The Seattle sisters behind a series of missions to launch Lego toys into the stratosphere on high-altitude balloons are at it again. This time, they’re teaming up with the pros at NASA for a flight tied to the Aug. 21 total solar eclipse — and they have just one request.
Twelve-year-old Rebecca Yeung and her 10-year-old sister, Kimberly, need your help recruiting the co-pilot for Loki Lego Launcher 3.0.
It’s become tradition for the girls to launch a photo of their late cat Loki and a Lego minifigure to the edge of space on a balloon. The maiden voyage sent R2-D2 nearly 80,000 feet up in 2015. Last year, a Lego toy representing Rey from “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” the 2.0 mission took a turn.
This time, they have their heart set on choosing a strong female role model to join Loki on the next adventure.
The sisters told GeekWire that they couldn’t decide on which woman to launch, so they set up a poll to let their fans and followers do the choosing. They chose their finalists based on three criteria: Each candidate had to be an empowering woman, a recognizable figure and someone either fictional or not alive today.
“We’ve narrowed it down to three options: Merida from the movie ‘Brave,’ Hermione Granger from Harry Potter and Amelia Earhart, the first pilot to cross the Atlantic,” the girls said in a blog post. “We think that all of them were strong, empowering girls.”
So far, Lego Amelia Earhart is in the lead, with Hermione in second place and Merida in third. The girls will make their decision based on the voting in time for August’s big day.
The Yeung sisters will be working alongside other citizen scientists in a campaign called the Eclipse Ballooning Project, which will be gathering high-altitude data during the total phase of August’s eclipse. Video and photos from the flights will be shared with NASA and the world.
Totality will be visible from a path about 70 miles wide that extends from the Oregon coast all the way across the country to the coast of South Carolina.
Rebecca had been studying the all-American solar eclipse at school, which is what sparked the idea to send up Loki Lego Launcher 3.0 to watch the moon’s shadow glide across the Earth.
“It’s funny because we thought it was an idea that we came up with by ourselves,” she said. “And then we found out NASA was doing it with people across the country.”
They teamed up with the Montana Space Grant Consortium to send up a 4.4-pound payload that will allow for more science than their previous missions. Their cargo includes two GoPro cameras, a SPOT Trace GPS tracker, an APRS radio tracker, a power-generating solar panel — and, of course, Loki and the Lego figure.
“We’ll still have the GPS and radio devices tracking in real time, so we’ll all be able to follow along,” the girls said in an email to GeekWire.
More than 50 teams in all are signed up across the U.S. for the Eclipse Ballooning Project. Most of them are college teams, with a few high school groups. The Yeungs will be among the youngest participants.
“I think it’s going to be exciting,” Kimberly said. “They’re all basically almost professional scientists. It’ll be cool to see their experiments.”
The sisters said they’re glad to be a part of a scientific campaign rather than mere eclipse-watchers. Their mission’s prime objectives are to capture pictures of the moon’s shadow on Earth, and collect and analyze data from the flight computer and solar panel. The girls are also hoping to join a microbiology project.
The first two Loki Lego launches took place in rural central Washington, but this time, the sisters will be traveling to Glendo, Wyo., to join other scientists in the path of totality.
The trip will be more than a science mission — it’s also a family road trip. The Yeungs plan to take in the sights at national parks along the way.
The success of the sisters’ earlier balloon missions brought them nationwide attention. They were invited to tour NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, and last year they met President Barack Obama at the White House Science Fair. Most recently, they were the stars of a documentary about their journey.