Monday, April 14, 2014

[503] MTSU moon buggy team aims for stars at NASA competition

MURFREESBORO — High hopes and great expectations are how 14 MTSU students left Murfreesboro Thursday (April 10), heading for Huntsville, Ala., and the two-day NASA Human Exploration Rover Challenge, previously known as the Great Moonbuggy Race.

“We hope to go down and place first overall this year,” said team captain Ryan Miller of Chattanooga, Tenn., making a reference to the team’s third-place finish in 2013 against international competition while finishing first in the U.S. “We expect the new moon buggy to perform well.”

MTSU Experimental Vehicles Program adviser Saeed Foroudastan agrees.

“This is the most dedicated team we’ve ever had,” Foroudastan said. “They are innovative. They put in a perfect design. They finished the new moon buggy one month in advance, which allowed time for practice.”

Nearly 90 student teams from 19 states, Puerto Rico and four other countries will compete Friday and Saturday, April 11-12. The event is tied to NASA’s plans to explore destinations across the solar system in years to come. NASA will stream the event live via UStream ( and NASA television (

The event challenges high school, college and university students to design, construct, test and race lightweight, human-powered rovers capable of performing in the demanding environments to be explored by future voyagers.

The competition is designed to teach students to solve practical design and engineering problems and demonstrates NASA's continuing commitment to inspire new generations of scientists, engineers, technicians and astronauts.

MTSU will have two entries: Team 2 with a new, two-person moon buggy nicknamed “The Beast” and Team 1 with a modified version of the 2013 entry nicknamed “The Model T.”

Junior Josh Calvin of Nashville and senior Devin Raines of Murfreesboro will be two of the four primary drivers.

“My goal is to have fun and do the best I can,” said first-time driver Calvin, a leisure and tourism studies major, who admits to “feeling a little bit of pressure” after 2013’s strong showing. “The new one (Team 2 moon buggy) is a lot smoother.”

Raines said the experience of driving last year “helps me prepare and knowing what to expect. It’s a different buggy. The tires are different. They have increased the gear shifting. I feel stronger about it.”

Assisted by co-captain Dustin Taylor, Miller said the meshing of old and new team members and the design process sailed smoothly throughout the fall. In December, Miller learned NASA was changing the rules on tires: They no longer could have air.

To make the switch, the team chose an all-rubber tire for the modified 2013 entry and purchased custom-made, mountain bike tires from a Colorado dealer for the new buggy.

The team features students majoring in engineering (mechanical, mechatronics, electro-mechanical and computer), computer science, exercise science and biotechnology.

In addition to Miller, Taylor, Calvin and Raines, team members include seniors Thomas Cox of Nashville and Zack Hill of Hendersonville, Tenn.; juniors Beau Hallavant of Bell Buckle, Tenn., Steven Chaput of Manchester, Tenn., Les McGuffey of Nashville and Thomas McKinney of Franklin, Tenn.; sophomore Jasmine Johnson of Humboldt, Tenn.; freshman Alec Urban of Murfreesboro and formerly from Richmond, Va.; and graduate students Jeremy Posey of Adairville, Ky., and Dianna Prince of Estill Springs, Tenn.

The team, which has a number of sponsors, said they are appreciative of the painting work by Richard Shehane of PowderPro and parts provided by MOAB Outdoor Bike, both in Murfreesboro.

College of Basic and Applied Sciences Dean Bud Fischer, Engineering Technology Chair Walter Boles, professor Kathy Mathis and Charles Perry, who holds the Robert E. and Georgianna West Russell Chair of Excellence, visited with the team before driving to Huntsville.

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