April 7, 2006 4:35 PM PDT

Racing 'moonbuggies' in Alabama

Kids on "moonbuggies" will race over rocks and around rover vehicles in NASA's 13th annual lunar race this weekend.

No, it's not a Disneyland ride, but rather a race at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., where NASA designed a track to simulate the lunar surface. Fifty-eight teams of high-school and college students will compete Saturday and Sunday for the best time traversing the seven-tenths of a mile track.

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Known as the Great Moonbuggy Race, the competition started in 1994, 25 years after the Apollo 11 lunar landing, when astronauts drove similar rover vehicles on the moon. The race has been going strong since then, inspiring kids to explore futures in aeronautics or engineering, according to organizers.

"The competition draws the next generation of scientists and engineers," NASA spokesman Jim Ellis said in a statement.

The teams, which come from all over North America and Puerto Rico, must design and build their own lunar vehicles, with a volume constraint of 4 cubic feet, and then drive them in the event. Right before the race begins, each team must assemble their vehicle in front of judges.

In addition to awards for the best time, teams can also win acknowledgment for the most unique design or for best moonbuggy designed with safety in mind.

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