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NASA cycles through another Great Moonbuggy Race

It's been 40-plus years since an astronaut last drove a lunar rover on the moon, but the spirit lives on in a competition designed to inspire a new generation of techies.

NASA Great Moonbuggy Race 2013
The winner in the high-school division of NASA's Great Moonbuggy Race of 2013 was Team 1 from Teodoro Aguilar Mora Vocational High School in Puerto Rico. NASA/MSFC

It may be more than 40 years since NASA last put a man on the moon, but those Apollo missions continue to serve as a driving force for some aspiring engineers.

On Friday and Saturday, the space agency hosted its 20th annual Great Moonbuggy Race. For these competitions, entrants from colleges and high schools have to to design, build, and race lightweight, human-powered vehicles -- think pedicabs on steroids -- that a pair of riders then must muscle over a half-mile course designed to simulate the lunar surface. NASA says that the "race teams face many of the same engineering challenges dealt with by Apollo-era lunar rover developers ... in the late 1960s."

The final standings are determined by the fastest vehicle assembly and race times in the two divisions, as well as by on-course penalties. The 2013 edition of the race, which took place at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Ala., brought together approximately 600 student drivers, engineers, and mechanics in some 90 teams from 23 states and Puerto Rico, along with Canada, India, Germany, Mexico, and Russia.

In the collegiate division, the team from the University of Puerto Rico at Humacao took first place with a time of 3 minutes, 32 seconds. In the high school division, Team 1 from Teodoro Aguilar Mora Vocational High School of Yabucoa, Puerto Rico, came in first with a time of 3 minutes, 24 seconds.

The Great Moonbuggy Race began in 1994 with eight college teams. High-school teams first took part in 1996.