LEGO Education partners with NASA to send figurines to space on Artemis I mission

The partnership is centered around an educational series being used in more than 100 countries by thousands of educators.

When it takes off in the next few months, NASA's Artemis I mission will have a few more passengers -- albeit tiny ones. Artemis I is the first in a series of increasingly complex missions that will try to enable human exploration to the Moon and Mars, according to NASA.

NASA has partnered with LEGO Education to send up two figurines that have been part of an educational series run by the two organizations centered around teaching young children about the difficulties and beauty of space. The mini figurines going to space -- named Kate and Kyle -- have been the main characters of the Build to Launch: A STEAM Exploration Series, a 10-episode tool focused on science, technology, engineering, art and math. 

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Lego said the figurines will be on NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) mega-rocket that will send the Orion spacecraft around the Moon and back to Earth ahead of future flights with astronauts.

The effort will be used to popularize the Build to Launch Series further. LEGO Education head of education impact Dr. Jenny Nash told ZDNet the series is being used by more than 4,000 teachers, schools and parents in over 100 countries. 

Educators are provided with free, hands-on interactive lessons that cover the Artemis missions and seek to inspire children to take on careers in science and technology. Nash said the program is designed for later elementary and middle school children.

Nash explained that the series includes open-ended prompts to allow flexibility and scalability for K-12 teachers to implement all or some of the content into their curriculum. She added that the digital series can be used with LEGO Education sets or is easily adapted for non-tech use with materials commonly available in classrooms or homes everywhere. 

"Sending Kate and Kyle to space is an exciting culmination of the Build to Launch learning series and truly is a once in a lifetime real-world application for students," said Esben Stærk, president of LEGO Education. "Kate and Kyle are not only familiar to those using SPIKE Prime, but as minifigures they are recognizable and relatable for many students around the world. Our hope is that including Kate and Kyle in this space mission will excite students about the possibilities of STEAM careers and engage them in their own learning journey." 

The 10-week series has covered what it takes to launch a successful space mission and seeks to promote collaboration and critical thinking among young kids. The lessons tackle how to get to space, how to work in space and other scientific aspects of space travel. 

Nash noted that the Space Team minifigure represent real-life counterparts like command pilots, mission specialists and more. Each minifigure will host episodes featuring their NASA counterpart, as well as interact with students and teachers who submit questions and share their learning experiences on social media using #BuildtoLaunch, Nash said.

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Kids watching the Build to Launch series

LEGO

Nash explained that NASA and LEGO have a longstanding partnership, and NASA turned to the company as it tried to develop an educational program tied to the Artemis I mission.

"We found a lot of synergies in our mission and theirs. Our mission is to inspire the builders of tomorrow, and we want every student to be able to be successful. We really thought about what experiences students can have and what resources teachers would need to bring a learning series to life. We worked closely with NASA over the last several months in creating this series about what the actual problems are that need to be solved in order to be successful with the Artemis I mission," Nash said.

"What are people that are involved daily and weekly preparing for in the mission? How do we bring the students into an understanding of that? And from that, we built the idea and designed the program around these interactive episodes where students are hearing from folks that are involved at NASA."

LEGO created full teachers guides for the program that come with assessment rubrics, lesson plans and other frameworks to help explain concepts to kids. 

The program also focuses on the science and engineering around space travel, explaining to kids how the rockets are put together and more.

"I was lucky enough to visit a school just last week and go into a classroom where they're doing this work. Just seeing what the students created, hearing them talk about it and sharing their excitement and passion was incredible," Nash said. 

"It was amazing how proud they were of what they were able to create and hearing them explain their different thinking. We've seen a lot of really great engagement with this. We tried to target late elementary, middle school kids but created it in a way that made it flexible so that many teachers can bring it to their classroom."