Denmark's first astronaut is launching to the International Space Station with a Danish toy that is famous worldwide.
Andreas Mogensen will fly to the space station with LEGO minifigures bearing the official logo of his mission for the European Space Agency (ESA). At the orbital outpost, the 38-year-old aerospace engineer from Copenhagen will find 20 more of the iconic 2-inch-tall (5 centimeters) toys, which were earlier launched onboard a Russian cargo spacecraft to support his flight's educational outreach activities.
"ESA and LEGO Education have partnered together for this mission," Mogensen wrote as part of an AMA, or "Ask Me Anything," on the website Reddit in reply to a question submitted by collectSPACE. "Among other things, we are running a competition for Danish school children to tell a story about my mission using LEGOs and making a video of their story." [LEGOs and Space Travel: A Photo Gallery]
"The 20 LEGO minifigures are ... one way that we hope to connect with younger children," he added.
Mogensen's mission, dubbed "iriss" for the Greek goddess Iris who linked humanity with the cosmos, will begin as he launches on the Soyuz TMA-18M spacecraft with Russian commander Sergei Volkov and Kazakh cosmonaut Aidyn Aimbetov from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Wednesday (Sept. 2) at 12:37 a.m. EDT (0437 GMT).
After a two-day journey to reach and dock with the station, Mogensen, Volkov and Aimbetov will be greeted on board the orbiting laboratory by the Expedition 44 crew, including Gennady Padalka, Mikhail Kornienko and Oleg Konenenko of Roscosmos, Scott Kelly and Kjell Lindgren with NASA, and Kimiya Yui with JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency).
For eight days, the nine crew members will work together, before Padalka, Aimbetov and Mogensen return to Earth on board Soyuz TMA-16M on Sept. 12. Volkov will remain on the station until March, when he will land with year-long crewmates Kelly and Kornienko on Soyuz TMA-18M.
Mogensen's eight days on the station will be dedicated to conducting science research and testing new technology, including trying out a suit designed to alleviate astronauts' back pain and donning a pair of augmented reality goggles to guide him through maintenance tasks.
"One of the experiments that I will be performing, called THOR, involves taking photos of thunderstorms and giant lightning strikes," he wrote on the Reddit website. "As an engineer, I am looking forward to controlling rovers on the ground from the International Space Station. I also hope I will have time to release two cubesats."
"One of the cubesats is built by students in Denmark and I think this is a super opportunity for students to build real satellite technology that will operate in space. It would be a pleasure for me to help the students achieve their goal," Mogensen said.
Mogensen's LEGO minifigures, which feature either ESA's logo or one of the two "iriss" mission patches, will be used as prizes for the winners of several on-going educational activities in Denmark and throughout Europe, according to Slawomir Zdybski, an education outreach officer at ESA.
In addition to the minifigures, Mogensen said he also has with him Danish flags, iriss mission patch decals, "some parachute material with signatures from skydivers around the world" and a baseball cap from the University of Texas at Austin, where he earned his doctorate in 2007.
He is also taking a small Viking whetstone that was found in Denmark in 1994, loaned by the Moesgaard Museum. (Mogensen's mission logo features stylized wings that are also meant to represent "a Viking ship as used to explore the world and seek unknown horizons.")
The iriss LEGO minifigures are the latest examples of the Danish company's toys to head to orbit. Previous space station crew members have used LEGO bricks to perform educational demonstrations, including building a model of the orbiting lab itself. Most recently, the Soyuz TMA-15M crew shared space on the outpost with minifigures styled after themselves.
See all three styles of Andreas Mogensen's "iriss" LEGO minifigures at collectSPACE.com.
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Robert Pearlman is a space historian, journalist and the founder and editor of collectSPACE.com, an online publication and community devoted to space history with a particular focus on how and where space exploration intersects with pop culture. Pearlman is also a contributing writer for Space.com and co-author of "Space Stations: The Art, Science, and Reality of Working in Space” published by Smithsonian Books in 2018. He previously developed online content for the National Space Society and Apollo 11 moonwalker Buzz Aldrin, helped establish the space tourism company Space Adventures and currently serves on the History Committee of the American Astronautical Society, the advisory committee for The Mars Generation and leadership board of For All Moonkind. In 2009, he was inducted into the U.S. Space Camp Hall of Fame in Huntsville, Alabama. In 2021, he was honored by the American Astronautical Society with the Ordway Award for Sustained Excellence in Spaceflight History.