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Moonbuggy team participates in different kind of space race

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They built, they welded, they conquered and they did all of that with two bent front wheels.

Six members of Ohio State’s Moonbuggy Team traveled to Huntsville, Ala., last weekend to race in NASA’s 18th Annual Great Moonbuggy Race. The “bike on steroids,” as Kristen Hammer, a fourth-year in welding engineering and co-captain of the Moonbuggy Team, likes to call it, placed third out of 84 teams.

This was the first medal for the OSU moonbuggy team since first competing in 2008.

The moonbuggy, weighing in at 185 pounds and costing an estimated $6,000, was built over a course of four months by the six team members. Made from steel, the buggy completed the about half-mile course in 4:33 and tied with the University of Utah.

“Think of a bike,” Hammer said. “And then think of the strongest bike you’ve ever seen. Alter it around and give it four wheels, specifically mountain bike wheels.”

Two team members – Hammer and Isaac Kennedy, a second-year in pre-welding engineering – sat one in front of the other while pedaling over the mock lunar surface, including craters and gravel mounds. The team faced a few issues getting stuck on the course, which resulted in two bent front tires, but quickly recovered.

“There are two races and in the first race we were stuck twice, briefly,” Kennedy said. “You can get out and push, but you get a time penalty for pushing. We were able to get ourselves unstuck by just pushing the peddles and we can actually reach down and grab the tires with our hands.”

The OSU Moonbuggy Team did not receive any penalties toward its time this year.

The team brought only one moonbuggy to the competition, despite their original plans to bring two, one made out of steel and one made out of titanium. The team was unable to obtain enough titanium to build the second moonbuggy in time for the competition.

Brian Love, a fourth-year in welding engineering and co-captain of the team, said the titanium would have been better because it is lighter, but titanium is a much thinner material than steel, which makes the welding more difficult.

“You basically have to weld the titanium in a really, really clean room,” Love said. “It’s like what working inside of a bubble feels like.”

Hammer agrees that the welding will take a long time to finish, but it will be worth it in the long run. The University of Puerto Rico in Humacao won the 2011 race with a time of 3:41, which Hammer believes was due to the lightness of their buggy.

“The biggest competitor is definitely Puerto Rico,” Hammer said. “Last year I didn’t get a look at their buggy, but this year it was just so light. To get through the course quickly you really just have to smash through every obstacle, you can’t slow down and you can’t get stuck. And that’s what they did.”

Although the two captains are graduating in the spring, both are going to help throughout the remainder of their undergraduate career by beginning to weld the titanium for next year in hopes of a much lighter moonbuggy.

“Our two returning members (Kennedy and Jared Proegler, a third-year in welding engineering) for next year have a really nice grip for what needs to go on because they were very deeply involved in the reworking and rebuilding of the buggy,” Hammer said. “And of course I’ve given them hints along the way so they can be ready and begin building in the fall.”

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