5 Times LEGO® Actually Went to Space

Since the first space sets began to adorn store shelves in 1978, the LEGO® Group has inspired several generations to dream about the stars. Through imagination and play, many of us have adventured to far off worlds, whether it be through the various space themes, City sets, or even Star Wars. But, did you know that LEGO® bricks have actually been in space? Well, they have, and in this piece we’ll have a look at five forays LEGO® bricks have made beyond our atmosphere. So, what exactly constitutes a trip to “space”? According to international treaties, space begins at the Karman Line, which is about 100 km above sea level. This is actually still within the layer of Earth’s atmosphere known as the thermosphere (which is where the polar auroras occur). It is also where the International Space Station orbits (the ISS is just over 400 km up from sea level). So, for this article, we will examine the instances in which LEGO® has entered the thermosphere and beyond, starting with the closest missions, and heading farther out.

05. Benny in the thermosphere

Did you know Benny has actually been to space? Image Credit: NASA, 2014.

Yes, Benny from the LEGO® Movie has actually been in space. He was launched on June 24, 2016 by a group of students from Old Dominion University in conjunction with NASA. Benny was part of a payload sent into the thermosphere on board an unmanned NASA Terrier-Improved Orion sounding rocket. These rockets can launch up to 200 km above sea level, surpassing the official boundary into space by up to 100 km.

04. LEGO® ISS on the ISS

Satoshi Furukawa, the Japanese astronaut who became the first human being to play with LEGO® in space. Image Credit: Sotomayer, 2011.

The Endeavor Space Shuttle launched on its last mission into orbit on May 16, 2011. It carried on board equipment vital to the functioning of the International Space Station (ISS), as well as materials used for scientific study. However, it also carried the first ever LEGO® sets to go to space. The sets were part of a joint education program between the LEGO® Group and NASA. They included a model of the ISS, as well as simple machines meant to be assembled in a micro-gravity environment. They were assembled by Japanese astronaut Satoshi Furukawa (who incidentally became the first person to ever play with LEGO® in space). Furukawa had to assemble the sets inside of a glove box. This is a clear plastic container that has rubber gloves you can insert your hands into so that you can work in the box without actually touching anything. It was used to prevent the loss of (and potential damage by) tiny bricks on board the ISS. Students could build the same sets on Earth, and then compare the functioning of simple machines on Earth to how they work in space.

03. Minifigures take over the ISS

A Minifigure on board the International Space Station. Image credit: ESA, 2015.

Denmark’s first astronaut, Andreas Morgensen, made his way to the International Space Station on September 2, 2015. Is it surprising that the first Dane to enter orbit would bring his country’s most popular brand along for the ride? Morgensen took with him 20 exclusive LEGO® Minifigures, which were later given away on Earth to Danish school children who took part in a competition. 

02. LEGO® on Mars

Image of the Biff Starling Astrobot Minifigure and LEGO® bricks on board the Spirit Lander. This was photographed on Mars. Image credit: The Planetary Society, 2004.

The Spirit Exploration Rover landed on Mars on January 4, 2004. It was followed on January 25 by the Opportunity Exploration Rover. Attached to the lander of each explorer (the platform that carried the rover to the surface of the planet) was a CD time capsule. The capsule contained the names of four million people who submitted their details for the capsule. Each Capsule was attached to the lander using aluminum LEGO® bricks. Additionally, each CD sported a picture of a different Minifigure “Astrobot” explorer. Spirit carried the picture of Astrobot Biff Starling, while Opportunity had Sandy Stardust. Each rover was actually named through a contest that was run by NASA in conjunction with the LEGO® Group and the Planetary Society. Each CD also had a secret code written on it that Earthlings could only decode once the rovers had landed, and images were taken by the rover cameras on Mars.

01. Where no Minifigure has gone before

LEGO® Minifigures on board the Juno spacecraft. Image credit: NASA JPL, 2011.

The Juno spacecraft was launched from Earth on August 5, 2011. Its mission: to study the largest planet in our solar system, Jupiter. The ultimate goal of the ongoing research is to gain an understanding of how Jupiter came to be, and thus understand more about the origins of our planetary system. Juno reached Jupiter on July 4, 2016, after a five year journey. On board were three LEGO® Minifigures made to resemble the roman Gods Jupiter and Juno, as well as the scientist Galileo Galilei (who first observed Jupiter’s moons in the 1600s). These were not standard Minifigures, instead they were cast from aluminum in order to survive the rigors of space travel. These intrepid Minifigures have traveled farther than any human being ever has, and their one-way mission is set to end in July 2021.

LEGO® has inspired many of us, including me, to imagine far off worlds. This is one of many space exploration photos I have taken over the years.

It is pretty amazing to think that there are LEGO® bricks on Mars, and Minifigures orbiting Jupiter. This is especially true when you consider that the most distant place an actual human has set foot is the moon. Where will Minifigures go next? Feel free to leave your thoughts below, or share your LEGO® space memories. 

Until next time,

-Tom

p.s. If you like the content at True North Bricks, I would love it if you followed me here on WordPress (click the “follow” option in the menu at the bottom of the page), FacebookPinterest, or Twitter for regular updates.

References:

Bowman, J. 2015. Denmark’s first person in space brings along 20 LEGO astronauts. CBC News. Click here to read the original article. Accessed: 04/21/2019.

European Space Agency (ESA). 2015. The story behind the LEGO Astronauts. 2015. Andreas Mogensen’s IRISS Blog. Click here to read the original article. Accessed: 04/21/2019.

Greicius, T. 2018. Juno Overview. NASA. Click here to read the original article. Accessed: 04/21/2019.

Kaplan, S. 2016. Why a tiny Lego version of Galileo rode on NASA’s Juno probe all the way to Jupiter. The Washington Post. Click here to read the original article. Accessed: 04/21/2019.

Kooser, A. 2012. Astronaut builds LEGO space station in real space station. CNET. Click here to read the original article. Accessed: 04/20/2019.

NASA. 2003. Homestretch for NASA & LEGO “Name the Rovers Contest”. NASA Mars Exploration Rovers. Click here for the original article. Accessed: 04/21/2019.

NASA. 2004. Press Release Images: Spirit. NASA Mars Exploration Rovers. Click here to read the original article. Accessed: 04/21/2019.

NASA. 2011. LEGO® Bricks, formerly known as NLO-Education-2. Space Station Research Explorer on NASA.gov. Click here to read the original article. Accessed: 04/20/2019.

NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). 2011. LEGO Figurines Aboard Juno.  Click here to read the original article. Accessed: 04/21/2019.

NASA. 2014. NASA’s Terrier Improved Orion Rocket. Click here to read the original article. Accessed: 04/21/2019.

O’Hallarn, B. 2016. ODU Engineers Launch Experimental Payload, And Benny, From Wallops. News at ODU. Click here to read the original article. Accessed: 04/21/2019.

The Planetary Society. 2004. Images of the Mars DVD: Crack the Codes. Click here to read the original article. Accessed: 04/21/2019.

Sotomayor, J. 2011. Lead Increment Scientist’s Highlights for the First Week of November 2011. NASA. Click here to read the original article. Accessed: 04/20/2019.

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