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article imageVideo: Astronaut builds LEGO model of space station in space

By JohnThomas Didymus     Feb 25, 2012 in Science
A Japanese astronaut Satoshi Furukawa, built a LEGO replica of the orbiting International Space Station (ISS) while living aboard the real-life station in space.
According to Furukawa, a Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) flight engineer, "I enjoyed building it. The ISS was put together in space, piece by piece. It's very similar to how you put together LEGO bricks on Earth."
The two-foot (0.6-meter) long model which replicates the 360-foot (110-meter) real-life space station, according to CollectSpace.com, is more than just a toy. The LEGO space station is part of an eduction collaboration between the Danish toy company LEGO and NASA.
The LEGO model and others are intended for use in eight educational activities being conducted by ISS crew members and made available to educators across the U.S. for use in classrooms.
According to NASA flight engineer Ron Garan: "Education outreach is a big part of what we do at NASA. Just the fact that we are flying in space and the amazing things we are doing in space are very inspiring. I know when I was a kid I was inspired by the space program. We have lots of different methods [to do] educational outreach, [LEGO is] one of them. I think that's one of the reasons we have the space station, to inspire the next generation."
Furukawa used the model as demonstration in a series of videos for educating children about living and working in space. Furukawa said: "Kids like LEGO and when they see LEGO floating in space, I'm sure they are excited. Well, I hope this experience inspires them to make greater efforts to study science and technology."
According to Furukawa's crewmate, NASA astonaut Michael Fossum, who was in command of the real space station while Furukawa built the LEGO model: "He really enjoyed doing that and he kind of became 'the LEGO guy.'"
Satoshi Furukawa holding LEGO model of ISS
Satoshi Furukawa holding LEGO model of ISS
NASA
Fossum acknowledged, however, that building a LEGO space station in microgravity wasn't child's play. He said: "There was actually some learning curve to that, believe it or not. LEGOs are an example of something that is a lot of fun on the ground but it can be very frustrating when you have a lot of loose floating pieces."
According to Space.com, to keep the blocks from floating around and to prevent accidents on board the space station, Furukawa worked with the LEGO pieces in a glovebox, a sealed container with gloves protruding into it from the sides. The glovebox is a simplified model of the type often used in hazardous science experiments. Fossum said there were actually flammability concerns about the LEGOs. Even after it had been fully assembled, the LEGO station could only be exposed to open cabin air for two hours because of flammability concerns.
Fossum explained: "A lot of the work dealing with the small pieces had to be done in an enclosure, like a simple payload glovebox. A simple structural one with plastic sides so you could see inside, but a glovebox so you don't have all of these little pieces getting loose and becoming either lost or potentially getting jammed in equipment or even becoming a flammability hazard."
Furukawa said: "The challenging part was using the thick rubber gloves in the containment system because it made me clumsy in building the LEGO space station. I needed to use the system to put many small pieces of LEGO under control in microgravity."
Space.com reports the LEGO space station was made up of hundreds of bricks. It was launched into space partially-preassembled to avoid the difficulty of assembling the smallest pieces in microgravity. Furukawa reveals some interesting parallels between the real-life station and the LEGO model: "It's a solid model but I believe it can't bear its own weight under gravity." The real-life model also was launched partially assembled because it's structure can only sustain its own weight in space.
Satoshi Furukawa working inside glovebox on LEGO ISS
Satoshi Furukawa working inside glovebox on LEGO ISS
NASA
Furukawa also built LEGO models of lunar exploration and Mar rovers, the Hubble Space Telescope and a GPS satellite.
According to CollectSpace.com , astronauts will use the models to explore the effects of microgravity on the structures and the results will be shared with students and teachers back on Earth. LEGO designer Daire McCabe, said: "The astronauts will build one in space, and kids will build the same model on Earth, to see how long it will take in space and how long it will on Earth. From then on, we want to focus on a little of the building and then focus on the icons, teaching and talking about the models."
Teresa Sindelar from NASA's Teaching From Space Office at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, explained: "We want to make sure we keep [the models] as consistent as possible [with real-life] so when you are comparing life on station with life in a classroom that you have good data."
More about Astronauts, LEGO space station, Space
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