Five women who have made important scientific contributions to NASA will soon be immortalized as little block figures. Lego, the Danish toy company, has selected a set featuring the “Women of NASA” as the winner of their Lego Ideas competition. This Lego set was designed by the US science writer and editor Maia Weinstock, who created the five figurines based on real female astronauts, engineers, and scientists. She was inspired by these women’s achievements and by helping children to learn through play. These sets will be hitting stores in late 2017 or 2018.

Introducing the Lego-ified Women of NASA (left to right): Margaret Hamilton, Katherine Johnson, Sally Ride, Nancy Grace Roman, and Mae Jemison. Image credits: Maia Weinstock

Normalizing women in science

The idea behind this Lego set is to normalize the idea of women in successful science careers for young girls and boys. Because of the stereotype of science, especially engineering or physics, being a man’s career, many young women are deterred from pursuing it. In elementary school, girls and boys perform equally well in math and science. However in high school and even in university, when content becomes more difficult, many girls back away from science. This is due partially to women being stereotyped as not being good at science and math and being encouraged less by parents and teachers to keep going. Many are afraid of failing and don’t have enough support so they drop science.
The way around this problem is to normalize science education as inclusive from a young age and provide good role models to look up to. This Lego set helps to achieve both of these goals; it is definitely a step in the right direction. By promoting women in science as a cultural norm at a young age, young men and women may finally receive equal support in pursuing science careers.

“I was inspired to create the set as a way to celebrate women who’ve made key contributions at NASA and as way to help kids learn through play. I have been making minifigures of real scientists and engineers for a number of years now, and I decided to create this kit for the LEGO Ideas crowdsourcing platform, which invites anyone to submit new ideas for real LEGO sets” — Maia Weinstock

The famous photo of Margaret Hamilton standing next to the stack of software that she and her MIT team produced to navigate the Apollo project…and recreated in Lego. Image credits: Maia Weinstock

Honouring influential women

The real women that are featured in the Legos are:

  • Computer scientist Margaret Hamilton: she developed the on-board flight software for the Apollo missions to the moon in the 1960s and popularized the modern concept of software.
  • Mathematician and space scientist Katherine Johnson: she calculated and checked trajectories for the Mercury and Apollo programs, including the famous Apollo 11 mission that landed humans on the moon for the first time.
  • Astronaut, physicist and educator Sally Ride: she was the first American woman in space in 1983 and later encouraged children, especially girls, to pursue science.
  • Astronomer Nancy Grace Roman: she was integral in planning the Hubble Space Telescope and developed NASA’s astronomy research program.
  • Astronaut and entrepreneur Mae Jemison: she was the first African-American woman in space in 1992 and during her retirement, established a technology and education company.

As far as choosing characters: I wanted to show a variety of women with very diverse backgrounds — in terms of their professions within NASA, their cultural backgrounds, different ages, and so on— Maia Weinstock

Astronomer Nancy Grace Roman, known to many as the “mother of Hubble,” standing with a tiny model of the Hubble Space Telescope. Image credits: Maia Weinstock

Not only will this set encourage women from a young age to consider science careers, but will also prompt parents and children can learn more about the achievements of these influential figures. This would give recognition and renew the cultural relevance of these important scientists.

“Each individual scene tells something about the minifigure or minifigures it’s with: So, for example, I have the two astronauts, Sally Ride and Mae Jemison, standing with a mini LEGO version of the space shuttle, and astronomer Nancy Grace Roman, known to many as the “mother of Hubble,” standing with a tiny model of the Hubble Space Telescope” — Maia Weinstock

Sally Ride and Mae Jemison, standing with a mini LEGO version of the space shuttle. Image credits: Maia Weinstock

It is great that Lego is recognizing the achievements of these female scientists— and making women in science something normal and fun for children.

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