eck, sophomore Noah Gaston, senior Hunter Hinshaw and drivers, junior Alex Lurie and senior Brittany Roberts.

There were 70 total teams that included colleges and universities from 19 states as well as Puerto Rico, Germany, India, Mexico and Russia. More than 500 students participated.

Each team designed and built its own “rover” and raced it across a half-mile course to see which team could complete the course in the fastest time with the fewest mistakes and also had the fastest vehicle assembly time.

“The first year we barely got on the course, and last year we finished 19th,” said Haines. We have to build it from scratch, there has to be a boy and girl who rides and the buggy has to be completely human-powered.”

Organized by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville and building on two decades of competitive student innovation in the NASA Great Moonbuggy Race (held in the “Rocket City” from 1994-2013), the new event challenges students to design, build and race lightweight, human-powered roving vehicles, solving technical problems along the way just like NASA engineers must do.

According to organizers, students’ most innovative vehicle and hardware designs could help inform NASA’s own development of rovers and other space transportation systems for future exploration missions across the solar system.

Just as importantly, the experience is designed to provide the future workforce to realize those new missions, inspiring students to pursue careers in the technical STEM fields - science, technology, engineering and mathematics - so crucial to the agency’s endeavors.

The NASA Human Exploration Rover Challenge is sponsored by the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington, and organized by the Marshall Center’s Academic Affairs Office.

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