The Great Moonbuggy Race
Racers from the Huntsville Center for Technology geared up for the Great Moonbuggy Race
January 31st, 2012
07:45 AM ET

The Great Moonbuggy Race

By Pamela Greyer, Special to CNN

Editor’s Note: Pamela Greyer is a K-12 science educator, STEM education consultant and NASA solar system ambassador. She is the former site director of NASA’s Science, Engineering, Mathematics and Aerospace Academy Chicago Program and continues to mentor and engage youths in NASA engineering competitions and contests.

In 2004, I became a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) educator. At the time, STEM was an emerging concept in the education landscape and just another acronym used by NASA condensed from a series of words.

I had no idea the influence that teaching in the STEM fields would have on my life - as an educator, on my ability to inspire my students to develop a love of science and most importantly, to introduce my students to and engage them in engineering.

As an inner-city high school science teacher from Chicago, I am always looking for new opportunities to involve my students in STEM learning. I am ecstatic this year because I have a team of high school students entered in NASA’s 19th Annual Great Moonbuggy Race.

The Great Moonbuggy Race is an engineering competition that requires a team of six students to design a “proof-of-concept” wheeled rover that will race over a half mile of simulated lunar terrain. In April, two team members, one male and one female, will drive the completed vehicle in competition at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama. This contest will present design challenges that are similar to those encountered by the original lunar rover team. This is the 16th year of competition for high school teams, but it will be the first year for Chicago’s public high school students.

As a rookie team in any competition, the first year is full of excitement, anticipation and fear. For some students on this team, it will be even more complex because of the set of academic skills they will need to successfully design and build a moon buggy.

On the team, there are students who struggle with basic math skills, and some of these high school students are reading at a third-, fourth- or fifth-grade level. I have had a student express a desire to be an engineer, but his high school does not offer a physics class.

Without these skills, measuring and cutting aluminum becomes difficult. There is no machine shop in most high schools. My students have not learned the skills needed to make their own parts.

The team has computer-aided-design software, but without a CAD class in their schools, students must learn the software on their own. Without this knowledge, having students apply geometric principles and shapes to design a moon buggy is difficult.

Making the decision to enter a team in The Great Moonbuggy Race is important to me because I can give my students an after-school opportunity that engages them in engineering in a way that is fun, creative and exciting. It isn’t often my students get to see, let alone talk to, engineers.

As they design their vehicle, they will learn about NASA, the Apollo missions and the moon. They will gain a better understanding of how to solve problems, even in situations where the problem may seem impossible. I can guide them in learning to working together as a team, which is a skill many students resist. I can show them that they can dream as big as they want. There are no limits on where they can go or what they can become.

For the students, it will be a new approach to learning for them. There will be no worksheets and no bell ringers. They will have to think creatively and independently in some situations and innovatively and collaboratively in others.

For some, this competition will give them unparalleled opportunity to reach a goal that is often elusive in a traditional classroom setting. This may be the first time many have left Chicago and for all of them, it will be the first time they will be up close and personal with NASA rockets.

As we begin this journey, there will be mistakes made by everybody on the team. The rookie year is always full of these, but they are in themselves learning opportunities that will help the team grow and evolve. I invite you to follow us on this adventure, which I am sure will be filled with as many bumps, craters and turns as the simulated lunar surface these young people will tackle in the race and watch how every young mind can be inspired to develop an interest and love in STEM “as only NASA can.”

The opinions expressed here are solely those of Pamela Greyer.

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Filed under: High school • Practice • Resources • STEM • Voices
soundoff (32 Responses)
  1. Henrik Rothe

    It's great how a Moonbuggy team get help from a local school like that. True kindness

    February 14, 2012 at 2:43 am |

    Well Pana HS can no longer claim to be the only HS in Illinois to participate in NASA's GMBR. Good Luck – good show – looking forward to meeting you and your team in Huntsville.. Check out

    February 3, 2012 at 11:26 pm |
  3. victoria

    learning is what motivates the world

    February 2, 2012 at 11:25 am |
  4. MidWestern Boy

    The process of learning, based on a motivation to achieve positive results is invaluable. Kudos to the teacher and the students.

    February 1, 2012 at 8:09 pm |
  5. Easy E

    I hope this teacher will look to some outside mentors/volunteers in order to get the project moving. You are going to do these students a big disservice if you can't get some folks to help out with fabrication and after-hours crash courses in the basics of physics/engineering mechanics. Old machinists, tool and die guys, welders, engineers, programmers, even artists etc are who you need to seek out. If you don't get their help, expect to be overwhelmed and have some mighty frustrated kids. Just entering a contest and having good intentions is meaningless in terms of delivering lasting educational and motivational vlaue to the kids.

    February 1, 2012 at 1:51 pm |
  6. Tim

    Good Luck, hopefully this program can expand to other schools

    February 1, 2012 at 1:27 pm |
  7. Rob

    Something positive to read and know about. This teacher should be given Teacher of the Year award.
    Good Luck to you and the Team.
    Please remind them that getting there is a great accomplishment and to hold their heads high no matter what the outcome.

    February 1, 2012 at 11:55 am |
  8. morph147

    i applaud any teacher who cares more about education than sports in a high school. that is all

    February 1, 2012 at 11:08 am |
  9. Parent

    We need more teachers like this. Great job for thinking out of the box and helping these kids see their school work in ACTION. This will have a lasting impression on them.

    Great Job to this amazing teacher.

    February 1, 2012 at 9:01 am |
  10. Jt_flyer

    I hope this kids kick butt.

    February 1, 2012 at 6:19 am |
  11. Florist

    I love watching the races! Every year they do it and whip around the museum grounds like crazy. It's fun to see how serious the kids are and how much they get into their designs and the actual racing. If you ever get the opportunity to come and see the race, I highly recommend it.

    February 1, 2012 at 2:59 am |
  12. Jean Meslier

    What a great teacher and opportunity for the kids.

    So why do some of you seem to be hating? Haters gonna hate, I suppose.

    Janitors? Nothing wrong with being a janitor.

    Instead of being stuck in a classroom with a bored tutor taking remedial math and reading, they will be motivated to learn in an exciting environment.

    January 31, 2012 at 10:27 pm |
    • Evelio

      snmooee January 23, 2009 Did you base number 8 entirely on that Yahoo! Answers thing? Because Yahoo! Answers is clogged with the stupidest people capable of using the internet.Some memorable questions include How do I scan a mirror and use it as my background , Where can I find scuba-diving equipment for my horse and I heard on TV that there's a war in Georgia, when do we evacuate (The person lived in the state Georgia of the US, the war was in the country Georgia halfway across the world.) It's also likely that a lot of the people there are being asses on purpose.Yeah, this post's main purpose was just to rant on Yahoo! Answers ) But I think our reputation is more on being ignorant and too prideful. Not to mention kurakot.

      February 13, 2012 at 10:52 pm |
  13. Alex

    They are hiring inner city child janitors for the moon colony already ?

    January 31, 2012 at 6:14 pm |
    • Rob

      Not nice Alex. Grow up!

      February 1, 2012 at 11:52 am |
  14. rad666

    NASA just trying to stay relevant to keep getting funding after their mission has ended.

    January 31, 2012 at 4:34 pm |
    • SB

      Derp. The agency's overall budget was *increased*. It was only Constellation that was cancelled. The heavy launch system needed to take us out of orbit (again) is already on the table, and of course the countless and invaluable unmanned science missions are going forward. All this is really basic info and easy to find. I wonder why people like you find it so difficult to do so?

      January 31, 2012 at 6:44 pm |
    • rad666

      SB - All this is really basic info and easy to find. I wonder why people like you find it so difficult to do so? ---– Why bother when there are people like you in the world that feel better when showing others how smart you think you are?

      February 1, 2012 at 12:18 pm |
      • Sean

        You are wrong just deal with it.

        February 1, 2012 at 2:18 pm |
  15. d

    Field test your buggy on the beach. Sand will trap you. Design all off world rovers at the beach. If it cant work in fine sand or silt, it's worthless. NASA got stuck with thier little mars rover once. Remember? Beach tires can roll on any terrain.

    January 31, 2012 at 4:19 pm |
    • LMD

      Yes, Spirit got stuck in sand...*over five years* after landing on Mars for a mission designed to last *ninety days*.

      Testing on sand or silt is good, definitely. But I wouldn't dream of blaming the demise of Spirit on poor design.

      January 31, 2012 at 5:35 pm |
    • bob

      yeah. thats why beach tires are the only tires ever used, cuz they are the best at everything.

      what about jagged rocks? or smooth terrain?

      February 1, 2012 at 5:21 am |
    • JustTrustMe

      The kids call it reading....
      Check into it.

      What do you "inflate" a beach tire with..air, nitrogen?
      And do you inflate it before or after landing?
      Which requires tanks and another "system" to engineer.
      The Lunar rover tires were metal frames, btw.

      And the Mars Spirit Rover landed in 04 and got stuck in 09...and STILL worked sending data until 2011.

      February 1, 2012 at 8:49 pm |
  16. ann

    I hope these kids realize how lucky they are to have this teacher.God Bless the teacher and I hope to follow this story.

    January 31, 2012 at 2:37 pm |
  17. Daveb

    To me it seems like very mixed up priorities to have students attempting to engineer a moon buggy who should be spending their time taking remedial math and reading classes.

    January 31, 2012 at 2:29 pm |
    • sciteacher

      It gives them something to read about that inspires them for a change, and it gives them a problem that they want to solve, and they'll actually see for themselves how reading and math actually can be applied in something other than a classroom. It will boost both of these skills because they actually care about the outcome.

      January 31, 2012 at 2:45 pm |
    • K

      Have you heard of cross curriculum teaching? Lots of activities like this provide opportunities to bring students to a project that will increase a variety of "basic" skills without using useless drills and treating them like idiots who can't be taught. Guaranteed all these kids who are behind in basics will improve their skills dramatically as a result of participating in this activity.

      January 31, 2012 at 3:13 pm |
    • JustTrustMe

      It takes something exciting and interesting to spark an interest to learn.

      Obviously, you don't have an education degree.
      Yet, you offer advice on how to do someone else's job.

      Another excellent idea from the uninformed and inexperienced....(sigh)

      February 1, 2012 at 8:54 pm |
  18. Glennjamin Franklin

    Good Luck and thank you to Pamela Greyer and all the other STEM volunteers. There is probably a team closer to home for me to cheer on but will also be hopeful and watching for your team. This sounds like a good and very different time for these students to reach out beyond this world. You keep on reminding these kids win or lose you stepped out and stepped up to be a part of something fun and exciting. There are so many positives to them trying this whether they become the next group of engineers that help transport the future astonauts I tell my children or grandchildren about.

    January 31, 2012 at 12:58 pm |
  19. Tincup83

    This sounds very similar to the Hallmark movie Sunday night about Space Camp at the same facility.

    January 31, 2012 at 12:42 pm |
    • Jellamea

      January 23, 2009 Hi snmoeoe. Not really. I did not base it on that. I just used it as an example. It's just that most of my friends abroad always tell me that people's first impression of them is like that.But yeah, I feel you especially re your last paragraph. Most of my non-Pinoy friends always tell me that some of their lot find our being-so-proud-yeah-we'll-rub-it-in when it comes to our achievements annoying sometimes, especially on the Web.and the Kurakot part. the sadder part is, you know there's truth in that.Hey, thanks for dropping by. I appreciate your comment. It makes me rethink a number of things, actually.

      February 11, 2012 at 6:33 am |
  20. keagan

    I wonder what the moon buggy race will be like because I wish I was up there doing the great moon buggy race.

    January 31, 2012 at 10:59 am |