When the #21312 LEGO Ideas Women of NASA set became available at the beginning of the month, I purchased it right away from the Online LEGO Shop. I didn’t want to end up missing out like with the #21110 LEGO Ideas Research Institute in 2014, which sold out within hours after initial release. (I was eventually able to get the LEGO Ideas Research Institute, but only by the kindness of a fellow LEGO fan via the Brickset Forum.) The LEGO Ideas Women of NASA set arrived in the mail a couple of days ago, and I immediately set down to build it. 🙂
The #21110 LEGO Ideas Research Institute and the #21312 LEGO Ideas Women of NASA are actually similar in more than one way. Both sets include three small vignettes highlighting women in scientific fields, both have been immensely popular even outside of the LEGO fan community, and both are somewhat controversial with LEGO fans. And, both are fast sellers.
Based on the pictures I have seen online, I was expecting the #21312 LEGO Ideas Women of NASA to come in the same size box as the #21110 LEGO Ideas Research Institute, but it is actually a bit larger (same as the #21109 LEGO Ideas Exo-Suit box), and comes with 96 more pieces and 1 additional minifigures compared to the Research Institute.
The box is the standard higher quality packaging with a flip-up lid that LEGO Ideas sets are known for. I really like these boxes, as they double as storage containers both for the loose pieces while building, and for storing the finished set.
The instruction booklet is 79 pages and includes a brief bio for all four women featured in the set (one page for each), as well as a couple of pages about the fan designer, Maia Winstock, who originally submitted the project to LEGO Ideas, and LEGO designers Gemma Anderson and Marie Sertillanges, who finalized the project for production. While the graphics and information in the booklet are very nice, the paper quality significantly deteriorated compared to previous LEGO Ideas sets. The paper is flimsy and thin, the same you find in regular LEGO sets. I’m not so happy about this.
➡ LEGO IDEAS WOMEN OF NASA – MARGARET HAMILTON: According to the booklet, Margaret was born in 1936, and was always interested in mathematics. Her early work, beginning in 1959, included developing weather predicting and air-defense software at MIT, in an era when computer science and software engineering were not yet established disciplines. When NASA contracted with MIT to develop the guidance and navigation system for its Apollo Moon-landing program, Hamilton’s experience led to her becoming the leader of the team responsible for developing the spacecraft’s on-board flight software for the command module and the lunar module. Hamilton is now CEO of Hamilton Technologies, and for her work as a pioneering computer scientist, she received NASA’s Exceptional Space Act Award in 2003, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Obama in 2016. In other words, she is awesome.
The little LEGO vignette for Margaret features a stack of books, representing the books of listings of Apollo Guidance Computer (AGC) onboard flight software source code. Behind her, there is a whiteboard and a coat hanger, which are both authentic details from her real life picture. The writing on the chalkboard and her nameplate are printed pieces. The minifig version of Margaret is extremely detailed with printing at both the front and back of her torso, the front and side of her legs, and her shoes are also printed. She comes with a double sided face with an open and close mouthed smile, and I’m especially impressed by how well her facial features match her photograph. All in all, a simple little diorama that captures the character nicely, but there are not a whole lot of play-features.
➡ LEGO IDEAS WOMEN OF NASA – SALLY RIDE: Sally Ride was born in Los Angeles in 1951. While completing her PhD in physics at Stanford University, she read in a student newspaper that NASA was recruiting astronauts, and for the first time, women could apply. Sally was one of 8,000 applicants and one of six women selected by NASA in 1978. While training for her first spaceflight, she endured intense media attention focused on her gender, but she insisted on being treated like any other astronaut. In 1983, she blasted off aboard the Challenger to become America’s first woman in space, and then flew again on the Challenger in 1984. After retiring from NASA, she became a physics professor and inspired young people in math and science. She passed away in 2012, and was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
➡ LEGO IDEAS WOMEN OF NASA – MAE JEMISON: Mae started Stanford University at the age of 16, and graduated with Bachelor’s degrees in Chemical Engineering and African Studies. She then earned her doctorate in Medicine from Cornell University Medical College. She practiced medicine and lived in West Africa as the Area Peace Corps Medical Officer for Sierra Leone and Liberia. In 1987, she was one of the 15 individuals chosen from among 2000 applicants to train to be a NASA astronaut. In 1992, she launched into space aboard the Endeavour, spending over 190 hours conducting life sciences, material sciences and medical experiments. Traveling over three million miles, Mae was the first women of color in the world in space. Since then, Mae founded an international science camp for kids, taught environmental studies, and is leading a global initiative to push the frontiers of space exploration to ensure human interstellar travel within the next 100 years. She has been the recipient of many awards and honors, and is a member of the National Academy of Medicine, the Women’s Hall of Fame, and the International Space Hall of Fame. And she also loves cats, science fiction, art, dance, gardening and mysteries. Definitely a busy person!
Sally and Mae are featured together in the largest vignette amongst the three included with the #21312 LEGO Ideas Women of NASA. Between their minifigures with included nameplates stands an awesome little Space Shuttle Challenger on a tiny launchpad. I lov this little ship! It just looks so nice and is quite swoosh-able! In fact, it even comes with three removable rocket stages! The two minifigs come in prints on both the front and back of their torsos, representing their spacesuits. I’m again very impressed with the very authentic facial features. Capturing real life people in minifig form is not easy. If they are too realistic, they end up looking creepy, or if they are too simple, they just look like generic cartoon characters. All four minifigures in this set are lovely and respectful representations of real people. Kudos to the graphic designers!
➡ LEGO IDEAS WOMEN OF NASA – NANCY GRACE ROMAN: Born in 1925, Nancy Grace Roman formed an astronomy club with her classmates at the age of 11. After graduating early from high school, she worked at several observatories while earning a Bachelor of Arts degree and a PhD in Astronomy. Throughout her education, she battled against the belief that women should not want to be scientists. In her late twenties, she discovered unusual behavior in the emission spectra of the star AG Draconis. She published her findings, becoming well recognized in the astronomy field. After working at the Naval Research Laboratory, she applied to the newly formed NASA and became the first Chief of Astronomy for its Office of Space Science, as well as the first woman to hold an executive position at the agency. She is most famous for her work in the planning of the Hubble Space Telescope launched in 1990, and is often called the “Mother of the Hubble”. She received the NASA Exceptional Scientific Achievement Medal in 1969, and even has an asteroid named after her!
The Hubble Space Telescope vignette is my second favorite build in this set. It’s a fun little model with lots of greebling elements, including a repurposed garbage can. The 1×4 dark-blue tiles, the 3×4 panel (with a projected image of a planetary nebula), and of course her nameplate, are printed pieces. The only thing I don’t like about this vignette (and the only complaint I have about the entire set) is that the garbage can separates from the rest of the telescope quite easily. Surprisingly, it is the least secure connection of the Hubble Space Telescope, even though the pieces are attached with four studs. I attribute this to the softer, more yielding nature of modern LEGO pieces, which tend to not stick together as well as older LEGO elements.
The entire build took only about half an hour, but it was quite fun. There are no difficult building techniques, or too many complex steps, which makes this a perfect set for casual LEGO fans and young builders (the recommended age is 10+). The three vignettes look very nice, the minifigs are exceptional, and while the set is mostly meant as a display piece, both the space shuttle and the telescope are quite playable.
As far as interesting parts, there are some of those too. We already discussed the printed elements, which (besides maybe the nameplates) could be very useful in other applications as well. In addition, there are some nice small greebling pieces, like the 1×1 round plate with hollow stud in light-bluish-gray (you get four plus one extra), 1×1 rounded modified plate with handle (you get two in white), two black ice cream cones, three black cones (as thrusters for the Space Shuttle), two (plus one extra) watermelon slice tiles in light-bluish-gray, and 1×1 round plate with hollow stud and short bar at the side in black (you get one plus one extra). The minifigure parts also work nicely in other settings.
I did mention at the beginning that there are some controversies about this set. I’m not going to go into it in detail, as LEGO fans have talked about this at various forums and blogs, but the main issues people raise is that the set is more like a minifigure pack rather than a proper building set, and that it only highlights the achievements of female scientists, rather than just awesome people at NASA. I don’t feel qualified to analyze social and gender issues, however JANGBRiCKS addresses them well in the video-review below. And I can happily report that the set is definitely more than just a minifig pack. While the instructions are not difficult, you do end up building some nice models that look good on display and also have some play-features. For the audience that voted for this set, I feel like there is a perfect balance of educational value, playability and displayability. Building the set definitely inspired me to learn more about these amazing scientists and the work they have been involved with. Which is exactly what the original creator of the project, science editor and writer Maia Weinstock, wanted to achieve. If a LEGO set makes people learn, build, create, imagine, and talk about science stuff, that’s a good thing!
The first day the #21312 LEGO Ideas Women of NASA became available, social media channels were lit up with excited people who purchased the set right away. These were not just hard-core LEGO fans, but parents, teachers, scientists, journalists, and other people who appreciate the importance of scientific achievements and LEGO’s commitment to educational values. I think it was a good move from LEGO to produce this set, and it seems the general public agrees, as it is already shown as out of stock. LEGO is promising to make more though, so if you are interested, make sure you check regularly under the LEGO Ideas section of the Online LEGO Shop. This is a limited-edition set, so it won’t be around for long even when it gets back in stock again. (Picture below: Margaret Hamilton and Nancy G. Roman at the LEGOLAND Discovery Center in Boston, signing the set.)
Here is the official description of the set: Explore the professions of some of the groundbreaking women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) with the LEGO Ideas Women of NASA set. It features minifigures of 4 pioneering women of NASA— astronomer and educator Nancy Grace Roman, computer scientist and entrepreneur Margaret Hamilton, astronaut, physicist and entrepreneur Sally Ride and astronaut, physician and engineer Mae Jemison—and 3 builds illustrating their areas of expertise. Role-play space exploration from planning to moon landing, beginning with the iconic scene from Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1969 of Hamilton with software that she and her team programmed. Build the posable Hubble Space Telescope and launch a LEGO version of the Space Shuttle Challenger with 3 removable rocket stages. The set also includes a booklet about the 4 featured women of NASA, and the fan creator and LEGO designers of this fun and educational set. Includes 4 minifigures: Nancy Grace Roman, Margaret Hamilton, Sally Ride and Mae Jemison. 231 pieces. Price: $24.99 – BUY HERE
What do you think? How do you like the LEGO Ideas Women of NASA set? Do you have it already? Or are you planning to get it? If you do have it, how did you like the building experience? Feel free to share your thoughts and own review in the comment section below! 😉
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