I volunteered today at the Great Moonbuggy Race, now in its 15th year at MSFC. It was awesome. It reminded me a lot of my favorite extracurricular, Odyssey of the Mind (Olympics of the Mind back in my day), but with a return-to-the-Moon emphasis, so I felt a particular fondness for it and was glad to help out (even though it was cold and drizzly, though thankfully nothing like the downpours the highschool teams competed through yesterday!).
The idea is for teams of highschool and college students to build a human-powered vehicle and race it over an obstacle course. The vehicles end up looking very much like the bare-bones, functional Apollo lunar roving vehicle, built here at MSFC, except with bicycle pedals. The course is over a km long on paved sidewalk and 18 obstacles are placed on it. Most obstacles are basically a sculpted pile of gravel 6 feet long and the width of the course. I thought they looked pretty innocuous when I walked the course but they proved to be very challenging to the vehicles. One of the obstacles was actually a small crater in the lunar landscape area where the LEM replica is - very cool. The last obstacle is a long sand pit that is also pretty challenging for vehicles that choose narrow bicycle wheels.
I didn't see any spectacular wipeouts, but I did see one crash and several disappointments, usually when a bike chain and the vehicle had no more drive. Two teams decided to push their vehicles all the way through when they broke - they got penalties at every obstacle but completed the course! Here are some photos from today's online Huntsville Times of teams in today's race. Oh right - and the vehicles have to fold up to fit in a 4' cubic space. That's my coworker Cheryl checking that requirement today.
Update: Today's Huntsville Times story on the race.