“Lego Group Helps N.A.S.A. Get Children Exited about Space Exploration,” by S.M. O’Connor

As part of The LEGO® Group’s celebration of the 50th anniversary of NA.S.A.’s historic Apollo 11 Moon Landing (on July 20, 1969) and to help inspire children to get involved with or support N.A.S.A.’s future outer space exploration efforts,  the Danish toymaker kicked off a month of worldwide events on July 16, 2019.  Lego A/S, doing business (in English) as The LEGO® Group, also released the results of a global survey of children ages eight-to-twelve regarding space exploration.  The LEGO® Group partnered, as well, with Scholastic on an educational program that will send fifty children to N.A.S.A. Space Camp in 2020.  The program will reach teachers in Title I school districts across the United States of America.

According to a Harris Poll/LEGO® Survey[1] conducted in the United States of America, the United Kingdom, and the People’s Republic of China, 86% of children between the ages of eight and twelve are interested in exploring outer space, and 90% of them want to learn more.  Furthermore, 83% of parents (averaged across the U.S.A., the U.K., and P.R.C.) who participated in the survey believe their children are interested in space, yet only 53% of children say that their interest in s[ace is fueled by their parents, citing teachers (79%) and the Internet (71%) as primary learning sources.

Fifty years ago, Apollo 11 carried American astronauts Neil Armstrong (1930-2012), Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins to the Moon, and today’s children are well-versed in the history of global space exploration efforts.  In a multiple-choice question, most children (85%) can identify Neil Armstrong as the first person to step foot on the Moon (88% in the U.S.A., 87% in the U.K., and 79% in the P.R.C.).  Most of today’s children also could not be fooled, with only 2% believing it was Buzz Lightyear.

Nearly all children aged eight-to-twelve from China (97%), the U.S.A. (88%), and the U.K. (87%) envision humans being going to Mars in the future.  In China, almost a quarter (24%) of children who think humans will go to Mars say it will happen either this year or next.  Three-quarters of children believe that humans will live in outer space or on a different planet, though children from China are more likely to think so (96%) than are children from the America (66%) and the U.K. (62%).  Similarly, when asked if they personally would like to go to outer space or a different planet, children from China are more likely to say “yes” (95%) than are children from the U.S. (68%) or U.K. (63%).

The survey also revealed that today’s children are three times more likely to aspire to be a YouTuber (29%) than an astronaut (11%), which is frightening.  When asked, “which… careers are part of space exploration?” Astronaut was the most chosen answer (90%) followed by engineer (58%) and computer programmer (52%).  Only 7% of children see a role for a farmer/gardener in the space program, an indication that children may not realize all of the different jobs required to support space travel.

Interest in space travel is high, but many children do not realize the impact pf space travel on their day-to-day routines.  Only a quarter (25%) of children say they have used something that was invented because of space travel (43% in China, 18% in America, 14% in the U.K.), though a majority of children (97%) say they have at least one of a variety of items (e.g., camera phone, ear thermometer, athletic sneakers, computer mouse) that were made possible, in part, by space travel.

“We are thrilled that children continue to be interested in space exploration and can’t wait to witness their ‘small steps’ and ‘giant leaps’ in decades to come,” stated Michael McNally, Senior Director of Brand relations, LEGO Systems, Inc.  “For 40 years we have offered creative play opportunities designed to foster children’s interest in space exploration.  We believe that play holds a crucial role in developing essential life skills such as confidence, creativity and communication, all of which are vital to raising the next generation of pace explorers.”

“For nearly 20 years, NASA and LEGO Group have collaborated on projects to inspire the next generation to imagine and build their future in space.  Our latest efforts celebrate the incredible feats we achieved during Apollo 50 years ago, and now with our accelerated plans to go forward to the Moon, we will continue to inspire children to dream about what’s possible and to grow up to pursue STEM careers,” stated Bettina Inclán, Associate Administrator for Communications at the N.A.S.A. Headquarters in Washington, D.C.  “Under our new Artemis lunar explorations program, NASA will send the first woman and next man to the Moon by 2024 and then we will get ready to take our next giant leap – human missions to Mars!”

To communicate the milestone, a team of ten designers and LEGO® Master Builders spent nearly 300 hours designing and building a life-size LEGO® model of an Apollo 11 lunar module pilot, inspired by the first humans to step foot on the Moon.[2]  The module replicates the space suits worn on the Moon in 1969, features ten different colors, and is comprised of 30,000 LEGO® bricks.  The model was unveiled to the public during the Apollo 50 Festival on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. hosted by the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum (July 18-20, 2019).  With the help of the visitors to the four-day-long celebration, LEGO Master Builders constructed a twenty-foot-tall replica of a critical component to the next phase of Mars exploration.  Attendees also had a chance to participate in hands-on activities and took photos with LEGO® brick-built Mars and Moon mosaic backdrops.

In addition, The LEGO® Group celebrated the anniversary by building one of the tallest LEGO® Rockets ever displayed in Canada.  Through Monday, September 2, 2019, families can visit it at the Ontario Space Centre.  Standing over eleven feet (3.3528 meters) tall, the rocket model is comprised of over 80,000 LEGO® bricks, and built-in lights, sound and fog machine for smoke effect give the appearance of blasting off.

In June, I wrote “Lego Partners with N.A.S.A. for Apollo 11 Lunar Landing, Mars Exploration Sets.” The LEGO® Creator™ NASA Apollo 11 Lunar Lander (Set #10266) is comprised of 1,087 pieces and became available at LEGO® Stores and the online LEGO® Shop by clicking here on Saturday, June 1, 2019.

HighRes_10266_Lunar-Lander_product.jpgFigure 1 Credit: The LEGO® Group Caption: The LEGO® Creator™ Expert N.A.S.A. Apollo 11 Lunar Lander measures 7” (20 cm) high, 8” (22 cm) wide, and 7” (20 cm) deep.

 

LEGO® CITY Mars Exploration sets depict N.A.S.A.’s future ambition.  They are part of the LEGO® City theme (product line) rather than LEGO® Space because the theme LEGOLAND® Space (later LEGO® Space) was devoted to sets in the vein of science fiction and is no longer being produced, whereas LEGO® CITY (originally known as LEGOLAND® Town) has had four subthemes that dealt with exploration of outer space in the present with realistic space shuttles: Launch Command (1995-97), Space Port (1999), and Space (City) (2011), and Space Exploration (2015).  LEGOLAND® Space launched forty-one years ago in 1978, as part of the System within the System alongside LEGOLAND® Town (now LEGO® City), LEGOLAND® Castle (later (LEGO® Castle).  [The way fans call LEGO® Castle sets from 1978 to 1983 as “Classic Castle,” fans call LEGO® Space sets from 1978 to 1987 “Classic Space.”] Over the years, The LEGO® Group has developed nineteen different LEGO® Space subthemes.  [I covered the history of the LEGO® Space science fiction theme and the LEGO® CITY Space subtheme that was more grounded in reality, up until 2015, in “Lego Space Product Lines.”] There have been over twenty LEGO® space shuttles.  The smallest was from the 2001 LEGO® Advent Calendar and was comprised of just ten pieces.  The 3D C.G.I. (computer-generated imagery) animated films The LEGO Movie (2014) and The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part (2019), which Warner Brothers Animation Group produced, paid homage to Classic LEGO® SPACE Minifigures™ with the character Benny the Spaceman.

In addition to celebrating the history of N.A.S.A.’s exploration of outer space, The LEGO® Group aims to inspire children to become the space explorers of the future with seven new LEGO® CITY Mars Exploration building sets inspired by N.A.S.A.’s planned future missions to return to the Moon and reach and explore Mars.

To ensure that the sets reflect many technical details of the rockets, rovers, and equipment that N.A.S.A. may someday use to send astronauts to Mars, LEGO® Group designers met frequently with N.A.S.A. during development of the seven sets.  During visits to the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas and the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, the toy designers adjusted product designs to more closely reflect real-world technologies.  For example, when the designers learnt about the necessity to take precautions against contamination prompted designers to add face masks for the engineer Minifigures™.  The team also re-designed white LEGO® rockets to a burnt orange color based on the actual materials N.A.S.A. intends to use.  Historically, rockets may have been painted white for aesthetic reasons, but the extra coat of paint adds unnecessary weight.  The collection became available around the rest of the world on June 1st and became available in North America on June 23rd.

Credit: The LEGO® Group Caption: This video, entitled “Big Space Manifesto,” combines live action footage and animation to get children excited about the prospect of N.A.S.A. sending people to Mars.

LEGO® CITY Mars Exploration Sets

Set Name Set Number Description List Price
Satellite Service Mission 60224 Sets includes a one-man space shuttle with a cockpit that opens for a Minifigure™ astronaut and a satellite with opening solar panels $9.99
Rover Testing Drive 60225 Set includes a Mars Rover and equipment such as a laptop computer, video camera, remote control, and rock drill $29.99
People Pack – Space Research and Development 60230 This set of 14 Minifigures™ represents all the professions that make outer space exploration possible: 7 astronauts, a rocket engineer, a mechanical engineer, a botanist, a drone engineer, a camera operator, and a reporter.  The set also includes a robot. $39.99
Mars Research Shuttle 60226 Set includes a shuttle, Martian geodes that can be stored in a drone preparatory to placing them in the shuttle’s cargo bay $39.99
Lunar Space Station 60227 Set features three detachable, modular compartments that recreate life at a space station with kitchen, living area, and research lab $59.99
Deep Space Rocket and Launch Control 60228 Set includes a monorail to send astronauts to the multi-stage Space Launch System (S.L.S.) rocket and prepare for launch by adding a mobile device and companion LEGO® CITY Explorers app to simulate an interactive control panel $99.99
Rocket Assembly & Transport 60229 Set includes a multi-stage rocket, rover lab, assembly frame building with crane to launch the rocket, and transport crawler $149.99

 

60224-Satellite-Service-Mission.jpgFigure 2 Credit: The LEGO® Group Caption: This is the Satellite Service Mission (Set #60224).

60225_Box1_v39.jpgFigure 3 Credit: The LEGO® Group Caption: This is Rover Testing Drive (Set #60225).

60230_Box1_v39.jpgFigure 4 Credit: The LEGO® Group Caption: This is boxed People Pack – Space Research and Development (Set #60230).

60230-People-Pack-Space-Research-and-Develop.jpgFigure 5 Credit: The LEGO® Group Caption: This is People Pack – Space Research and Development (Set #60230).

 

Released in 2018The LEGO® Ideas Women of NASA (Set #21312) is comprised of four Minifigures™ that represent four women who have played important roles at N.A.S.A. – astronomer and educator Nancy Grace Roman (1925-2018); computer scientist and entrepreneur Margaret Hamilton; astronaut, physicist, and entrepreneur Sally Ride (1951-2012); and astronaut, physician, and engineer Mae Jemison – and three builds (constructs) that illustrate their areas of expertise.  Margaret Hamilton’s build features a stack of book elements that represents the books of listings of Apollo Guidance Computer onboard flight software source code she and her team developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1969. Nancy Grace Roman’s build features a posable Microscale Hubble Space Telescope and a projected image of a nebula.  Sally Ride and Mae Jemison’s build features a Microscale launchpad and Space Shuttle Challenger with three removable rocket stages.  The set also includes printed nameplates for each of the four women for display purposes and a booklet about the four women and the fan creator and LEGO® designers who made the set. The list price of this set is $24.99, but the set is becoming hard to find.  In the U.S.A., call the LEGO® Catalog at 1-800-453-4652 to check availability.

HighRes_LEGO-Ideas-Women-of-NASA_A.jpgFigure 6 Credit: The LEGO® Group Caption: This is LEGO® Ideas Women of NASA (Set #21312).

HighRes_LEGO-Ideas-Women-of-NASA_D.jpgFigure 7 Credit: The LEGO® Group Caption: From LEGO® Ideas Women of NASA (Set #21312), this is Mae Jemison, Sally Ride, on a Microscale launchpad flanking the Space Shuttle Challenger with three removable rocket stages.

 

In June of 2017, The LEGO Group introduced the LEGO® NASA Apollo Saturn V (Set #21309) in the LEGO® Ideas theme.  Products in this theme are designed by fans thirteen-years-of-age-and-older and then fans (thirteen-and-over) all over the world can vote on designs they want to see brought to market.  If a proposal receives 10,000 votes or more, within a certain time frame, a review panel at The LEGO® Group will examine the proposal and it may become a real product.  It measures over 39” (100 cm) high and 6” (17 cm) in diameter.  The rocket is about 1:110 scale and features a removable S-IC first rocket stage with main rocket engine details, removable S-II second rocket stage with rocket engine details, removable S-IVB third rocket stage with the Apollo spacecraft and rescue rocket at the top of the whole spacecraft.  The set includes the Lunar Lander and Lunar Orbiter, three astronaut Microfigures that were new in June of 2017, and three stands to display the Apollo Saturn V rocket horizontally. It is comprised of over 1,900 pieces.  The set includes a booklet on the Apollo missions to the Moon and the designers of the set.  The list price is $119.99.  The set can be purchased online from the LEGO® Shop by clicking here.

HighRes_NASA-Apollo-Saturn-V_1.jpgFigure 8 Credit: The LEGO® Group Caption: This is the model of the Saturn V rocket from LEGO® Ideas NASA Apollo Saturn V (Set #21309). It measures over 39” (100 cm) high and 6” (17 cm) in diameter.

HighRes_NASA-Apollo-Saturn-V_2.jpgFigure 9 Credit: The LEGO® Group Caption: The rocket is about 1:110 scale and features a removable S-IC first rocket stage with main rocket engine details, removable S-II second rocket stage with rocket engine details, removable S-IVB third rocket stage with the Apollo spacecraft and rescue rocket at the top of the whole spacecraft.

In a press release, The LEGO Group stated, “For 40 years the LEGO Group has been providing creative inspiration for children around the world to build and imagine the landscapes, habitats, jobs and vehicles of space with themed building sets.”

Inforgraphic600x1800_V2

Figure 10 Credit: The LEGO® Group Caption: This infographic depicts forty-six years of LEGO® sets devoted to outer space and relays other related fun facts.

“We’re honored that we have been collaborating with space agencies around the world to develop content and products that further nurture a child’s interest in space,” stated Mr. McNally. “Ensuring that building sets, such as the new LEGO CITY Mars Exploration feature realistic details may further assist kids’ understanding of the influence that human space travel has had on their everyday lives, and to enable kids to see themselves playing a part in future missions.”

Credit: The LEGO® Group Caption: This video depicts the timeline of LEGO® space sets from the introduction of Classic Space in 1979 onward.

ENDNOTES

[1] The Harris Poll conducted the surveys online on behalf of The LEGO® Group among children from China (n=1,000), the United States of America (n=1,000), and the United Kingdom (n=1,000) aged 8-12 (May 30 to June 8, 2019) and 326 parents with at least one child age 5-12 (May 17-22, 2019) in China (n=250), the United States (n=326), and the United Kingdom(n=241). Child respondents were recruited via their parent or guardian. Samples in both surveys were weighted on demographic variables (including age, gender, region, and others) to match the distribution in the population. The online surveys are not based on a probability sample and therefore no estimate of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

[2] Aldrin was pilot of the Apollo 11 lunar module.  Collins was pilot of the command module and remained in lunar orbit while Armstrong and Aldrin landed on the Moon in the lunar module.

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