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Eaglenaut lunabot takes fourth place

They call themselves the “Eaglenauts.”

May 21-26, a team of engineering students from John Brown University competed against nearly 60 teams in NASA’s Lunabotics Mining Competition, said a JBU press release.

The Eaglenauts placed fourth in the overall competition, fourth in On-Site Mining, second in Systems Engineering Paper and third in Outreach Education Project Report, said engineering professor Will Holmes. Holmes traveled with and supervised the team.

Team members didn’t just perform well. They enjoyed each other.

“I am very proud of this team,” said Holmes. “They worked hard since August 2011 to achieve their excellent results. … Their technical excellence and love for one another represented JBU and Christ well at the competition.”

The team that went to the Kennedy Space Center in Orlando, Fla. consisted of last school year’s seniors Lindy Roberts, Bethany Miller, Jacob Pinkerton, Travis Reimer, Jesse Van Gorkom, and juniors Gabo Ruiz Fuentes and Cody Bowlin. Last year’s freshmen Brian Plank, Kaitlyn Bradley, Lindsey Davis, Patton Conroy, Rolando Correa Gonzalez, Tayler Insuaste and Zachary Huffaker helped prepare for the competition.

NASA’s main lunabotics competition looks at which team has created the most effective lunabot. The team designs a lunabot capable of excavating at least 10 kilograms of lunar simulant in 10 minutes, said the NASA website. For this year’s competition, the judging was based partly on the amount of simulant excavated and also considered such factors as dust tolerance, remote control capability and vehicle mass.

The combined team designed and built the lunabot and communicated with NASA throughout the 2011-2012 school year. Each member was assigned a task performing a different function in the lunabot, but they worked together as a unit.

Team leader Lindy Roberts worked with interfacing different systems in the lunabot. She communicated with different team members and helped ensure that different members’ assignments were flowing smoothly into each other. She also wrote most of the Systems Engineering Paper and corresponded with NASA through the year.

When the Eaglenauts arrived at the competition, setup went quickly. “We were able to get most of the work done on our lunabot before we ever went down there,” said Roberts. “We just had a quick assembly when we were there. But for the most part, we got there and were ready to go.”

Roberts said the team had plenty of time between competitions to view other teams’ work, tour the Kennedy Space Center and spend evenings on the beach.

Several companies were actively hiring students at the competition. Caterpillar, Inc. was the main company hiring, Roberts said. Caterpillar was one of the 2012 Lunabotics Competition’s main sponsors.

Senior Jesse Van Gorkom said he intends to apply at Caterpillar for a product development engineering job. This would be similar to the work he did for the lunabotics competition. Van Gorkom worked on the lunabot’s frame and mobility.

Roberts explained how the competition allowed team members to gain practical experience, whatever their assignment. The members who actually built the robot, she said, learned much more than they would have by merely designing it: “You can design a lot of things on the computer that you can’t actually manufacture well.” Roberts also said in her case, working with team members and communicating with NASA were helpful toward her goal. She hopes to be a project manager in the future.

“It’s a lot of work,” Roberts said, “but I think that it was completely worth it and we’d do it again.”

This was NASA’s third annual lunabotics competition. Last year, JBU won first place in Systems Engineering Paper.

Holmes said JBU is already planning for next year’s competition. They will need to raise $20,000, and Holmes said they will probably look for both grant money and corporate sponsorship to cover that cost.