March 31, 2004

'SIUC team to compete in 'Great Moonbuggy Race'

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. - - The time for transforming an idea into a working reality is here for Scott Nance and the Southern Illinois University Carbondale Moonbuggy Club.

Since last fall, club members have been designing, manufacturing and assembling the 100-pound vehicle, which has a chassis shaped like a television tower. On Saturday, April 3, SIUC will compete against 31 other college teams. While Nance, the club president, certainly wants to win, he and his cohorts recognize the value of the experience as well.The goal is clear: Win the 11th annual "Great Moonbuggy Race" at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., this weekend.

"A big part of it is putting what we are learning to a practical use," said Nance, a senior in mechanical engineering from Morris. "We learn about stresses and how much metal will flex, but until you actually build a piece and see what it takes to break it, those numbers don't mean a whole lot."

Media Advisory

Reporters and photographers are welcome to cover the Moonbuggy's manufacturing process. For more information, contact club advisor, assistant professor Tsuchin Philip Chu at 618/453-7003, or club president Scott Nance through the mechanical engineering office at 618/536-2396.

SIUC is making its seventh consecutive trip to the competition. This year's project will cost about $6,000. The club raised funds and received donated parts from numerous private sponsors in the area.

Tsuchin Philip Chu, an associate professor in mechanical engineering and energy processes, started the project seven years ago. The competition is a valuable experience because students learn much more than just design. They must also confront unknown variables that include time and material management, inventory control and financing, he said.

"This is a tough one because it involves so many things," said Chu, who first saw the competition while doing work at the NASA facility.

"This is an excellent project for students to be involved in and good for the University," he said.

Shaping high-quality undergraduate programs is among the goals of Southern@150, the blueprint for the development of the University by the time it celebrates its 150th anniversary in 2019.

Nance is the only returning member from last year's team, which finished 14th in the college division. North Dakota State, Tennessee and the University of South Alabama were the top three finishers last year.

"It's a learning experience but you are up against your other engineering colleges, so you want to represent the University and do well. It's a tough competition," said Nance.

Teams compete over a half-mile obstacle course that includes simulated Moon soil, craters, rocks, ridges, twists and inclines. The human-powered moonbuggy must fit into a container no larger than 4-feet by 4-feet by 4-feet, and the two racers ­ a male and female ­ must carry the unassembled vehicle 20 feet without any help before assembling it. The top speed is about 27 mph.

"We are getting to the point now where I feel like we are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, and I think everybody is kind of excited to get everything assembled," said Zach Crothers,a senior in mechanical engineering from Brownstown.

"You get to apply all the fundamental things that you learn in the engineering curriculum in a really unique way," he said.

The moonbuggy is becoming more streamlined each year. The lunar vehicle weighed almost 300 pounds two years ago. By switching mostly to aluminum and relying on rivets, screws and bolts, the weight dropped to 120 pounds. This year's goal is for the pedal-powered vehicle to weigh about 100 pounds, fully loaded, minus the two drivers.

Nance credits Hans Bank, an engineering technician at SIUC, with many of the improvements. That includes convincing team members last year to switch from welded steel to riveted aluminum.

"Hans is a master machinist," said Nance. "He brings years of experience of what can be done. He has been very instrumental in the design."

The appeal of this type of project is addressing a problem and "seeing the results of their thinking, putting their thinking into handiwork and manufacturing it," Bank said.

Club members sketch out each component so they know how each piece fits together.

"There's a lot of work there, not only figuring out how everything is going to fit together, but also figuring out the correct angles for the suspension, geometry, steering, gear ratios, and to make this stuff reliably fold so it fits into the box," Nance said.

Jeremiah D. Benoit, of Bourbonnais, and Lindsay Nicole Connell, of Milan, Tenn., seniors in mechanical engineering, will drive the moonbuggy. "I'm just looking forward to getting out there and trying it out," said Benoit, who is looking forward to pedaling the vehicle, which uses four bicycle tires. This year's model includes hydraulic disc brakes, modified ATV differential and the type of shock absorbers found in F-1 racing.

Other club members involved in pre-race efforts include Joshua E. Musselman, a senior from Blackfoot, IdahoBrandyn A. Stack, a freshman from MahometJoshua W. Steffen, a senior from De Soto; and Ryan M. Mueller, a senior from Joliet. All are majoring in mechanical engineering, although the club is open to all SIUC students.

NASA officials expect to have results posted by 7 p.m. on April 3. The competition Web site is