Reengineering the Past to Inspire the Future

Bryan Ogle ’90 always knew he wanted to be an engineer. He couldn’t have imagined that a manufacturing engineering degree from Bradley would lead to building an Earth-bound replica of NASA’s Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV) from Apollo missions 15, 16 and 17.

In 2016, Ogle went to work for the powersports company Polaris in Huntsville, Ala. When the U.S. Space and Rocket Center (USSRC) wanted to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing by having a working model of the LRV built, they looked to Polaris to make it happen. The USSRC brought the original project manager and Boeing engineers who created the LRV in the 1970s as well as an astronaut to the first meeting. Polaris was hooked.

Ogle’s motivation to be the Polaris project manager was two-fold. “We wanted to honor the earlier engineers and others by building the replica, and we wanted to show young people that engineering is cool, that it’s accessible, and if they’re curious to inspire them to pursue it as a career.”

Over nine months Polaris volunteers worked with Boeing’s archival drawings and the original fender molds from the Smithsonian Institution. The Polaris Lunar Rover Replica (PLRR), had to look like the original LRVs (all of which are still on the Moon) but operate in Earth’s gravity. To involve manufacturing plants all over the U.S., the team intentionally built it with parts from across the Polaris product line: steering rack from a Slingshot vehicle, lights from a motorcycle, driveline from a utility ATV, and so on.

The PLRR has been the highlight of parades and commemorations since it was completed in June 2019, and the Polaris team will drive a ceremonial lap before the Sugarland Shine 250 Truck Series Race and the Talladega 500 NASCAR Cup Series Race at the Talladega Superspeedway in October. There’s talk of it making a lap around the 2020 Super Bowl, and maybe a World Series game.

“The LRV replica was one of the coolest projects I’ve done,” Ogle said. “It gave our team exposure to engineering legends and it gave us a different perspective of what humanity can achieve when a vision is set.”

Ogle grew up on the south end of Peoria with a single mom. Rather than limit his options, the city’s size opened doors for him. “I was able to try a variety of things,” he said. “I played four sports in high school, and was one of two tuba players in the Peoria Youth Symphony.”

College didn’t seem possible, but he took a shot and applied. “Bradley’s financial aid package was what allowed me to attend, coupled with living at home and saving money while working at Sears,” he said. He joined Sigma Phi Epsilon and worked internships with Wilson Sporting Goods and Sundstrand that gave him hands-on experience.

In the field he met engineers with degrees from schools such as Purdue and Georgia Tech, and found his Bradley degree put him on the same level, and then some. “Bradley did an outstanding job. I can talk about world religion, psychology, and philosophy as well as engineering. People I’ve met who went to other schools for engineering can’t do that. I’m proud of my Bradley Experience. I can’t imagine having gone to another school.”

Ogle hopes his path from the south end of Peoria through Bradley and beyond shows that the impossible is often in our minds.

“Always be curious, always explore,” he said. “You get one opportunity to live your life. Always take the fork in the road.”

Photo provided