HUNTSVILLE, Ala (WHNT) — A team from the University of Alabama in Huntsville has placed first in the 2023 NASA Human Exploration Rover Challenge (HERC).

The team of 31 competed on April 20-22 at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center’s Aviation Challenge Area. HERC tasks high school and college teams from around the U.S. and the world to design, build and test human-powered rovers capable of tackling difficult terrain and completing various mission tasks.

Team Leader Luke Campbell said the team was required to take their rover, named “HERCules,” through a course and complete several tasks.

“There was a course with ten obstacles and five paths, that the rover had to complete in under eight minutes, so we had to strategize about which task we wanted to complete and how we wanted to go about doing the competition,” he said. “So, we had eight minutes and our rover finished in about seven minutes and thirty seconds.”

“HERCules” was guided by a two-person crew ad competed against 49 teams from 20 states and eight different countries This year’s HERC was the first time the event was held in person since the beginning of the pandemic in the Spring of 2020.

“It was great to be back in person with the NASA HERC event!” David Fikes, a lecturer in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, who is the team advisor and Senior Design Instructor, said. “As the advisor/instructor for six years now, I am proud of our UAH students. They set a goal and worked extremely hard to achieve it, some putting in 20-plus hours a week at times. They deserve all the credit, but I also want to thank all our sponsors, especially the Alabama Space Grant Corporation (ASGC) and the UAH College of Engineering. Several smaller sponsors have been a huge help as well.”

Fikes said the competition is the culmination of eight months of work by the team which included both the ride on the course and several presentations. Campbell said all those months of work helped the team build skills.

“We learn a lot of engineering skills, design skills, you know, analysis, finite element analysis,” he said. “We learn a lot of hands-on skills too like welding and machining.”