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Even though Apollo astronauts did do some wicked donuts in the barren regolith and went bombing across the landscape in the lunar buggy on the final three NASA missions, they weren't able to engage in any kind of contest of speed due to... well, there only being one rover.
Now, thanks to the Moon Mark Project, one of two remote-controlled race cars will zoom to the checkered flag on the Moon in a fun mission for the ages come next October. Partially designed by high schoolers under the supervision of McLaren designer Frank Stephenson, the space-bound race cars tip the scales at just 5.5 pounds each. A deployment device weighing 6.6 pounds more will place them onto the Moon, where they'll take laps around a mapped out course.
"There's a track that's being designed by Hermann Tilke, who's designed all the recent Formula One tracks around the world," automotive engineer Frank Stephenson explained to New Atlas. "He's designing this lunar circuit track. They know the lunar surface, it's been scanned to the point where he has enough information to develop this track."
This intrepid pair of Moon Mark race cars will be making the trip in a Nova-C craft equipped with a Peregrine lander built by Intuitive Machines. It will be attached to a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket that is scheduled to blast off in October of 2021, and become the first surveying lunar lander manufactured by a private company. The craft intends on touching down in the Oceanus Procellarum near the grand canyon-sized Schröter’s Valley.
Lunar logistics firm Astrobotic estimates the ticket for this trip to plop down the payload in its Peregrine lander module at $544,000 per pound.
Moon Mark CTO Todd Wallach doesn't expect any sort of communications delay that would impact the race or drivability of the two battery-electric vehicles, whose final designs are still not officially locked down.
"We will have near real time visuals, telemetry and command and control via our partnership with Intuitive Machines," Wallach tells New Atlas. "The racers built by Lunar Outpost will connect with the Intuitive Machines Lander via WiFi, and the Lander will send and receive telemetry, commands and controls to and from the Earth to drive the racers."
Moon Mark’s Mission 1 competition includes six diverse teams of high school kids selected from across the United States. They'll compete in a series of qualifying challenges such as drone and autonomous vehicle racing, e-gaming, and a space commercialization entrepreneurship contest.
The two top teams selected from qualifying rounds will win this rare opportunity to craft and race mini-buggies on the Moon. Competitors will drive their rovers remotely, "speeding" around challenging terrain before a sphere of cameras that will record and broadcast every hair-raising twist and turn occurring in reduced lunar gravity.
"Our racers will be designed to test the limits of speed on the lunar surface," says Moon Mark Founder and CEO Mary Hagy. "The checkered flag remains the deciding factor upon which the final winner will be determined."