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NMSU helps high school teams with moon buggy race

Teams from two Las Cruces public high schools will compete in Alabama this weekend in NASA's Great Moon Buggy Race. New Mexico State University's Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, or STEM Outreach Center is supporting these teams by recruiting teachers, coaches, shipping vehicles and helping to secure funding.


Two high school students pedal their four-wheeled moon buggy.
Mayfield High School students Emily DeLaho and Derek Rankin take the moon buggy they've constructed for a test ride before competing in the Great Moon Buggy Race in Huntsville, Ala. (submitted photo)

The Great Moon Buggy Race will be held April 13-14 in Huntsville, Ala. The race requires students to build a human-powered, two-driver vehicle that can navigate a half-mile course with 17 obstacles. The team that completes the course in the quickest time frame wins the race.

The vehicles are built and designed by the students and when unassembled must fit inside a four-foot by four-foot container. The drivers must carry the buggy 20 feet, put it together and then complete the obstacle course. They must also submit a 10-page paper describing the team, the vehicle and how it was built.

One local team is from Mayfield High School and its members are Edgar Aldaba, Zachery Eason, Emily Wilkins, Derek Rankin, Samantha Chavarria, Kaitlin DeLaho and Rigo Aldaba. This is the second year a Mayfield team is joining the event. Their moon buggy includes an aluminum frame which they welded themselves, front and rear suspension and disc brakes.

The other team includes members from San Andres High School and Mesilla Valley Training Center, some of whom will also be competing for the second time. Its members include Brandon Saiz, Anthony Hernandez, Isaac Soliz, Stephanie Leyva and Katelyn McNiece.

NMSU engineering student Tyrell Russell acted as a consultant for the team. The students changed their moon buggy from last year's model by adding gears to control their speed, changing their braking system and seating, adding suspension and lowering its center of gravity.

Ligia Ford, project specialist for NMSU's STEM Outreach Center, said the students are incredibly excited and already have plans for their moon buggy next year.

"One of the buggies can go over two-foot boulders and up and down curbs with ease," said Ford. "It's great because the students learn so much about the engineering process, trial and error and how to make modifications."

Besides welding and building, the students also use AutoCAD, a software application that helps students with computer-aided design and drafting in both 2D and 3D formats.

"This race helps the students apply what they've learned and helps build leadership skills as well," said Ford. "Their skills are taken to a whole other level; they are no longer shop mechanics, they are engineers."