Lego blasts off with new set to honor 'Women of NASA'

Lego celebrates the contributions of women in NASA with a new set featuring Sally Ride, Mae Jemison, and others. 

Some real-life heroes will soon join such Lego superhero icons as Spiderman, Ironman, and Batman: the women of NASA.

Kicking off Women's History Month, the Danish company has announced it will be producing a "Women of NASA" set paying homage to space pioneers who have played underappreciated roles in the exploration of the final frontier. Including such figures as Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, and Nancy Grace Roman, the “mother of Hubble” telescope, the set was chosen as the winner of the most recent Lego Ideas competition.

Science editor and writer at Massachusetts Institute of Technology News Maia Weinstock, summed up the significance of the set in her project proposal.

Women have played critical roles throughout the history of the U.S. space program, a.k.a. NASA or the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Yet in many cases, their contributions are unknown or under-appreciated — especially as women have historically struggled to gain acceptance in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).

A long-time enthusiast of space and women in STEM, Ms. Weinstock saw a way to combine her passions with her interest in Legos. In an email interview with The Washington Post, she explained that it seemed the time was right to leverage growing public interest in space and the history of women in STEM, as evidenced by what she called the “healthy social media presence” and the box office success of recent hit “Hidden Figures,” which tells the story of the African-American women who helped launch John Glenn into orbit.

"I hope it sets a new example for both girls and boys," Weinstock told the BBC. "Girls, in that they can and should be engineers, scientists, and mathematicians, and boys, in that they internalise at an early age that these careers are for everyone, not only men."

In addition to Sally Ride and Nancy Grace Roman, the set also includes: the first African-American woman in space, Mae Jemison; a NASA researcher known for calculating and verifying trajectories for the Mercury and Apollo programs, Katherine Johnson (a character in "Hidden Figures"); and developer of the onboard flight software that brought the Apollo missions to the moon, Margaret Hamilton (also portrayed in "Hidden Figures").

Dr. Johnson, who was played in "Hidden Figures" by Taraji P. Henson, was recently honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Dr. Jemison, who first traveled in space in 1992, expressed her enthusiasm for the set on Twitter.

As depicted in Weinstock’s mockup photos, the set features a desktop frame to display the mini figures, as well as a number of small scenes based on famous historical photos of the women, such as the reams of code that got astronauts to the moon, a miniature Hubble Space Telescope, and a mini space shuttle.

The Lego ideas program lets hobbyists submit designs, and sets that garner more than 10,000 votes are weighed by the company. This round, Women of NASA beat out a number of other designs including the Large Hadron Collider, a Star Wars Landspeeder, and the Addam’s Family Mansion.

And this wasn’t Weinstock’s first submission. The company rejected a 2015 design for female justices of the Supreme Court for being too political without even going to a vote. She also proposed a set featuring women in biological engineering.

Lego has come under fire in the past for creating sets that reinforce gender stereotypes, but has been trying to make amends in recent years by including more diverse role models, such as a female scientist.

Next, Lego will finalize the product design for production, and expects it to go on sale late this year or early next year.

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