Where no Minifigure has gone before. LEGO reaches Jupiter!
Today is a big day in LEGO history, as well as in space exploration. Launched on August 5, 2011, NASA’s Juno spacecraft will end its five year journey tonight and arrive in orbit of Jupiter. Juno is actually the ninth man-made probe to reach the gas giant, and the second to enter orbit. But, it is the first to carry LEGO Minifigures to the largest planet in our solar system.
These are not your standard Minifigures. They are made out of space-grade aluminum to resemble Galileo and the Roman Gods, Jupiter and Juno. Galileo is credited with some of the earliest discoveries about Jupiter and its moons. In Roman mythology, Jupiter was the God of Thunder who created a screen of clouds to conceal his dubious behaviour from his wife, Juno. Juno, in turn, peered through the clouds from Mount Olympus to determine her husband’s true nature.
The Juno spacecraft is set to peer through Jupiter’s cloud cover and determine the composition of the planet, among other things. It will ultimately allow mankind to understand the gas giant’s formation, and the impact that had on the rest of the solar system, including our own planet’s birth.
This is not the first time that bricks have entered space. Here is a rundown of LEGO space missions:
- January 4, 2004: NASA’s Spirit Exploration Rover landed on Mars. An Image of “Biff Starling”, a Minifigure from the Space theme, was attached to Spirit. The Opportunity Exploration Rover landed on January 25, containing an image of the “Sandy Stardust” Minifigure.
- May 16, 2011: The last space flight of the shuttle Endeavour carried the first ever LEGO sets to the International Space Station. Astronaut Cady Coleman became the first person to play with LEGO in space. She actually had to train for this mission on Earth as she had to build the sets inside of a box so that bricks would not get lost on the ISS and cause problems. The purpose was to create an interactive program exploring the effects of microgravity on simple machines. Students on Earth built the same models to compare results.
- January 2012: two Toronto teenagers launched a homemade weather balloon with installed digital cameras, a GPS enabled cell phone, and a LEGO Minifigure (holding a Canadian flag) into the air. While it did not officially reach outer space, it did reach an altitude of 24 km and entered the stratosphere. This is high enough to see Earth’s curvature. Watch the YouTube video by clicking here. This project has been repeated a few times by various other people.
- September 2, 2015: Denmark’s first astronaut, Andreas Mogensen, arrived on the International Space Station carrying 26 exclusive Minifigures bearing the “Project Thor” mission logo.
- June 23, 2016: Benny, from the LEGO Movie actually reached space. He was launched on a satellite that entered into the thermosphere between 115 – 130 km up. The beginning of the thermosphere (roughly 100 km from the surface of the planet) is considered outer space by international treaties.
Jupiter is by far the biggest expedition Minifigures have ever undertaken. It is just amazing to think that right now, there is LEGO orbiting another planet (or, at least there will be in a few hours). Until next time!