Twelve students from the University of Central Missouri recently returned from the 2017 NASA Human Exploration Rover Challenge at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama.
According to a press release from UCM, this was the third trip to the annual event for the UCM team and the two lunar rover prototypes they designed and built. This year’s team placed 4th and 6th, out of 50 teams from around the world in the race, and they received first place in the Drive Train Technology Challenge.

A direct drive transmission on one of the rovers was developed by the team to replace the traditional chain drive. The release states that the new concept drew the attention of Debra Barnhart, CEO and executive director of the U.S. Space and Rocket Center. Barnhart visited with the UCM team after they had competed and complimented them on their ingenuity.


The rules for construction and operation of the rover in the competition, require each team to design and build a vehicle that is human-powered and steerable. Wheels were to be large enough to navigate over obstacles such as large rocks and sandy terrain, but pneumatic tires were not allowed. Fenders were required to control dust, and the vehicle must fit into a 5x5x5-foot box when disassembled. In addition, the two drivers providing pedal power in the vehicle must be able to carry it a minimum of 20 feet and assemble it.

Additional specifications addressed turning radius and safety equipment for passengers. Each vehicle was required to complete a specially designed course of timed travel that included varying grades and obstacles.

“They’re making progress each year,” said Shelby Scott, advisor for the team. He is confident that next year’s team can place even better, based upon the insights of this year’s team.

According to Scott, the strategic planning put into the design and construction of each vehicle is equaled by the strategy required to drive the vehicle in the competition. The weight of the vehicle and the two-person team piloting it is carefully evaluated to create a vehicle that is as light as possible with as much human power possible, resulting in increased speed and maneuverability. Vehicle drivers are carefully selected for their strength and ability to deal with issues as they arise during the race.

“It’s about teaching them to work as a team and solve problems,” Scott said. “They have to apply the knowledge they’ve gained in the classroom, analyze what went wrong and what went right last year, and determine what materials and design elements they can use to create a better rover vehicle for the next year’s competition.”

The media release says that financial support through an 'Opportunity Grant' from the UCM Alumni Foundation, assists with the purchase of materials. Scott and team members also research sources for the best prices on available materials, and all parts that can be used from one of the previous year’s vehicles are reused.


“Everybody on the team has something to offer,” said team member Callie Gieselman. “A lot of our final decisions were the result of trial and error, but everyone had ideas, and everyone was part of the discussion. That variety of ideas and skills were important.”

Plans for vehicle design changes for next year's competition are already underway.

“This was our third year in the competition,” Scott said, “Each year, the students on the team have made improvements based upon what they learned along the way, and the next year’s team has implemented those improvements and made them work. I’m confident next year’s team will do the same. We just keep getting better, and I think we have a good shot at a very good finish.”