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NASA Calling On LEGO Builders

Jul 24, 13 NASA Calling On LEGO Builders

Have NASA’s budget woes gotten so bad that it is now looking to those who have sets of LEGO bricks to determine the space agency’s future? It isn’t quite that bad, but the deadline for the NASA/LEGO contest is coming up.

Actually, NASA and the LEGO Group have partnered to inspire the next generation of aerospace engineers (as well as those who just like building from the heart and imagination) with a design competition intended to spur builders ages 13 and up to use the popular building toys to envision the future of airplanes and spacecraft.

“This is a really cool contest that is meant to unleash the imagination and creativity of students everywhere, and of all ages,” said Leland Melvin, NASA’s associate administrator for education and a veteran, two-time shuttle astronaut, in a statement.

This contest is far more than just snapping together square plastic blocks, far more than just putting those jet engine pieces or rockets and suggesting that some “technobabble” propulsion system in the future can make it fly.

The “NASA’s Future Missions: Imagine. Invent. BUILD” contest includes two categories that participants can enter so those interested better start getting their pieces in order. The first category in the challenge is called “Inventing Our Future of Flight,” and calls on would-be airplane designers to think outside the box – in more ways than one.

Participants will have to design and build their aircraft based on real concepts and new technology NASA’s aeronautical innovators are working on right now to increase fuel efficiency and reduce harmful emissions, as well as noise. In addition to building the model, again using LEGO bricks, participants in this category must also prepare and write a technical paper that describes their submission.

To recap, this means you can build it, but then you need to explain how it will actually work.

Of course, NASA and LEGO want this to be fun and to that end it was noted in the press release, “No idea is too strange if there’s a sound technical reason for it. Among the ideas NASA’s aeronautics team is studying for possible use on future airliners include blending the body of the aircraft and the wing together, putting the engines on top of the wings instead of underneath, and making the wings super long and skinny.”

Entrants in this challenge will also be divided into two groups, a young builders group for students aged 13-18, and an open group for teens and adults.

The second challenge is called “Imagine our Future Beyond Earth,” and this one is open to anyone age 13 to adult, and only challenges participants to use their imaginations to design and build vehicles of the future. In this one, it could be an airplane, rotorcraft, spacecraft, satellite, rover or just about anything else.

In this challenge the construction need not be done with actual LEGO bricks, but could be virtually created with the free LEGO Digital Designer software. Of course, it could be asked what fun is that if you can’t get down on the floor with some plastic pieces? Isn’t this just CAD software design?

Winners in each category and age group will be selected by a panel of NASA and LEGO officials and announced during the week of September 1. The winners will receive a specially made LEGO trophy and a collection of NAA materials, which reportedly include crew patch flown on a Melvin shuttle mission.

Personally, this longtime LEGO builder would rather just build a LEGO pirate ship, but using some of the MEGA Bloks guns from the battleship kits. Now that’s imagination!

Image Credit: NASA / LEGO Group

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