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The Cosmic Pull

26. LEGO International Space Station

Plastic. 2020. On loan from Aaron Parkhurst.

It is a beautiful set. The Lego International Space Station was my first Covidian purchase, ordered by mail in the UK in early April, 2020 in the first uncertain weeks of the lockdown. As a father to two primary school children, like many of my peers, I found suddenly that my role in a hectic university post and a research focus on the ISS, space medicine and industry had been relegated to the limitations and trials of global pathology, and of course, primary school closures. My days were suddenly filled with Lego. But Lego is, quite bluntly, and rather thankfully, joyous. I confess that there was some haphazard and perhaps misguided motivations in my rationalisations in that purchasing and constructing the Lego ISS would be scholastically and scientifically productive somehow when all the rest of my work, and much of the world, was waylaid. 

That productivity is still under debate. However, it did bring space into my home, in aesthetics yes! But also in ways I didn’t expect. I built it with my kids, who were used to building structures more seeped in stereotypic childhood imagination – castles, pirates, Harry Potter, or their own machinations. The Lego ISS represented my area of work, but also a new type of engineering aesthetic. 

My daughter became delighted with the solar panels, taking them apart and putting them back together regularly, and wanted regular explanation of how they worked. My son used our VR headset (another Covidian purchase) to float through the ISS and would want regular updates on where he ‘was’ on the Lego set. It sat for months in a happy mess on the table in our living room. The kids made regular stop motion films using it as a backdrop, or floating above Hogwarts, or as a destination for pirate ships. (And why not? Space is in many ways lawless.) It was rebuilt in full in May 2020 as the family watched the Space X Demo 2 launch Bob and Doug to the ISS, and again in July 2020 as we watched the Atlas rocket send Perseverance to Mars. 

When lockdown ended and the primary schools re-opened in September, 2020, it was finally packed away and brought to my office, which had recently reopened. Packing up the lockdown mess was bittersweet, like tidying up the house after Christmas break.  Still, Lego printed their own ‘mission patch’ for the Lego ISS, and it has happily and proudly joined my other collection of mission patches from my years of work, and I am very grateful for its service.

The Cosmic Pull