6 Times LEGO® Went to Space

Six Times LEGO Went to Space

NASA will finally launched the long overdue Artemis I mission on September 3, 2022. This unmanned flight tests the Orion space capsule that will eventually return mankind to the Moon. Incidentally, no human being has set foot on Earth’s natural satellite since 1972. On this first outing, Orion will orbit the moon and come home on a mission lasting up to 42 days. While no human being is onboard the spaceship, it still has an interesting crew all the same. Among them are four LEGO® Minifigures. Yes, you read that correctly. Four Minifigures are launching to the moon. However, this is not the first time our favorite plastic bricks have been in space. Today, as part of Space Week at True North Bricks, we’ll look at 6 times LEGO® went to space.

NOTE: This is an updated version of an article we initially wrote in 2019. Click here to read it.

Before we begin, let’s talk about space. 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 thermosphere (the layer of Earth’s atmosphere where polar auroras occur). It is also where the International Space Station orbits (the ISS is just over 400 km above 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

6 times LEGO went to space: 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 launched on June 24, 2016 thanks to a group of students from Old Dominion University (Virginia, USA) 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

6 times LEGO went to space: ISS model built onboard the actual ISS.
Satoshi Furukawa, a Japanese astronaut, was the first human being to play with LEGO® in space. Image Credit: Sotomayer, 2011.

The Endeavor Space Shuttle launched its last mission on May 16, 2011. It carried equipment and scientific materials to the International Space Station (ISS). Additionally, it carried the first LEGO® sets to space. The sets were part of a joint education program between the LEGO® Group and NASA. They included a model of the ISS and simple machines meant for assembly in a micro-gravity environment. Japanese astronaut, Satoshi Furukawa assembled the sets. Consequently, he became the first person to play with LEGO® in space. Furukawa assembled the sets in a glove box. This is a clear plastic container that prevents the loss of (and potential damage by) tiny bricks on board the ISS. Students built the same sets on Earth, and compared the functioning of simple machines on Earth and in space.

03. Minifigures take over the ISS

6 times LEGO went to space: 20 Minifigures arrived on the ISS along with the first Danish astronaut.
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 brought his country’s most popular brand along for the ride? Morgensen took 20 exclusive LEGO® Minifigures to the ISS. Later, these were given away on Earth to Danish school children who took part in a competition. 

03. Artemis I

On September 3, 2022, Minifigures embark on their next celestial adventure. After a joint educational series created by NASA and LEGO® Education, the stars of the series head for the moon. They will spend between 26 and 42 days on a round trip to the Moon. This crucial mission will test flight systems onboard the Orion spacecraft prior to the manned Artemis II mission.

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. Subsequently, the Opportunity Exploration Rover followed on January 25. Each explorer reached the surface of the Red Planet onboard a lander. Attached to each lander was a CD. The CDs contained the names of four million people. Special aluminum LEGO® bricks attached each CD to the landers. Additionally, each CD sported a picture of a different Minifigure “Astrobot” explorer. Spirit carried the picture of Biff Starling, while Opportunity had Sandy Stardust. Each CD also had a secret code on it that Earthlings could decode once the rovers landed. Rover Cameras photographed the discs once on Mars and sent pictures back for people to decode.

01. Where no Minifigure has gone before

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

The Juno spacecraft 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. Consequently, we can understand more about our planetary system’s origins. 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 gone farther than any human being ever has. Their one-way mission was set to end in July 2021, but was extended to September 2025.

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.

There you have it, 6 times LEGO® went to space. It is pretty amazing to think that there are LEGO® bricks on Mars, and Minifigures orbiting Jupiter. Now, the Artemis I Mission sent them to the moon! Minifigures have traveled farther into space than any human being ever has. Pretty crazy, right? Did you know LEGO® bricks and Minifigures have been in space? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below or reach out on social media. Also, be sure to tune back in everyday this week for another exciting Space Week entry!

Until next time,

-Tom

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