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The Tiniest Astronauts Ever
published during a new moon.
07/06/2016

Tiniest Astronauts Ever

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

A lot of odds and ends have made it into space. Star Wars toys, wedding rings, and “Ode to Joy” sheet music have all traveled with astronauts, who are allotted up to two pounds of personal mementos on their flight. Though LEGOs have graced the cosmos before, NASA is sending the smallest, strongest yet to orbit Jupiter.

The trek to the final rendezvous was a long one — nearly five years, to be exact — until it reached its make-or-break moment on July 4th. The Juno mission is historic: It’s the first spacecraft to ever peek under Jupiter’s ominous surface, among other firsts, like being the first solar-powered spacecraft to function so far from the sun. That’s why its long solar array arms make it the size of a basketball court; they have to capture more of that sweet, juicy sunlight.

It’s also one of the fastest human-made objects ever, with speeds up to a face-melting 165,000 miles per hour.

Juno has a lot to prod, and during its 20-month orbit, its three small passengers will tag along for the ride. NASA hopes their steely (well, aluminum-y) LEGOnauts will inspire kids to look into science and related fields.

Aboard Juno is a teeny iteration of her husband, Jupiter, a Roman god who got a little too saucy with the ladies for comfort, so he hid his shenanigans under some clouds. He holds a lightning bolt because of his status as the king and god of the sky.

Next to him is Juno, who’s holding a magnifying glass to remind her lustful husband that she’s onto his nonsense (even though NASA says it’s “to signify her search for the truth,” which is also accurate.) Finally, there’s Galileo with his signature telescope, who made a few discoveries about Jupiter like its satellites. Those are known as the Galilean moons in his honor.

But the LEGO figures aren’t their signature yellow. Instead, they’re made of a special space-grade aluminum that can withstand the pressures of space travel, Space.com reports. Jupiter, Juno, and Galileo are also tucked under a thermal blanket like the spacecraft to protect them from heat, cold, and radiation.

When the mission completes in 2018, Juno will veer into Jupiter’s atmosphere and burn up to protect its potentially habitable moons away from any Earthly contamination.

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