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ESA LEGO-izes Its Rosetta Comet-chasing Craft

In the 1980s, my very first LEGO set was Spacelab, and I spent *hours* working with those finger-numbing blocks to model what should have been NASA’s first outpost on the moon.

It had a space McDonald’s and everything.

Alas, my brilliant work was never presented to any space agency, and several pieces of my prototype moon base have long since gone to that Great Beyond under the living room sofa.

But it seems space agencies of the world today have embraced the power of LEGO, for instance, by using the plastic blocks to create a Rosetta Lander Education Kit.

Rosetta is a mission run by the European Space Agency. The craft launched in 2004 and is headed for a rendezvous with Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, an icy space rock that orbits the sun every 6.6 years.

To meet up with the comet, the craft must fly about 491 million miles (790 million kilometers) away from the sun out to near Jupiter‘s orbit, a journey that will take ten years.

Rosetta has already collected data on a couple space rocks in its path, including making a flyby of asteroid 21 Lutetia this past July.

When Rosetta arrives at Churyumov-Gerasimenko in 2014, it will deploy a small lander, dubbed Philae, onto the 2.5-mile-wide (4-kilometer-wide) nucleus—the main body of the comet.
rosetta-lander-art.jpg
An artist’s rendering of Philae landing on Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

—Image courtesy ESA, image by AOES Medialab

The craft will then orbit the comet-plus-lander for about two years, sending back radio communications to a deep-space antenna in western Australia.

The mission will help astronomers learn more about the nature of comets, which are thought to be made of material left over from the formation of the solar system about 4.5 billion years ago.

The idea for a LEGO version of the lander was born when ESA space scientist Detlef Koschny made a LEGO model of the whole Rosetta spacecraft to help people visualize the craft’s flight path during meetings.

“Not only did the orbital journey become apparent in those meetings, so did the desire of everyone to own a LEGO version of Rosetta,” ESA writes in its press release.

This week engineering and art students at the University of Rome got the chance to test out the kit, which includes all the blocks needed to make a model of the Philae lander, complete with moving parts that can be controlled via computer.
rosetta-lander-lego.jpg
The LEGO lander model, in progress.

—Image courtesy ESA/M. Roos

Ultimately, the kit will be refined and sent out for use in European curricula, according to ESA.

Lucky Europeans. I wonder if any copies will make their way across the pond?