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March is Women’s History Month and the LEGO Women of NASA set is a great way to celebrate. The iconic toy company announced that the concept was the winner of its LEGO Ideas competition and honors female astronauts, mathematicians and other pioneers of the space program.
Ben Westcott at CNN reports that the winning concept was designed by Maia Weinstock, deputy editor of MIT News. Her proposed playset includes mini figurines of five remarkable NASA women, including Margaret Hamilton, the software engineer who programmed the guidance and navigation systems for the Apollo missions; mathematician and inspiration for the movie Hidden Figures Katherine Johnson; Nancy Grace Roman, the “Mother of the Hubble Telescope;” as well as Sally Ride, the first American woman in space and Mae Jemison, the first African-American female in space. It also includes a mini Space Shuttle and a tiny Hubble, among other props.
“We’re really excited to be able to introduce Maia’s Women of NASA set for its inspirational value as well as build and play experience,” a spokesperson for LEGO told ABC News. The company says it hopes the toys will help inspire young girls to consider careers in STEM - science, technology, engineering and math.
In some ways, the selection of the NASA set is part of an ongoing effort to address criticism that LEGO’s figures underrepresented women. A 2014 viral letter from a 7-year-old named Charlotte complained to the company that their female figurines were lame. “All the girls did was sit at home, go to the beach, and shop, and they had no jobs, but the boys went on adventures, worked, saved people, and had jobs, even swam with sharks,” the handwritten letter said. “I want you to make more lego girl people and let them go on adventures and have fun ok!?! from Charlotte. Thank you.”
In response, LEGO launched a limited-edition Research Institute Set that included a female paleontologist, astronomer and chemist. That set sold out very quickly.
Weinstock, who is now 39, told LEGO in an interview that she played with the toys while growing up in the 1980s, but it wasn’t until 2009 when she made a customized mini-figurine for a friend who is a scientist that she got deeper into the toys. She began making customized figurines of other scientists and would post photos of them online. “I also began trying to meet up with scientists and engineers after I make a minifigure of them, and it’s always amusing to see their reaction,” she says. “I’ve said before, and it’s really true, that I feel like Santa Claus when this happens, because even the most well-regarded, world-renowned scientists and engineers light up like a kid on Christmas when they see their minifig in person.”
Weinstock’s proposed design for Women of NASA uses 291 Lego pieces to build the figurines and their offices, telescopes and spacecraft. Her designs were not final: The company developed the final product. The runner-up in the competition was a Voltron set, which the company says it may also produce.