April 14, 2005

SIUC students place first in National Moonbuggy Race

by K.C. Jaehnig


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CARBONDALE, Ill. -- After seven years of competing in NASA's annual "Great Moonbuggy Race"at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., Southern Illinois University Carbondale has bagged its first trophy.

The College of Engineering's moonbuggy team received the Frank Joe Sexton Memorial Pit Crew Award April 9 for the resourcefulness, motivation and team spirit it showed in repairing its damaged moonbuggy between the event's two races.

"After the first race, every buggy is damaged — the course is just so difficult," said Scott P. Nance of Morris, a senior in mechanical engineering and a four-year moonbuggy race veteran.

"We had some chain problems — we couldn't steer, and we couldn't go. We had to disassemble 30 percent of the buggy in order to get to the problem, and we had only about an hour to do it. We were designing and making new pieces in the pit — things we had never made before."

They also made use of a gizmo not normally seen in racing.

"Several people laughed when they saw me pull out my sewing machine, but if we hadn't brought it, the team wouldn't have been able to finish the second race," said Jennifer "Nikki" N. Nance, a senior in paralegal studies from Mission Viejo, Calif., who designed and sewed the buggy's seats.

"We didn't think the seat brackets would rub hard enough to cut straight through the canvas like that."

Said faculty adviser Tsuchin Philip Chu, "We're thinking maybe a sewing machine should be part of the tools from now on."

The moonbuggy race, now in its 12th year, challenges students to solve engineering problems similar to those faced by the NASA team that designed the first lunar rover. The buggy must collapse into a four-cubic-foot square and be rigged out with simulated components that include a TV camera, antenna, batteries and radio and display consoles.

Unlike that first moonbuggy, however, racing rovers run on pedal power supplied by two drivers — one man and one woman — who must also carry the collapsed buggy 20 feet without help and then get it up and ready to go at the starting line. Drivers then pilot their buggies over a half-mile course that includes gravel, sand, tires, lumber and asphalt obstacles meant to mimic lunar terrain.

Teams run the course twice, adding their fastest time to the time it took to assemble their buggies to get their final score.

In the first race, the SIUC buggy's chain popped off continuously, prompting the team to scrub that run just a quarter of the way through.

"I was nervous because in one of the earlier races, a girl had got her hand stuck in a chain and got her finger cut off," Scott Nance said. "It was just too dangerous for them to be reaching in there to try to fix it."

Nance said he felt a little overwhelmed when they got the buggy to the pit and realized how much they had to do to get it back in gear.

"It took us hours to assemble it the first time, but you always have to believe you're going to get it done. We were just finishing it when they were calling for us to get in place."

Chain problems plagued the buggy's second run, too, leaving driver Katlin "Katie" E. Robbins, a sophomore in administration of justice from Granite City, unable to pedal after she and co-driver Jeremiah D. Benoit, a Bourbonnais senior in mechanical engineering, trundled over the third of 17 obstacles. That setback didn't seem to faze her at all.

"She just used her arms like she was in a wheelchair," Scott Nance said.

The SIUC team finished in just over eight minutes — not enough to win (it placed 14th), but the University's best time ever.

"Maybe next year," said Chu.

The moonbuggy and the plaque the team won will remain on display in the engineering college's main vestibule through May 14.

Shaping high-quality undergraduate programs and engaging the whole student are among the goals of Southern at 150: Building Excellence Through Commitment, the blueprint for the development of the University by the time it celebrates its 150th anniversary in 2019.


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Team members, listed by hometown, are:

Bourbonnais: Jeremiah D. Benoit, senior in mechanical engineering and the son of Carl M. Benoit and Marg J. Mulligan of Greenup (205 N. Marietta);

Brownstown: Amber N. Crothers (R.R. 1), senior in communication disorders and sciences and the daughter of Gary and Diana Smith.

Chicago: Louis D.Dalgaard (10721 S. Wood St.), a freshman who has yet to declare a major and the son of Paul F. and Maureen T. Dalgaard, and Kevin R. Prine (11317 S. Fairfield), also an undecided freshman and the son of William K. and Janice Prine;

Farina: Zachary A. Crothers (R.R. 2), senior in mechanical engineering and the son of Earl and Carol Ann Crothers;

East Peoria: Daniel G. Wear (192 E. Sunset Way), junior in mechanical engineering and the son of Jerry A. and Barbee J. Wear;

Lombard: Frances J. Jarrett (18 S. Chase Ave.), a junior in electrical and computer engineering and the daughter of Billy F. and Patricia L. Jarrett;

Mahomet: Brandyn A. Stack (1305 Woodland Ct.), a sophomore in mechanical engineering and the son of Dennis and Patti Stack;

Morris: Scott P. Nance (1610 Old Pine Bluff Road), a senior in mechanical engineering and the son of Terry P. and Penny L. Nance;

Mt. Carmel: Erin L. Heaton (228 David Ave.), a senior in mechanical engineering and the daughter of Ed and Kelley Heaton;

Pana: Robert W. Daugherty (701 E. Fourth St.), a senior in industrial technology and the son of Bob and Meg Daugherty.


Mission Viejo: Jennifer "Nikki" N. Nance (27171 Arena Lane), a senior in paralegal studies and the daughter of Dr. T. A. and Mag A. Ross.


(Caption 1: And they’re off! -- Safely past the first hurdle, Southern Illinois University Carbondale students Katlin “Katie” E. Robbins and co-driver Jeremiah D. Benoit (behind her) pedal their custom-designed moonbuggy toward the next obstacle on the rugged half-mile course laid out for NASA’s “Great Moonbuggy Race”April 9 at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. Students from all over the country design, build and race these vehicles in the annual event, now in its 12th year. )

(Caption 2: Go! Go! Go! -- Cheered on by their team members, Southern Illinois University Carbondale students Jeremiah D. Benoit and co-driver Katlin “Katie” E. Robbins (behind him) use a combination of leg and arm power to get to the finish line of NASA’s “Great Moonbuggy Race” after a chain on their moonbuggy popped off. Students from all over the country design, build and race these vehicles in the annual event, now in its 12th year and held at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. )