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Purdue Northwest Pioneer

Students take two awards in NASA challenge

Leah Medema, Staff Writer

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Two teams from PNW competed in the NASA Human Exploration Rover Challenge in Huntsville, Alabama on March 31 and April 1. The teams designed, built, tested and raced human powered rovers for the competition and won two awards: the “On To Mars” Sample Return Award and the “Team Spirit” Award.

PNW has a history of winning at this competition. The teams took home three first place awards in 2016, including first in the Sample Return course for the second year in a row. That previous success granted this year’s PNW teams a spot as the first team to race the course at 7:30 am on Friday morning.

While most students joined the teams as a part of NASA Rover Club, there were eight seniors who joined and used the Rover Challenge as their senior design project. The team was made up of mostly of mechanical engineering students but included three electrical and one communication student. The advisers are Harvey Abramowitz, professor of mechanical engineering, and Donald Gray, associate professor of electrical engineering.

The competition included teams from 23 states and several countries including Germany, India, Brazil and Mexico. Though the competition was rough, the PNW teams found it to be a bonding experience.

“The course is so brutal for everybody, but you are making connections and working together to try to beat the course,” Tim Trowbridge, senior mechanical engineering major and team leader, said.

The teams put in about 40 hours per week of work in the weeks leading up to the competition.

“We were there between classes, before classes and after classes, even on weekends and during spring break. The crunch time was real,” Sam Bulthuis, junior mechanical engineering major, said.

The countless hours spent working on the rovers paid off with new friendships and newly acquired skills. Bethany Worl, junior mechanical engineering student, said working with the tools in the shop in Anderson 149 gave her the hands-on experience she never had before. Bulthuis acknowledged the many new friends he had made at PNW through the rover building process.

Many of the team members were shocked to have won the Team Spirit Award, though Ben Haczynski, junior mechanical engineering major, had a notion as to how and why they won it.

“Our senior rover broke on its last run and everybody basically went out there and carried the rover over the rest of the course.”

This act of team cohesion during a pressing time is exactly what Haczynski believes got the team the award. They felt that winning this award was an honor, as it was the only award voted on by the other competing teams.

The teams look forward to competing in the years ahead and encourage other students to join them on their adventure. According to Bulthuis the teams are accepting of any students with any majors. The NASA Rover Club meets every Friday in Anderson 149.

“If you want to help and if you want to learn, just show up,” Haczynski said.

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