Space Shuttle Endeavour is scheduled to lift off the pad at 3:47 p.m. EDT in Florida today with a very special payload. Not only will two seasoned MIT astronauts be on board--Greg Chamitoff '92 and Mike Fincke '89--the shuttle will also be carrying 13 Lego sets that will be used aboard the International Space Station for playtime (which NASA euphemistically refers to as "research"). Chamitoff and Fincke will MIT join alumna Cady Coleman '83 aboard the ISS.
The launch marks the final mission for Endeavour, which, along with Atlantis, will be retired by NASA this year. President Obama and his family are expected to attend the shuttle's launch, as is Rep. Gabby Giffords, whose husband Mark Kelly is leading the crew on mission STS-134.
Over the course of the two-week mission, the Endeavour crew is slated to perform four spacewalks and deliver the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer and spare parts, a high-pressure gas tank, and of course the Lego sets.
Still curious about the Legos? NASA says Earthbound students and children will have access to similar sets, so they'll be able to perform tasks parallel to the crew members. Some tasks, for example, might focus on the complexity of building things in a microgravity space environment. Leland Melvin, NASA's associate administrator for education, says, "These projects not only foster creativity but also instill in the young builders a real sense of the engineering and design principles that NASA uses every day. Fun learning activities like these can help inspire kids to become the next generation of explorers."
Get InvolvedLaunch: Watch live streaming coverage of the launch and ongoing NASA TV coverage of the STS-134 mission on NASA Television.
Tweetup: More than 150 @NASA followers are attending a massive Tweetup scheduled to take place the day of the launch. Those who aren’t on site can follow Tweetup activities in real time by visiting the Buzzroom or keeping an eye out for Twitter hashtag #NASATweetup.
Learn: Brush up on STS-134 trivia by visiting NASA's website for the mission.
Legos: Maybe you know a student or child (or ::cough:: yourself) who would be into engaging with the NASA-Lego project. If so, head over to legospace.com.