News, Science, Technology

Toronto Teens Send Legonaut Into (Near-) Space

Two students launch a legonaut into space.
Two Canadian high school students, Mathew Ho and Asad Muhammad, send a Legonaut into space. Image: screen capture from their time-lapsed YouTube video.

Two teenagers in Toronto, Ont. have taken a giant leap – for themselves, and for one little Lego man.

The teens launched a Lego figure into near-space.

They hooked a helium weather balloon, a home-sewn nylon parachute and four cameras to the figure. And then they went out to a soccer field and let their contraption go.

The cameras were set to take pictures every 20 seconds.

When their figure came back to Earth, they looked at the pictures the cameras had taken.

They were shocked to see their little Lego figure, clutching his Canadian flag, with a picture of the curved horizon of the Earth in the background.

That means the figure had gone up very high. In fact, it had gone about three times as high as the average airplane flies (24 kilometres above the Earth).

About four months ago, the teens had decided it would be cool to try to launch a Lego figure into space. They spent about $400 on materials and most of their free time on Saturdays on the project.

Neither Mathew Ho nor Asad Muhammad thought their project would work as well as it did.

Since their story was reported by The Toronto Star newspaper, it has been covered by many journalists around the world. The two have been given free cameras by Canon, asked to speak at engineering competitions and have been given money to cover the cost of their project. Lego also sent them congratulations.

On Saturday, The Toronto Star published pictures of the figure–which The Star is calling a Legonaut–with Canadian celebrities including astronaut Roberta Bondar, talk show host George Stroumboulopoulos, politician Olivia Chow, a gorilla at The Toronto Zoo and the Stanley Cup.

The two teenagers attend Agincourt Collegiate high school in Scarborough, Ont., near Toronto. They are in grade 12. Their project wasn’t for school—it was just for fun.

The Star said that Muhammad’s family came to Canada from Pakistan when he was in middle school; at that time, Muhammad spoke no English. Other students ignored him, except for Ho—and the two became friends.

The details of the teens’ project are very interesting. The two had to figure out where the balloon would land (about 122 kilometres away), how to keep the cameras working even in the cold atmosphere above the earth, and whether or not they were doing something dangerous or illegal by sending the figure into space.

For more details about the project, read the original article from The Toronto Star here.

Here is The Toronto Star’s Legonaut picture gallery with Canadian celebrities.

This video of the Lego figure’s flight has gone viral, with more than half a million views. (1:32)

By Kathleen Tilly

Writing/Discussion Prompt
Many people think of great ideas, but only a few people follow through with them. In your opinion, what is more important: the idea or the action?

Reading Prompt: Text Features
The article explains that the Legonaut was sent into “near-space.”  “Space” officially begins at 100 kilometres above sea level.

Open the link that features a simple chart showing how the atmosphere is divided into several parts.

How does this graphic help you to understand the article? What new information did you learn from this chart?

Primary and Junior
Identify a variety of text features and explain how they help readers understand texts (OME, Reading: 2.3).

Identify a variety of text features and explain how they help communicate meaning (OME, Reading: 2.3).

Grammar Feature: Portmanteau word
A portmanteau word is a blend of two or more words into one new word. An example from the article is “Legonaut” which combines the words “Lego” and “astronaut.”

Can you think of any portmanteau words that you use?

Get creative and make up your own portmanteau words by combining two words together.