By Pamela Greyer, Special to CNN
Editor’s Note: Pamela Greyer is a K-12 science educator, STEM education consultant and NASA solar system ambassador. She is the former site director of NASA’s Science, Engineering, Mathematics and Aerospace Academy Chicago Program and continues to mentor and engage youths in NASA engineering competitions and contests.
This is her second post about leading a team through the process of competing in NASA's Great Moonbuggy Race. Catch up on her story here.
"Ms. G, How are we supposed to build this?"
If anybody ever said building a moonbuggy for NASA's Great Moonbuggy Race was an easy task, they were definitely not telling the whole story.
The team is excited by the idea of going to the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama, to race their moonbuggy. But before that can happen, they have to design and build the buggy.
This project presents as many challenges to the students today as it did for the NASA engineers who designed the first lunar vehicle. My students have discovered the art of innovation while designing their moonbuggy.
"This is more than a challenge in engineering design," said one of my students. "Where are the directions?"
The students have spent a couple of weeks researching the process NASA engineers used in developing the first lunar rover, learning about the challenges NASA faced designing a vehicle that could traverse the lunar surface, carry a sizeable payload and allow the astronauts to conduct the research that would allow us to learn more about the moon.
Using computers, markers and white boards, my students began to research and sketch out ideas for their moonbuggy. Should it have three wheels or four? Be collapsible? Should we use aluminum, steel or carbon fiber for the frame? What would the transmission consist of, how would the steering and braking work, and what would we use for seats?
I hear the confidence in their conversation as Derek, our resident skateboard expert, explains gearing and braking systems to the rest of the team and suggests that maybe we should use parts from bikes combined with a few custom machined parts for drive train.
Past experience in building robots has taught me a fundamental principle in engineering design, which I have struggled to get across to my students. They believed that if they put a few sketches on paper, get some materials, then start building, everything will fall into place. What often happens is that materials are wasted, measurements are off, and the overall design fails in one way or another.
The students realized that a good idea has to be taken from white board or paper and put into a computer-aided design program. CAD drawings are a blueprint, exact measurements, and can be given to a machine shop to fabricate. Once the parts come back, all that is needed is assembly.
This is where we encountered our first roadblock: It wasn’t an issue of who wanted to be responsible for putting the design into our CAD program, but who would have a computer at home and the time to learn how to use the software.
Our chassis should be back from the shop by week's end, and we’ve got some shopping and salvaging to do for the rest of the parts.
Next week will be a frenzy as they get up close and personal with drills, chains, gears and metal as they begin to construct the moonbuggy.
"We’re going to get it done, Ms. G. Quit stressing!"
By putting materials, technology and tools in their hands and unleashing their ability to be creative, they have all been tasked with something that seems to be missing from the education process today, the art of being innovative.