Meet LEGO's "Women of NASA"
March is Women’s History Month. Why not celebrate with this LEGO Women of NASA set. The iconic toy company said that the concept was the winner of its LEGO Ideas competition. It honors female astronauts and mathematicians. It will also honor other pioneers of the space program.
Ben Westcott at CNN reports that the winning concept was designed by Maia Weinstock. She is deputy editor of MIT News. Her proposed playset has mini figurines of five remarkable NASA women. The set has Margaret Hamilton. She was the software engineer who programmed the guidance and navigation systems for the Apollo missions. The set has mathematician Katherine Johnson. She was part of the inspiration for the movie Hidden Figures. The set has Nancy Grace Roman. She is the “Mother of the Hubble Telescope.”
Sally Ride is also part of the set. She was the first American woman in space. Also in the set is Mae Jemison, the first African-American female in space. The playset also has 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. It has an inspirational value as well as a build and play experience,” a spokesperson for LEGO told ABC News. The company says it hopes the toys will help inspire young girls to think about careers in STEM. This includes science, technology, engineering and math.
In some ways, the selection of the NASA set is part of an ongoing effort. It aims to address criticism that LEGO’s figures don’t highlight enough women. It started with a 2014 viral letter. It was from a 7-year-old named Charlotte. She complained to the company that their female figurines were lame. “All the girls did was sit at home, go to the beach, and shop. 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. It had a female paleontologist and an astronomer. It also had a female 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. She made it for a friend who is a scientist. After that she got deeper into the toys. She then 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. People can build the figurines and their offices. They can build 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.