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The University of Wisconsin Oshkosh Engineering Club will compete for the first time in the NASA Human Exploration Rover Challenge—an international engineering design competition seeking to overcome problems of planetary exploration.

Hosted by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the competition challenges high school and college students to create a vehicle designed to traverse the simulated surface of another world.

UW Oshkosh students visit Pierce Mfg.

Over the next few months, the UW Oshkosh Engineering Club (UWOEC) will be designing, building and testing a rover that is no larger than 5 feet by 5 feet by 5 feet in volume and seats two people to carry them throughout a half-mile course that includes hills, rough terrain and craters. The rover must fold and be designed as if it needed to fit in a rocket and be transported into space.

“I wanted to be part of this challenge because it allows me to see where my education can be applied,” said UW Oshkosh freshman Caleb Schaubroeck, of Kaukauna, who is serving as project marketing director and electrical specialist. “It provides me with a more practical, hands-on component of my education. It also allows me to do what I enjoy doing, and that is building things.”

Teams will be required to complete tasks, such as taking photos of the environment, collecting soil and liquid samples, and using a solar cell to harness light energy. Slated to run April 13-14, 2018, the competition will take place at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Teams will need to make real-time decisions about which mission objectives to attempt and which to leave behind—all driven by a limited, virtual six-minute supply of oxygen with a one-minute reserve.

UWOEC began the challenge in summer 2017, choosing the project because it “captivates students to join the club and put their abilities to a tangible activity,” Schaubroeck said.

Club members hope to complete the majority of the building stage over the January interim. In addition to UWOEC support, the Engineering Technology Department made a donation to the project. The club also will benefit from in-kind painting, fabrication and aluminum plate support from Fond du Lac’s GF Health Care Products, which provides internship opportunities.

New UW Oshkosh mechanical engineering technology graduate Matt Riehbrandt, of Lomira, is the UWOEC president and NASA rover challenge project leader. Riehbrandt is proud of the talent demonstrated in the UW Oshkosh Engineering Technology program and hopes to exemplify it through the challenge.

“I chose to be a part of this challenge because it is a great opportunity to demonstrate the skills and knowledge that we are learning as UW Oshkosh engineering technology students.” he said.

Beyond application of skills, UWOEC members are excited to be working on the project because of its novelty at UWO.

“The NASA Human Exploration Rover Challenge is the first of its kind that the club has attempted to work on. It is a large-scale project hosted by NASA, so it presents a great opportunity for students to use their education and become involved in a practical application within engineering technology,” Schaubroeck said.

Club members have high expectations for the project, but they say it’s exciting just to be entering the competition.

“Our goal for the first year is simply to make it to the competition; I would consider this to be a major victory,” Riehbrandt said. “The biggest reason why I chose to help initiate this endeavor was for the opportunity to showcase the talent of UW Oshkosh students through being competitive on a global stage.”

As a senior mechanical engineering technology student, originally from Wausau, Mitch Grabko echoes Riehbrandt’s sentiments. He sees the NASA rover challenge as a great way to work with UWO’s talented engineering students.

Grabko is working as the drivetrain and fabrication specialist on a rover that will have four wheels, have four-wheel drive and feature four-wheel steering.

“My favorite part of being a member of UWOEC is the ability to collaborate with fellow engineering students,” Grabko said. “Through the NASA Rover Challenge, I hope to gain real-world application of my skills and those of others as it relates to each part of our build.”

Beyond the excitement of the competition, UWOEC members also see this challenge as a great way to bring more attention to the club as well as the engineering technology program.

“Club members are some of the biggest advocates for the UW Oshkosh engineering technology program and by starting this project, I feel like we will increase the awareness of the program exponentially,” Riehbrandt said.

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