Rover Challenge Issued By NASA To Students
November 30, 2013

NASA Issues Human Exploration Rover Challenge To Students

Susan Bowen for - Your Universe Online

Students, some of whom will have only recently earned their driver’s licenses, will soon have the opportunity to test drive vehicles for use on other planets, asteroids, moons and comets.

NASA has issued a new engineering design challenge for teams of high school and college students: to design, build and test vehicles on the simulated surface of another world.

Registration for the NASA Human Exploration Rover Challenge will be open until early in 2014 and will provide students with an authentic engineering challenge.

"We designed this engineering challenge to align with NASA's commitment of sending humans to Mars by the 2030s," said Rocky Lind, who manages education and outreach efforts in the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "The student teams will be timed, ranked and scored based on design, safety and how well they traverse the set course. The results of the competition will contribute to the design process for NASA's future exploration goals."

The course will be rugged. Its terrain will include a simulated field of asteroid debris with 5” to 15” boulders, an ancient stream bed with pebbles about six inches deep, ridges and varying sizes of erosion ruts and crevasses.

"The obstacles around the course will mimic some of the real terrain challenges of solar system exploration, so students must design robust and durable rovers with the traction to scale obstacles and meet other challenges," said Tammy Rowan, manager of the academic affairs office at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

Each rover entered in the competition will be human-powered and will carry two students, one male and one female. Each six member team, which includes the drivers, will build its own rover.

The teams will bring the disassembled rovers to the starting line of the competition. These components must fit into a five cubic foot space. The assembly by the team will be timed and evaluated for safety. Then the race over the course will be timed, with each team getting two attempts to achieve their fastest time. Whichever teams turn in the fastest assembly and course times will win the challenge. There will be three high school and three college team winners.

NASA uses these challenges, not only to help build capacities necessary for a manned Mars mission, but also to use the appeal of the space program to engage students in STEM — Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. NASA’s goal is to spark the interest of the next generation of scientists and engineers who can create innovative designs and provide unique perspectives. These students may be the very ones to plan future missions and to crew flights to other worlds.

The culminating event for the rover competition is scheduled for April 10-12 at the US Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville. This location serves as the official visitors’ center and museum for the Marshall Space Flight Center and is also the home of Space Camp.