Although the scientific mission is officially unmanned, LEGO and NASA worked together to create the perfect team
NASA made history earlier this week when it successfully managed to manoeuvre the unmanned space probe Juno into orbit around the giant planet Jupiter. But just because there were no astronauts onboard the radiation dodging probe doesn’t mean there isn’t a crew – in the shape of three specially designed LEGO figures.
The trio was placed inside the spacecraft before it launched on August 5th, 2011, and represent two mythical figures and one of the heroes of astronomy. The first two were cast in the shape of Roman god Jupiter, after whom the planet is named, and his wife Juno, after whom the mission takes its name.
The third is designed to represent Galileo Galilei, the Italian astronomer who in 1610 discovered four of Jupiter’s largest moons, Europa, Callisto, Ganymede, and Io. The Galileo figure is holding both a telescope and a globe of the planet Jupiter.
“These [minifigures] are made by the LEGO company in a special agreement with NASA,” said Scott Bolton, the Juno mission’s principal investigator, in a statement, adding that the unique crew members were made out of “spacecraft-grade aluminium.”
The three-man crew of the Juno probe, depicted in LEGO along with the planet Jupiter [NASA]
A press spokesperson for the space agency said that the three LEGO pieces are all produced from the same piece of metal, explaining that aluminium was chosen to allow the crew to survive the huge temperature extremes experienced during their 591km journey. Aluminium was also chosen because of its non-magnetic properties, meaning the three LEGO figures would not pose any problems to the probe’s special instruments, Mashable reports.
LEGO and NASA have paired together in a joint agreement that hopes to encourage public engagement in science education.
"We put these LEGO minifigures on board Juno in order to inspire and motivate and engage children, to have them share in the excitement of space exploration and reaching for the best goals that you can," Scott Bolton said.
While the LEGO pieces aboard Juno have broken records for the farthest distance travelled by the Danish toy, they are not the first ones ever to go into space. In 2011, before the probe started its five-year journey to Jupiter, a set of LEGO minifigures made their way to the International Space Station.