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Seven Reasons Why Rover Challenge is Serious Business

Seven Reasons Why Rover Challenge is Serious Business

Prizes, awards and a year’s worth of bragging rights are at stake during our annual Human Exploration Rover Challenge. Year after year, student teams from across the world design, build and race rovers against the clock and each other.

With a space-themed obstacle course, unique rovers, competitive racing, our exhibits and dozens of international teams… it’s everything cool about STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and space exploration. 

Here are the “must-know” details for this year’s event:

1. Bumps, Bruises and Battle Scars

Our space-themed obstacle course often brings racers to their knees, literally. This daunting three-quarter-mile long course is difficult to traverse and isn’t for the faint of heart. It uses both lunar and Mars-themed obstacles to simulate the types of terrain found on distant planets, asteroids or moons.

Plus, teams must race their rovers in, on and around full-scale rockets and space vehicle exhibits on display at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center – the official visitor center for NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, both in Huntsville, Alabama. See just how difficult and wild the course can be in our Flickr gallery.

2. Homemade Wheels Only

Rover teams must design and fabricate their own original, or “homemade” wheels. In-Situ Resource Utilization is an important component for our future missions to Mars, asteroids or other planets.

Astronauts can never simply purchase wheels at the store… and neither can our rover teams. Teams must not use any “off-the-shelf” wheels on their rover. By wheels, this means any component used for contact, traction or mobility on the surface of the obstacle course, including, but not limited to wheels, tracks, treads or belts.

And, as in years past, teams are not allowed to incorporate inflated (or un-inflated) pneumatic tires. Inflated tires would be considered an off-the-shelf product, not eligible under the current rules.

3. New “Sample Retrieval” Component Added

Teams may choose to compete in this optional challenge, collecting four samples (liquid, small pebbles, large rocks and soil) using a mechanical arm or a grabber they design and build. Teams must collect a soil sample and liquid sample while driving their rover, as well as collect rock samples (both large and small) while off the rover, all within a 25-minute time limit.  The “Sample Retrieval” challenge highlights our deep-space exploration goals. Teams competing are eligible for the $250 prize awarded to the winner of each high school and college/university division.

4. Caution: Real STEM @work

The sights and sounds of welding, grinding and computer programming are prevalent in this hands-on, experiential activity where students solve similar problems faced by our workforce. Rover Challenge provides a unique test-bed to get students involved in real-world research and development. Their progress and success may glean potential technologies for future exploration of Mars and beyond.

5. Draws Inspiration from Apollo and Journey to Mars

Rover Challenge was inspired by the historic success of the lunar rovers from the Apollo missions, each one built by engineers and scientists at NASA Marshall. While we continue to honor our past achievements, we now highlight future accomplishments on deep-space exploration missions to Mars, asteroids or other planets. The addition of the “Sample Return” component and the Martian obstacles emphasize our commitment toward space exploration.

6. Our International Spirit is Alive and Well

Just like the International Space Station; we bring the best of several nations together to promote and celebrate space exploration. Nearly 80 teams are coming from as far away as Italy, Germany, India, Mexico, Columbia and Russia, as well as more “local” talent from the United States and Puerto Rico. View this year’s registered teams HERE.

7. Real-time Racing on Social Media

From start to finish, each racing rover team will be broadcast, live, on the Marshall Center’s Ustream channel. Plus, enjoy real-time race updates, results and awards by following Rover Challenge Twitter: @RoverChallenge

NASA’s Human Exploration Rover Challenge will take place at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama, April 8-9. For event details, rules, course information and more, please visit:

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