Marshall helps design winning moonbuggy Even on their first time out, South Dakota State University students succeeded.
Four mechanical engineering seniors won the Best Design Award for their original moonbuggy invention when they initiated SDSU's participation in the seventh Annual "Great Moonbuggy Race" April 7 and 8 at the NASA/Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, AL.
As part of a year-long senior design class, Rob Marshall of Vermillion, Ryan Bosanko of Aberdeen, Aaron Althoff of Watertown and Kory Kludt of Miller designed and built a human-powered moonbuggy that could successfully handle a half-mile simulated lunar terrain course of "craters," rocks, "lava" ridges, inclines and "lunar" soil. Jeffery Welsh, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at SDSU, accompanied the students as a faculty advisor.
The College of New Jersey in Ewing placed first in the actual race, beating out teams from 29 universities throughout the nation and Puerto Rico, including North Dakota State, Purdue, and the University of California. Pittsburg (KS) High School beat more than a dozen other high schools in the same competition.
The Best Design Award applauded SDSU students for having the best technical approach toward solving the engineering problem of navigating the lunar surface.
The students spent the fall semester creating drafts of their proposed project, then built the frame over Christmas break. They spent about 15 hours each week putting the contraption together while cutting corners to meet a $1,300 budget. One such corner led them to a salvage yard, where they scavenged the moonbuggy tires.
This was the first year SDSU students participated in the race, which Bosanko felt was the team's biggest challenge.
"Since we were the first ones to do this, we didn't have anything else to go on," he said. "We started from scratch and had to visualize exactly what we would end up with. That is not an easy thing to do."
Paving the road for future SDSU moonbuggy racers, Kludt said, was the most exciting part of all.
"I thought it was great, that we went up against teams who had competed all seven years and we beat them on our first try," he said. "What a reputation to set."
Each team had to assemble their moonbuggy immediately before the competition began. To fulfill the requirements that both a male and female drive the buggy, team members asked Shelbi Hostler, a senior engineering physics major from Blunt, to accompany them to Alabama.
While Hostler was impressed by the team's end product, she was still nervous about driving.
"We didn't have much time to practice before the race, so I had to really trust the guys that his thing wouldn't fall apart on me," she said, laughing. "Of course, it didn't, and we had a lot of fun. I would do it again in a second."
Although the moonbuggy did take one spill during th course, Bosanko and Hostler just got back up and kept going.
"I think that was pretty impressive, too, that the buggy didn't break when we tipped over," Althoff said. "That demonstrated the durability of our buggy and scored major points with the judges."
The ability to design a quality moonbuggy on such a small budget also impressed the judges, said Marshall, who estimated the cost of one buggy at nearly $20,000.
"We didn't have the big sponsors and budget that other teams had, but we made an excellent buggy out of what we did have, and that had to count for something," he said. "We spent a lot of time watching videos to analyze the course and type of traction we would need, and we definitely put our creativity to the test. When you have so little money to work with, you have no choice but to be creative. I think that's how we won."
Don Froehlich, head of the Mechanical Engineering Department and team instructor, said that in addition to enhancing their communication and problem-solving skills, the students also learned to work as a team, which they will surely experience as professional engineers.
"A student's success or failure rate is largely based on their ability to work as a team." Froehlich said. "Obviously, these students have mastered that ability. We are extremely proud of the team's success."
Winning the first time around also shows other engineering students what they have the capability to achieve, he said, and demonstrates the quality of SDSU's engineering faculty.
"They're quite enthusiastic and creative," Froehlich said of the entire engineering student body. "As long as you give them a little bit of direction and support, they do well. It makes me very proud to know that our faculty are at a level where they are encouraging and allowing our students to work as a team and achieve success. That reflects well on the excellent program that we have within the Mechanical Engineering Department, the College of Engineering, and all of SDSU."