NASA's Juno spacecraft is orbiting the giant planet Jupiter, having survived a harrowing journey through radiation and dust to enter into orbit on Monday night. The spacecraft is technically uncrewed, but there are three passengers of sorts.
A trio of Lego figurines are aboard the spacecraft, each representing important discoveries about the largest planet in our solar system. The Lego pieces are crafted in the likeness of Galileo Galilei, who discovered four of Jupiter's moons — Europa, Io, Callisto and Ganymede — in 1610, the Roman god Jupiter and Jupiter's wife Juno.
"These [minifigures] are made by the LEGO company in a special agreement with NASA," said Scott Bolton, the mission's principal investigator, in a statement. They don't look like typical Legos, though, for good reason.
"They're made out of spacecraft-grade aluminum," Bolton said.
The Lego pieces have set records for the fastest-traveling Legos on record, since the spacecraft hurtled away from Earth for five years before reaching Jupiter on July 4.
The Lego pieces are part of a joint agreement between the Lego company and NASA that is aimed at engaging the public in science education. The space agency is encouraging the public to use Lego pieces to construct models of the future of space exploration, and submit these to NASA as part of a competition.
The Juno figure holds a magnifying glass to signify her search for the truth, while her husband holds a lightning bolt. Galileo holds both a model of the planet and his telescope.
These Lego pieces are not the first to explore space, however. In 2011, for example, astronauts aboard the International Space Station played with sets of their own.
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