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Space Camp, April 2014, Ralf Heckel, a Space Camp Ambassador from Germany, had two teams participate in the NASA Human Exploration Rover Challenge held at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center on April 11-12, 2014. Formerly NASA’s Great Moonbuggy Race, the new NASA Rover Challenge focuses on designing, constructing and testing technologies for mobility devices to perform in these different environments, and it provides valuable experiences that engage students in the technologies and concepts that will be needed in future exploration missions.


Rovers are human-powered and carry two students, one female and one male, over a half-mile obstacle course of simulated extraterrestrial terrain of craters, boulders, ridges, inclines, crevasses and ruts. Each student team of six members is responsible for building its own rover, and the two course drivers must be chosen from the team.

As a part of the challenge, and before traversing the course, unassembled rover entries must be carried by the drivers to the course starting line with the unassembled components contained in a volume of 5 ft. x 5 ft. x 5 ft (dimension requirements). At the starting line, the entries are assembled, readied for racing and evaluated for safety. Assembly occurs one time prior to the first course run.

The top three winning teams in each division (one High School Division and one College/University Division) are those having the shortest total times in assembling their rovers and traversing the course. Each team is permitted two runs of the course, and the shortest course time (plus penalties) will be added to the assembly time for the final total event time.

In the High School Division, International Space Education Institute (ISEI) - Team Russia from Moscow won third place. They were also awarded the Jesco Von Puttkamer International Team Award for the fastest team hailing from outside the United States. In the College/University Division, ISEI - Team Germany from Leipzig also won the Jesco Von Puttkamer International Team Award.

The ISEI - Team Germany Rover will be featured at the USA Science & Engineering Festival in Washington, D.C., where students, teachers and families learn more about the engineering that goes into creating a rover.

Both ISEI teams are featured in a Huntsville Times/ article and Ralf wrote about the race on his website.


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After the successful completion of NASA Rover Challenge by the teams of the International Space Education Institute, the DLR Washington and the Directorate of Human Spaceflight NASA on April 12, 2014 , invited the teams to Washington. A week later, it was time. On Friday, the doors of the DLR building, and NASA headquarters were open for the Russian students, including a Russian born student of the German School Washington DC.

The permission to enter this building is reserved for NASA employees, and some official international guests. One such procedure usually takes around six weeks. The ISS director Sam Scimemi personally took responsibility for these students. The DLR office manager Jürgen Drescher, who accompanied the students, was also very interested.


Sam Scimemi has taken over the responsibilities of the German American scientist Prof. Dr. Jesco von Puttkamer and leads the ISS section in the multi-story NASA administration building. He brings the group to the Space Operation Mission Directorate. This is the department that deals with the management of all active manned space projects and rocket launches. In a hallway many pictures documenting the construction phases of the International Space Station are hung upon the wall. All photos were taken from incoming or departing ships. This assortment of amazing pictures already bridges the last 15 years of ISS development.

Sam politely urges the group to hurry, and leads them into a kind of Mission Control Center. It is a space with large screens, a U-shaped table and numerous scientists, who are working on their laptops. The screens show a steaming rocket, and a countdown timer will count down the last 10 minutes before the start. It takes a moment for the students to realize that they have arrived in the heart of a currently occurring rocket launch. The eyes of the small 13 - year-old Russian Rover pilot Catherina are filled with hope. The 18 -year-old Vadim takes his pen and makes notes about the start procedures.


Suddenly, the room is still, as the final seconds of the countdown have started. On the launch pad in the distant Cape Canaveral, is a "Falcon 9" rocket , from the company SpaceEX . It’s carrying “Dragon 3”, 2.5 tons of cargo in it’s onboard storage container. SpaceEX is one of two companies currently involved in the space program. NASA entrusts these two companies with cargo deliveries to the ISS. The scientists in the room now carefully decipher the data received from the company.

Dim lights 3-2-1-0, vibrations cannot be felt. But the pictures on the screen make it clear what kind of forces must currently be in play in Florida. The rocket takes off. "We have liftoff!” All the students capture the events with their smartphones. Four onboard cameras are recording, and streaming a view of the propulsion stages. Numerous other camera images can be viewed on the small screens on the walls. The rocket quickly gains altitude. After about two minutes, the rocket starts to separate its stages. The room is still dead silent, no clapping.

Now, the Falcon 9 rocket accelerates. 4 more infrared cameras observe the outside temperature of the engine. Still, all scientists are curious and watch all the data received. After a nine-minute burn, which is unusual in comparison to other rockets and the space shuttle. Because of this, the rocket could fly with two stages though instead of three, saving money. The room brakes out into applause. Sam Scimemi says, "Don’t be happy too early, there’s still a lot of work to do."  (NASA-Presskitt, PDF 3MB)


The tension in the room dissolves. Former colleagues of Professor Jesco von Puttkamer stand up and shake the hands of the students and their supervisors. They are all NASA employees with many years of experience and positions with great responsibilities. Sam leads the team to a display case in which books, trophies, and working papers of Prof. von Puttkamer reside. Here, the award of the same name will be handed over to NASA. It’s a show of mutual respect, not regarding any political issues.


Sam continues the tour and accompanies the group to his office. Here they receive their certificates for participating in the NASA rover Challenge straight from the hands of the ISS director. This is a great honor for both sides, but most of all, an amazing birthday present for the team leader.


For the International Space Education Institute, this invitation, after the previous one to the Roscosmos Headquarters in 2007, meant the acceptance into international space travel circles.

Fotoseries:_NASA-Headquarters-DLR-office Washington

next event: US Science Festival, Washington E. Convention Center, Washington DC (USA)

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Huntsville/Alabama, 12.04.2014
translated by Mathilda Drews


That was a competition like none before. The NASA Rover Challenge is not only the former Moonbuggy Race, but also “THE” US-Students-Competition for future extra-terrestrial vehicles in the solar system. The rules became harsher and the requirements higher. Many of the registered teams did not manage the participation. Two teams from Europe also had to stay at home. The best competet over the last two days. Only few vehicles arrived at the finish line with the two racers still on them. The enthusiasm and the excitement of the approximately 80 participanting teams however were not damaged. The weather consisted of radiant sunlight. There were broken wheels, destroyed tires. bended frames, flying chains and lots of sunburns. Now everyone knows where improvement is required.

crater1sandThe ISEI-Teams from Leipzig did well. In the first round, both teams lost the front left of their new foldable fenders. The russian team (Katja Trusheva 13, Vadim Kursonov 18; advised by Evgeniy Zakutin 26; a dipl. engineer who currently lives in Leipzig) which was aided by Leipig drove the course carefully and explored it. The German Team appeared as a college team for the first time. It is already the third time competing for front driver Tobias Meier, who has been around among the participants. He drove the Rover with Mathilda Drews (Leipzig International School); sovereign and with high speed without any driving errors.

Dim lights The course now consists of head-sized limestone boulders, fine rolling pebbles, deep beds of sand and several tons uncompacted gravel. All obstacles that were on it are suitable for the Rovers to finish the drive. For many participants that was the case. But only the bravest could still manage and controll their vehicle.

vadimcatiOn today's second race day all participating teams gave their best. There is an excellent small repair and assembling shop in the pit lane. Here, all teams were able to fix any occuring damages on their rovers according to their abilities. This especially requires the ability to improvise. Also the two ISEI teams improvised already since the beginning of the week, as essential buggy pieces had been forgotten in Leipzig. They themselves had to manufacture new pieces on the lather. Also a new fender with the size of 120 square inches had to be made.


Team Russia significantly improved its race time with out any penalties. Team Germnay had already slightly run out of "air". The nonpneumatic wheels had deformed themselves slightly under the heat of the day and the strain of the driving. This made pedalling more exhausting. But on the other hand the German Rover transmitted a video-live stream through their board-camera. The audio signal was already transmitted topnotch. The video quality still can be worked on: Both teams achieved an assembling time of only seven seconds at the inspection.

3platzjvprussiaTeam Germany mit Jesco von Puttkamer Internationl Team Awardrussia

The surprise came at the Award ceremony. Ms. Dr. Alotta Taylor from NASA headquarters handed over the numerous awards. Both ISEI-Teams were calculated as the fastest international teams and were presented with the "Jesco von Puttkamer International Tea, Award" and 500$ each.

Team Russia obtained third place in the tough highschool-division and was presented another award by the director of the Marshall Spaceflight Center; Mr. Patrick Scheuermann. Both teams became the media pets of Huntsville:


NASA Headquarters confirmed the invitation of these teammembers to Washington DC for the comming week. Now everyone is happy.

Photos of the events:

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11 students from Switzerland, Germany, Russia and the USA are entering the NASA Rover Challenge in Huntsville/Alabama in two teams for the International Space Education Institute Leipzig. It was the most complex and difficult to carry through selection of the students since the first participation 8 years ago. The competition (formerly known as the NASA Moonbuggy Race), now includes plenty of new assessments and prepares the younger generations for scientific occupations which will later help them explore our solar system. The center of attention is for the selected students, apprentices and university students with their early practical experiences, open-mindedness, discipline and determination.

The constructed vehicle should simulate the challenges for students and their abilities, compared to those of a professional engineer, relatively close to reality. The most difficult challenge for all participants is the ban on pneumatic wheels (i.e. no air cabins are allowed). Many ideas have been issued and tried out. Which one of those will meet the high requirements of the race course is yet to be seen on the 10th-12th of April.

The intensive preparations of the European participants in 2 multinational teams took up 9 months with 220 activities in 4 countries. Many of those interested failed on the required discipline and concentration on tasks. Especially the team work, the multilingual interaction, the achievement of the practical experiences and the economical tasks were inescapable focus points. These were supported by many entities and private people, since there are few public budgets for international high-tech-competitions.

For one week the participants already have been preparing themselves for the big day in the rocket city Huntsville. They grow together as a team through their work. You are invited to read the reports of the 13 to 20 year olds in three different languages.

moscowkostromaneftejuganskhuntsvilleLeipzigOver 80 teams with around 1000 participants are expected to come to the NASA Rover Challenge. The European teams carry a special media interest, as they unite people from various nations. An invitation to Washington where the NASA headquarters is located is on the plan. A team from the first Russian evening television program is expected. Never before, a 13-year old girl from Russia made it to a NASA-competition in the USA. Katarina Trsuheva of ‘Team Russia Highschool’ is the first. Her 18 year old front driver is from Siberia. The Russian team’s advisor is Evgeniy Zakutin, a aeronautics- and space-engineer from Moscow who currently lives in Leipzig.

Also from Leipzig is the newly introduced NASA-price: “Jesco von Puttkamer International Team Award”. It is given in two performance groups and will earn the participants $500 each.


Facebook page
Daily student reports
Picture Galary of the US-excursion
All activities of the competition in pictures

Participating students under the supervision of the International Space Education Institute:

-Tobias Meier, Mathilda Drews, Mario Denzler, Martin Hohlweg, Amanda Spencer (Team Germany College)
-Katharina Trusheva, Vadim Korsunov, Jonathan Holtmann, Matthew Spencer, Graig Steward (Team Russia Highschool)

Institutions represented by the participants:
-International School Leipzig, German School Washington, School Moscow Nr 422

Huntsville City Schools:
-University of Alabama in Birmingham, Moscow Aviation Institute, University of Minnesota, Handwerkskammer zu Leipzig

Main sponsors:
IGUS, Space Hotel Leipzig
Dreherei Guenter Jakob GmbH & Co.KG, Holl GmbH, Sattlerei Kübler, Doerffer Standstrahltechnik, Hauff-Haustechnik, Seilerei Voigt

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There are no translations available.

Diese unten genannten Teams aus Europa sind bei der 1. NASA Human Exploration Rover Challenge registriert und nach einem 2-monatigen Auswahlprozess bestätigt worden. Allen Teammitgliedern wünschen wir viel Erfolg bei ihrem Wettbewerb am 10.-12. April 2014.

Dim lights
Abendnachrichten auf ROSSIA 1 (erstes staatliches Programm Russlands, Di, 4.3.2014)

Team Germany College
supervising by: Ralf Heckel
International Space Education Institute, Leipzig

1. Tobias Meier (18)
2. Victoria Lagemann (20)
3. Amanda Spencer (20)
4. Martin Hohlweg (25)
5. Alexander Frolov (25)


(former Team Germany Highschool)
supervising by: Ralf Heckel
International Space Education Institute, Leipzig

1. Mathilda Drews (17)
2. Lennart Lederer (16)
3. Mathew Spencer (16)


Team Russia Highschool
supervising by: Evgeniy Zakutin
International Space Education Institute, Moscow

1. Catherine Trusheva (13)
2. Vadim Korsunov (17)
3. Denis Sucharev (17)
4. Julian Neubert (16)
5. Ingmar Olson (16)


Highschool Team Italy


in cooperation mit Schülern und Lehrern
aus folgenden Schulen oder Einrichtungen:

- Gymnasium Burgstädt (GER)
- CJD Königswinter (GER)
- Realschule Titisee-Neudtadt (GER)
- Handwerkskammer zu Leipzig (GER)
- International School Leipzig (GER)
- Hauptschule Portitz (GER)
- Deutsche Schule Moskau (RUS)
- Schule Nr. 422 Moskau (RUS)
- technisches Lyzeum Kostroma (RUS)
- technisches Lyzeum Nefteyugansk (RUS)
- staatlich-wissenschaftliches Lyzeum Benedetti, Venedig (IT)
- Alternative Learningcenter Lakeville, Minessota (USA)
- University of Alabama in Birmingham (USA)
- University of Minnesota (USA)

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