Half a century after humans first set foot on the Moon, Lego has revealed a new range of toys meant to inspire kids to explore even further.
It’s the 50th anniversary of the first Moon landing on Saturday, 20 July and a chance for the whole world to look back at one of mankind’s greatest achievements. Society and technology has changed almost beyond belief in that time and yet manned space exploration has all but stopped.
There are plans to visit Mars in the future but for the last few decades exploring outer space has happened largely only in fantasy, blurring the lines for children who in their lifetime have never seen anyone go further than an orbiting spacestation. It will be down to them to kickstart a new era of discovery and inciting that wanderlust is exactly what Lego has been trying to do for the last 41 years.
Lego Space themes are almost as old as the Moon landings themselves, starting in 1978 with simple sets that featured no antagonists and no weapons – just peaceful exploration. That changed over the years, to the point where Star Wars is now amongst Lego’s most popular products, but this summer they’re launching a new range of Lego City sets that are both more realistic and more educational.
There are more adult-orientated sets to celebrate the Moon landing specifically, with expert models recreating the Saturn V rocket and Lunar Lander, but the Lego City sets are aimed at Lego’s core child audience and set in the near future with new space shuttles and a manned mission to Mars. The vehicles aren’t based on specific real-world technology but they have all been designed with the help of NASA itself.
‘We had some of our team travel over to NASA to get inspiration’, explains design manager Martin Klingenberg to Metro. ‘It was very educational for us, learning about the way they think and the limitations of space travel and design. The idea that you only have very limited space and everything has to be modular, and that the colours of vehicles are all functional – white is meant to reflect heat and black is meant to absorb.’
Although the sets may not be based on existing vehicles they are inspired by ongoing projects at NASA, as Klingenberg explains.
‘They made us aware of something they’re developing that we were able to put in a set: a small helicopter being tested for the Mars rover. It’s a little drone that can fly in Mars’ atmosphere and is able to scout the terrain and then give feedback to the rover to find out if there’s anything worth going after’.
Details like that help with the educational aspect of the sets but they also mean they don’t feature any kind of implied violence. ‘It’s not only conflict play that can trigger kids’ imagination’, says Klingenberg. ‘For our space line specifically it’s all about preparing for the mission, where kids can disconnect and recombine modules and customise their creations. Are they launching a satellite? Do they need a robot? Does the spacestation need repairing? There are many layers to the play that sparks a child’s imagination.’
The sets are also designed to be as inclusive as possible, not just in terms of male and female minifigures but the actual roles they perform. ‘We’ve got the People Pack that shows the different careers that you can do’, says Klingenberg. ‘There are fitness trainers, there are people that are into robotics, there are engineers, there are biologists… we want to show kids that there’s a lot more needed for travelling to space than just the astronauts.’
‘Whenever we create a Lego City line we ensure there are aspirational roles for all children, no matter their gender. And this is also reflected in the roles and careers that are possible within NASA or any space organisation.’
Whatever the future of real-life space exploration Lego will continue to make space sets, both realistic and fantastical, but according to Klingenberg they both have the same underlining purpose.
‘We haven’t been to Mars yet in real-life, we’ve just sent robots, but our sets are always about giving kids an aspiration for the future and making them believe in what’s possible and what they can achieve. It’s all about sparking their creativity and getting them to dream.’