New Lego set to celebrate NASA’s women pioneers

Five women pioneers of NASA are becoming Lego characters.

Computer scientist Margaret Hamilton, mathematician Katherine Johnson, astronomer Nancy Grace Roman and astronauts Sally Ride, the first woman in space, and Mae Jemison, the first African-American woman in space, are part of a new line Lego announced Tuesday.

The idea came from Maia Weinstock, deputy editor of MIT News, as a part of a Lego Ideas competition.

“Maia Weinstock’s Women of NASA project was a way for her to celebrate accomplished women in the STEM professions. In particular, those who’ve made a big impact through their work at NASA,” said Lego Ideas spokeswoman Lise Dydensborg in a video.

The Lego line, which was created in conjunction with NASA, includes a display of the five famed women and several vignettes of NASA technology and history, including the codes and calculating instruments used in space missions and a mini space shuttle. The official Twitter account for NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope tweeted that the toy set will be available at the end of this year or start of 2018. Final design and prices are still under consideration.

Weinstock said the Lego’s new Women of NASA set “provides an educational building experience to help young ones and adults alike learn about the history of women in STEM.”

NASA women have been in the spotlight in recent months thanks to the Oscar-nominated film “Hidden Figures.”

During the Academy Awards, Johnson, who is portrayed in both the movie and the Lego set, appeared on stage with the stars of “Hidden Figures.” Actor Taraji P. Henson, who portrayed Johnson in the film, praised her as “a true NASA and American hero.”

Lego came under fire in 2014 after seven-year-old Charlotte Benjamin criticized the company’s lack of professional female figures in a widely-shared letter. Lego responded with an all-female set that included a paleontologist, astronomer and chemist, and have now added to their female cast with the “Women in NASA” set.

“I applaud Lego for their hidden figures,” said Reshma Saujani, founder of Girls Who Code, a non-profit aimed at bringing women into technology. “I think efforts, like by Lego, that are trying to change this and to show a different cultural aspect for young girls is really important.”

Mattel’s Barbie faced similar criticism for the 2014 book, “Barbie: I Can Be a Computer Engineer,” which depicted the toy as a poor engineer and coder who sought the help of her male friends to correct her mistakes. Following the public response, Mattel created a Barbie game developer.

“Toys play a pivotal role, especially early on in what girls think they can be,” Saujani said. “You can’t be what you cannot see, and if you’re not comfortable tinkering and taking things apart and building things, you’re not going to go into those careers.

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