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Six Mayfield High School students will travel to Huntsville, Alabama, in April to represent New Mexico in the 26th annual NASA Human Exploration Rover Challenge, perhaps better known as the “Moonbuggy Race.”
Mayfield will again be the only New Mexico high school or college team in the competition, which will have more than 100 entries from the United States and about 20 other countries.
Despite significant budget and time disadvantages, Mayfield teams have done extremely well in the competition during the past nine years, said MHS teacher and NASA rover sponsor Doug Cometti. Mayfield students have placed as high as seventh (2018) in the competition, which includes some high school and college teams with huge budgets and entire classes devoted to their vehicles.
The competition is April 17-18 on a three-quarter mile track at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville that simulates the surface of the moon, Cometti said, adding that the track including sand and gravel pits, hills, boulders and other hazards designed to provide “an authentic engineering experience.”
“It’s physically demanding,” said Mayfield Principal Eric Fraass, who has traveled to Alabama to join Cometti and the NASA Rover team for the competition for each of the past four years and plans to go this year.
The rover, or moonbuggy, is pedal-powered by two students – one boy and one girl – on each of the two days of the competition. In addition to maneuvering across the challenging terrain, the team must complete tasks like picking up water and soil samples, planting a flag and deploying a solar device, Cometti said. This year’s tasks will also include taking photographs with different filters, according to the NASA website.
The entire race must be completed in fewer than eight minutes, and that includes assembling the 250-pound rover, which must fit into a five-foot by five-foot cube.
The rover is made largely by hand. In a major rule change this year, NASA will no longer allow pneumatic tires or other commercially purchased wheels in the race. That means the MHS team can buy the central hubs but must make its own spokes and treads.
The finished product will feature Mayfield’s green and gold colors, Cometti said. Team member Kaia Bundy, a sophomore, is the team’s “head bedazzler.”
Each pedal on the rover costs $750, which includes two gears, Cometti said. Some other teams in the competition will have up to 14 gears, he said.
“It’s really fun,” team member Dylan Cometti, Doug’s son, and a Mayfield sophomore said about the race. “I like building stuff,” he said. This year’s rover must be at least 51 percent redesigned from last year to compete, and Dylan said he is looking forward to a complete redesign of the vehicle for the 2021 competition.
Calvin Cox, also a sophomore, said he looks forward to getting to meet and interact with aerospace engineers during the competition, because that’s the field he wants to pursue as a professional career.
All six team members are “pretty fit,” Dylan said, and that’s an essential part of being a team member because of the arduous nature of the course and he physical stamina it demands.
Dylan, Calvin, Kaia and fellow rover team members junior Hayden Menges, senior Blake Myer and sophomore Caelee Jimerson participate in everything from ballet and volleyball to track and field and football, and that helps keep them in shape.
The team has taken the rover around the school, looking for “obstacles” to practice their racing skills.
For more information, visit www.nasa.gov/stem/roverchallenge/competition/index.html.
Donate to the Mayfield NASA Rover team
Cometti said Mayfield competes in the rover challenge on a shoestring budget. if you want to make a donation to help pay for the students’ travel to Alabama and their lodging, contact Cometti at email@example.com.