Anyone who has played Mario Kart has raced in space, but a group of high school students will compete out of the stratosphere without Nintendo’s help by participating in the Moon Mark event that will be held on the moon in 2021. Participants will race from the comfort of the Earth using purpose-designed remote-controlled cars.
Launched earlier in 2020, the first part of the project encouraged students from around the world to design a race car that can operate and win on the moon. Regulations stated that racers needed to weigh no more than 11 pounds, which is substantially lighter than the original lunar rover, and be able to cope with the lunar climate, which is very hot during the day and extremely cold at night. They also had to be equipped with a compact battery, a Wi-Fi module, and a single board computer (SBC), among other mandatory parts, but participants were free to experiment with wheels, different suspension setups, tank-like tracks, legs, or something else entirely.
Significantly, the project brief only asked for a digital model. Only the two winning designs will be built and raced.
Moon Mark recruited British designer Frank Stephenson to help the two finalists put the final touches on their lunar racer. His resume includes helping draw the first BMW-developed Mini Cooper, the last-generation Fiat 500, and several recent McLaren models, including the P1 and the 720S. He currently operates his own design firm.
German engineer Hermann Tilke will use high-definition scans of the lunar surface to design the track the cars will race on. It’s too early to tell how many turns it will have, or how long its straight will be, but we trust Tilke’s judgement; he’s a well-known name in racing circles. He helped overhaul the Nürburgring and the Fuji Speedway, and he designed over a dozen tracks including the Bahrain International Circuit and the Yas Marina Circuit.
The international teams selected to compete in the inaugural Moon Mark series will earn their position on the starting grid through qualifying rounds that will be held on Earth in early 2021. Houston-based Intuitive Machines will then take the racers to the moon via an unmanned Nova-C lander that’s hitching a ride on a SpaceX Falcon 9 mission during the second half of 2021. It will also manage the event’s video transmissions and its numerous communication needs. Moon Mark has tentatively scheduled the race for October 2021.
“We do not expect significant communications delays as impacting the race or the drivability of the vehicles. We will have near-real-time visuals, telemetry, and command and control,” explained Todd Wallach, Moon Mark’s chief technical officer, in an interview with New Atlas. He added that the lander will receive commands from remote controls located on Earth, and that it will communicate with the race cars via a Wi-Fi connection.
Moon Mark describes itself as an entertainment and education company, so it’s not going through the fabulously expensive process of sending remote-controlled cars to the moon solely for clicks and views. “Following the race itself, the vehicles will move into their scientific mission, remaining on the lunar surface indefinitely,” said Mary Hagy, the founder and CEO of Moon Mark. Precisely what they’ll do there is, pardon the pun, still up in the air.