Two European Space Agency (ESA) astronauts are set to begin exploring Mars after they land on toy store shelves later this week.
Playmobil, in cooperation with ESA, is set to release its "Mars Expedition" playset in Europe and the United Kingdom on Friday (Dec. 17). The co-branded toy includes everything that children ages 6 to 12 need to stage their own imaginary mission on the Red Planet, including two Playmobil ESA astronauts, an ESA-branded Mars rover with working light and sounds, a Mars trike, a drilling station and an ESA research laboratory.
"We're already sending probes and rovers to Mars, but people will eventually go to there and it will be the children of today who will, one day, set foot on the Red Planet," Emmet Fletcher, head of ESA's branding and partnerships office, said in a statement. "Developing ESA-themed toys helps children imagine how they would explore this new world."
The Playmobil Mars Expedition set, which retails for €39.99 (or $64.99 when it goes on sale in the U.S. on Jan. 1, 2022), is modeled after ESA's and NASA's joint goal of collecting, caching and returning samples from Mars.
"The [playset's] drill is used to search for minerals in the rocks. If astronauts discover something interesting, they swap the drill attachment for the gripper arm and carefully pick up the object. At the research station, all samples are examined in detail," Playmobil wrote in its product description. "To cover shorter distances, the astronauts use the maneuverable Mars trike. Rock samples can be stowed in the loading box at the front of the trike."
A similar series of events are now underway on Mars using NASA's Perseverance robotic rover. The six-wheeled explorer uses a drill to extract rock samples to be individually cached and left on the Martian surface for a future mission to collect, launch off the planet and ultimately return to Earth.
ESA is working with NASA to explore mission concepts for an international Mars sample return campaign between 2026 and 2030.
The sample return is the latest in a series of Mars missions undertaken by ESA. Mars Express has been in orbit around Mars since 2003 and was joined by the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter in 2016. ESA's ExoMars mission continues with the Rosalind Franklin rover and the Russian Kazachok surface platform, which are planned for launch in 2022.
The Mars Expedition set continues a collaboration between ESA and Playmobil. In 2019, Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano was joined on the International Space Station by two Playmobil figures made in his likeness. Duplicates of the 3-inch-tall (7.5-cm) figures were made available to the public with copies of a special issue of Playmobil Magazine.
More recently, Playmobil announced that its robot figure "ROBert" will launch to the space station in 2022 to join German astronaut Matthias Maurer as part of his "Cosmic Kiss" ESA mission.
A similar robot figure is included in the new ESA-branded Mars Expedition set.
"Playmobil has been creating toys as long as ESA has been exploring space. Their enthusiasm, experience and knowhow has been critical in designing this practical, ambitious toy for children across Europe," said Fletcher.
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