Three funny-looking astronauts are heading to Jupiter aboard NASA's Juno spacecraft on Friday. The LEGO figurines, appropriately, represent the Roman god Jupiter, his wife Juno, and Galileo Galilei. While the rest of the Juno spacecraft is orbiting Jupiter, measuring the amount of water in the planet's atmosphere and trying to understand its evolution, the specially constructed toys will hopefully inspire young children to be interested in space and science. It turns out that the Juno's playful payload is just the latest project in a long-standing partnership (called called "Bricks in Space") between NASA and LEGO.
"Any of you that have children know that LEGOs are very popular with kids, as well as really helps teach them about building and engineering," principal investigator for the Juno mission said at a press conference on Wednesday. "We hope that that [these LEGO Minifigures] will increase awareness of children about the space program and get them interested. This will also help them understand both the mythological studies that went on... and also the contributions that Galileo made."
The NASA partnership is probably best known for the space-themed LEGO sets that first appeared in 1973. Since then, LEGO figurines have flown on the space shuttle, gone to Mars and visited the International Space Station, where astronauts attempted for to build model spaceships in zero gravity. Space-faring LEGOs aren't the same as the ones you buy in Walmart, though.