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Build a Rover, Race a Rover!

Build a Rover, Race a Rover!

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Have you ever wanted to drive a rover across the surface of the Moon?

This weekend, students from around the world will get their chance to live out the experience on Earth! At the Human Exploration Rover Challenge, managed by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, high schoolers and college students operate human-powered rovers that they designed and built as they traverse a simulated world, making decisions and facing obstacles that replicate what the next generation of explorers will face in space.

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Though the teams that build the rover can be a few people or a few dozen, in the end, two students (one male, one female) will end up navigating their rover through a custom-built course at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center. Each duo will push their rover to the limit, climbing up hills, bumping over rocky and gravelly grounds, and completing mission objectives (like retrieving soil samples and planting their team flag) for extra points – all in less than seven minutes.

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2019 will mark the 25th year of Rover Challenge, which started life as the Great Moonbuggy Race on July 16, 1994. Six teams braved the rain and terrain (without a time limit) in the Rocket City that first year – and in the end, the University of New Hampshire emerged victorious, powering through the moon craters, boulder fields and other obstacles in eighteen minutes and fifty-five seconds.

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When it came time to present that year’s design awards, though, the honors went to the University of Puerto Rico at Humacao, who have since become the only school to compete in every Great Moonbuggy Race and Rover Challenge hosted by NASA Marshall. The second-place finishers in 1994, the hometown University of Alabama in Huntsville, are the only other school to compete in both the first race and the 25th anniversary race in 2019.

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Since that first expedition, the competition has only grown: the race was officially renamed the Human Exploration Rover Challenge for 2014, requiring teams to build even more of their rover from the wheels up, and last year, new challenges and tasks were added to better reflect the experience of completing a NASA mission on another planet. This year, almost 100 teams will be competing in Rover Challenge, hailing from 24 states, Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, and countries from Bolivia to Bangladesh.

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Rover Challenge honors the legacy of the NASA Lunar Roving Vehicle, which made its first excursion on the moon in 1971, driven by astronauts David Scott and James Irwin on Apollo 15. Given the competition’s space race inspiration, it’s only appropriate that the 25th year of Rover Challenge is happening in 2019, the 50th anniversary of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin’s historic Apollo 11 moon landing.

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Interested in learning more about Rover Challenge? Get the details on the NASA Rover Challenge site – then join us at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center (entrance is free) or watch live on the Rover Challenge Facebook Page starting at 7 AM CT, this Friday, April 12 and Saturday, April 13. Happy roving!

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