1,000 Lego astronauts traveled near the edge of space on stratospheric balloons and returned safely to Earth on a specially designed landing platform resembling a mini space shuttle.
The Legonauts took off from a small airport in Slovakia on Saturday, May 20, seated in a roofless 3D-printed space shuttle-like vehicle made of a sturdy but lightweight carbon composite material. The shuttle was built by a team of space architects and engineers from Slovakia and the Czech Republic who are passionate about inspiring future generations to learn about space, Tomas Rousek, an architect at XTEND DESIGN, who led the project, told Space.com.
The Lego astronaut minifigures took off on three separate stratospheric balloons in batches of about 330 per flight. The balloons took the mini-spacefarers to an altitude of 21 miles (34 kilometers) before they burst. The landing platforms then returned to Earth under parachutes.
According to Dominik Matusinsky, an executive at marketing agency Kreativ Gang that produced the campaign for Lego, the team had to make sure that none of the astronauts fell off the open-air shuttle during the early stages of the platform's descent.
"To make the [Lego] figures stay on the space shuttle after the balloon burst was a major challenge," Matusinky told Space.com in an email. "We wanted [the figures] to be exposed directly to space, not to be stored inside anything. But during the free fall stage [before the parachute opened], they experienced speeds of up to 300 km/h [186 mph], so that was a challenge."
For the balloons to comfortably lift off, the whole platform including its passengers had to weigh no more than 6 pounds (2.7 kilograms).
"The challenge was to build the space shuttle as lightweight as possible," added Rousek. "We ended up making it from carbon fiber, 3D printed stainless steel and plastic."
Two cameras filmed the rides: One monitoring the crew compartment;, the other attached to a boom filming a view of the entire platform.
The Lego astronauts will now be put up as a prize in a drawing in the Czech Republic and Slovakia for anyone who buys and registers a new Lego set.
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Tereza is a London-based science and technology journalist, aspiring fiction writer and amateur gymnast. Originally from Prague, the Czech Republic, she spent the first seven years of her career working as a reporter, script-writer and presenter for various TV programmes of the Czech Public Service Television. She later took a career break to pursue further education and added a Master's in Science from the International Space University, France, to her Bachelor's in Journalism and Master's in Cultural Anthropology from Prague's Charles University. She worked as a reporter at the Engineering and Technology magazine, freelanced for a range of publications including Live Science, Space.com, Professional Engineering, Via Satellite and Space News and served as a maternity cover science editor at the European Space Agency.