Students Preparing for 2014 NASA Challenge
February 07, 2014
A challenge to help NASA in its efforts to improve future human space exploration is quickly approaching, and students at Bevill State Community College have once again accepted this challenge.
NASA’s 20-year-old Great Moonbuggy Race is kaput and has been replaced with the NASA Rover Challenge. The challenge, similar to past competitions, is aligned with NASA’s pledge of one day sending astronauts to Mars for further exploration purposes. Students will design, construct and test their four-wheeled inventions on various terrains and environments.
Maurice Ingle, Bevill’s drafting and design technology instructor and an advisor on the Sumiton campus, said students in her classes have been competing in the rover race since 2009. This year’s competition has a few changes to the rules.
“The main change was the fact that the tires are no longer pneumatic tires; they’re non-pneumatic, so it means that they can’t have any air in them. That’s probably the largest change, and also when the buggy is finished, it has to be folded,” Ingle said. “In the past, it’s always had to fit inside of a 4-by-4-by-4 cube box. Now they’ve changed it to a 5-by-5-by-5, and I feel like that’s because probably the non-pneumatic tires are going to be larger and they’re accommodating for that.”
Students who take part in the project include a mix of various fields, such as engineering, drafting, welding and machine tool technology. Ingle said last year she even had a pre-veterinary student as one of the drivers. It has evolved over the years, and Ingle decided to open it up to anyone wanting to participate and volunteer their time toward the project.
The rovers are human-powered and operated by one male and one female student. The obstacle course is more than half a mile long and consists of different terrains the rover must traverse. One of the obstacles has been lowered from a 60-degree angle to a 20-degree angle because several of the rovers flipped over during last year’s competition. Ingle says the challenge is very painstaking and every decision while building the machine is extremely important.
“It’s a very rigorous competition, and experience means a lot because you learn something every time you go,” Ingle said. “The first time we went was the first time a community college had competed.”
The BSCC crew has gotten progressively better since their inception in 2009, according to Ingle. They placed 14th in 2009 in the worldwide competition and 5th in 2012 out of more than 50 college teams — behind UAH, Puerto Rico, Purdue University and the International Space Team of Russia.
Currently, there are 23 students involved in the designing and building of this year’s rover; however, there are only two teams allowed in the NASA challenge that are made up of six members, including the two drivers per team.
It normally takes $10,000 to $12,000 for the group to be able to compete due to the costs of booking a hotel, paying for food, having matching team shirts, not to mention building supplies, tools, materials, etc.
Ingle mentioned that competing in the challenge could not be possible without help from sponsors, and she wants “to encourage as many [sponsors] to be a part of it as possible.”
“Bevill has given us money this year. This is the first year that I have put it in my budget,” Ingle said. “ ... I normally write a grant from the Alabama Space Grant Consortium, and I have never failed to get it.”
This year’s grant totals $4,500, which Ingle said is a smaller grant but still helps a great deal.
“We’ve had several businesses that have been very generous to help us. Fifty dollars, $500, $1,000, we’re appreciative of anything,” Ingle said. “... Bevill has been very generous in allowing us to purchase what we need and then as money comes in, they take it out of our funding, so I’m very appreciative of that.”
The team’s fundraising season started off with funds from Senator Greg Reed. Reed agrees with Ingle that projects such as the NASA Rover Challenge benefit students in preparing them for the future.
According to a press release, Reed said, “Our students are highly prepared to enter the workforce when they work through real-life projects that require critical thinking, planning, budgeting, building and testing. Our state needs a skilled workforce to meet the needs of business and industry, and Bevill State is in a unique position to train that workforce.”
Students learn much more than just design, construction and maneuvering of the four-wheeled machine; they develop communication skills, leadership roles, troubleshooting and interviewing practices, which will aid them in other work-related endeavors.
There are many occupations drafting graduates are qualified for, including architectural designer, detailer, machine drafter, structural drafter, survey technician, civil and electrical engineering and more. Ingle said about 70 percent of her students continue on to pursue an engineering degree.
“Everybody puts in their part and does their part. ... When a student’s in class, you give them something to draw that’s already been done. When they go to work, it’s coming from their own imagination,” Ingle said. “This comes from their own imagination, so to me it’s giving them a little taste of what it will be on the job.”
This year’s challenge will be held April 10-12, 2014, at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville. Ingle said they are currently looking for any sponsors who would like to contribute to this year’s competition. An unveiling event displaying the two rovers will be held during the first week in April.
Ingle said there are monetary prizes for individual winners and a trip to Cape Canaveral for the overall winner, but the best prize is the confidence it gives students, along with national and international recognition.
“It changes your perspective of what you can do. That’s what it’s all about,” she said. “It’s to encourage these students to go into the field of engineering.”