The space shuttle program may have sadly come to an end late last month after several decades, but three wee astronauts are slated to go where no man or toy has gone before.
Three unique white Lego men- cast in the images of the Roman god Jupiter, his wife Juno, and Galileo Galilei- headed into space today on NASA’s Juno spacecraft. The mission will be orbiting the fifth planet in our solar system, looking for water in the gassy giant’s atmosphere and seeking out clues to Jupiter’s origins and history.
It’s not the first space rodeo for the Lego figures headed to Jupiter- Jupiter, Juno and Galileo have hitched rides on voyages to the International Space Station, a mission to Mars and a shuttle launch. The tie-in is also not merely a promotional initiative- and besides, could Lego be any cooler?- but a part of the Bricks in Space program.
Bricks in Space is a joint Lego/NASA initiative to get kids interested in and thinking about science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. (And while it most certainly works, it probably also gets kids interested in launching Lego men off things, a pastime nine-year-old boys seem to take to readily.) Scott Bolton, principal investigator for the Juno mission and space science and engineering director at the Southwestern Research Institute in San Antonio, spoke about the Lego/NASA Jupiter mission at a press conference earlier this week. He said:
“NASA has a long-standing partnership with the LEGO company… Any of you that have children know that LEGOs are very popular with kids, as well as really helps teach them about building and engineering.”
“We hope that that [these LEGO Minifigures] will increase awareness of children about the space program and get them interested. This will also help them understand both the mythological studies that went on… and also the contributions that Galileo made.”
Juno and friends take off today from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, and are expected to arrive near Jupiter in July of 2016. The Lego minifigs will orbit Jupiter for a year (33 revolutions), before meeting a fiery end in an intentional crash- no eBayed space Lego for you! And that’s too bad, because, says Bolton, these aren’t just any Lego:
“They are basically the size of the normal LEGO figures which you will see, but they are made out of aluminum, very special aluminum and they have been prepared in a very special way,” Bolton said. “They are made out of a special space-grade aluminum. They have gone through all the testing to make sure that they fit on our spacecraft in a way that is like our other science instruments… They are all together, right next to each other [on board Juno], being friendly,” Bolton said smiling. “They are the special passengers.”
The Juno figurine is equipped with a magnifying glass, Jupiter has a lightning bolt, and Galileo is equipped with a telescope. You can read the full press release about the Lego figures going to Jupiter here.