RIT takes first place at NASA ‘moonbuggy’ competition

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RIT student Troy Martin, along team member Jackie Hill in the seat behind him, navigates RIT’s moonbuggy to victory during the annual NASA-sponsored race.

An RIT student team put in an out-of-this-world performance to win the 16th annual Great Moonbuggy Race, held April 3-4 in Huntsville, Ala. It’s the second time in three years that RIT has claimed the top prize in the college division of the NASA-sponsored event.

Hosted by the U.S. Space & Rocket Center, the race included 68 teams from 20 states, Puerto Rico, Canada, Germany, India and Romania. Students were challenged to think like NASA engineers in designing, building and racing lightweight, human-powered buggies. RIT posted the fastest vehicle-assembly and race times in its division and received the fewest on-course penalties.

Troy Martin, fourth-year environmental science major, served as one of RIT’s moonbuggy drivers. He credits the lighter design of their vehicle as one reason for the team’s success. RIT received the Most Improved Award for what judges considered the most dramatically improved engineering and performance.

According to Martin, previous race experience also proved to be a factor. “It helped that a lot of us are seniors and we knew what to expect this year from the trip down to the competition. You get used to all the factors associated with that and can just focus on the race. It was a blast!”

Other members of the winning team include Steve Sweet, fifth-year mechanical engineering major; Lowell Smoger, fourth-year mechanical engineering major; Jackie Hill, fourth-year biochemistry major; and Demetrios Koukouves, fourth-year mechanical engineering major. Alumnus Ben Strohman ’07 (mechanical engineering technology) served as the team’s advisor.

According to race organizers, student racers face design challenges similar to those overcome by Apollo-era rover engineers. Teams build their vehicles from the ground up, typically using bicycle or light motorcycle tires, aluminum or composite-metal struts and parts, and the best drive trains, gears, suspension, steering and braking systems they can find or devise.

To commemorate its victory in the Great Moonbuggy Race, the RIT team brought home a trophy depicting NASA’s original lunar rover.