The National Air and Space Museum collection boasts some impressively large objects in its collection, but our smaller objects are nothing to sneeze at. Just last week we added some extra small, but extra cool, new objects to the collection, measuring just a few LEGO® bricks high.
The prototype for the popular "Women of NASA" LEGO® set joined the Museum’s collection last week, helping to tell the story of some inspiring groundbreakers in aerospace. The prototype features mini figures of astronauts Sally Ride and Mae Jemison, computer scientist Margaret Hamilton, astronomy expert Nancy Grace Roman, and mathematician Katherine Johnson. (Johnson declined for her likeness to be a part of the manufactured kit, so when "Women of NASA" hit toy shelves in November of 2017, it featured only four women.)
“Providing role models for children in the toy aisle is a strong way to encourage those who might not get any push to even learn about something like engineering.”
In the summer of 2016, science writer Maia Weinstock added her "Women of NASA" design to the LEGO® IDEAS platform, which lets fans submit their own ideas for LEGO® products and vote for their favorites.
Weinstock’s design—described as “Ladies rock outer space!” on her project page—quickly picked up momentum. In just 15 days, she got the 10,000 votes needed to move the project to LEGO®’s review board, which handpicks fan designs to become manufactured sets. (Other winning projects include a LEGO® Curiosity rover, and a 1179-brick Saturn V rocket kit.)
Less than a year later, Weinstock’s design was available to buy. While the whirlwind contest (and getting to know the real-life Margaret Hamilton and Nancy Grace Roman over the course of the project) were highlights, what’s most important to Weinstock is helping inspire the next generation to explore careers in STEM.
In fact, showcasing diverse stories is how Weinstock selected the women she wanted to feature in the set. After starting with childhood hero Sally Ride, Weinstock wanted to “pick a range of individuals who were both well-known and less-well-known, and I wanted to represent diverse cultural backgrounds and roles at NASA.” Showing a range of experiences of women and people of color in STEM (who, Weinstock notes, are underrepresented in these fields) was a priority.
“Providing role models for children in the toy aisle is a strong way to encourage those who might not get any push to even learn about something like engineering,” she added. “Also being LEGO®, it just encourages kids to build, and building is a fundamental skill not just for engineering but for creativity, which you can never have enough of.”
The LEGO set's role as a source for inspiration was one of the reasons why it was selected to become part of the Museum's collection.
“These artifacts and the Museum share a core interest: using the history of spaceflight to inspire the next generation of explorers,” space history curator Margaret Weitekamp said. “In addition to having the commercially-available set already in the collection, acquiring the prototypes allows the Museum to show the creative thought process and historical research that went into the concept.”
Now, Weinstock’s prototype can inspire future girls and boys (and the young at heart) to build and explore. To Weinstock, that’s “truly a thing of wonder.”