Back in October 2010 I was in Zwolle, The Netherlands talking with some friends about our NXT LEGO Project. We discussed many ideas, but one stuck out. 2011 was to be the end of the Space Shuttle program; a program that provided much of the technology for LEGO MINDSTORMS. So how to give back? Leveraging our talents, we began to flush out the idea for a BIG model. Come January, we began to work on the LMS Space Shuttle. The project was a team effort by John Brost and me representing America, Marc-Andre Bazergui representing Canada, and The LEGO Group in Billund, Denmark. Over the next 4 months, we constructed the shuttle from about 8,000 parts. Marc-Andre built an amazing robotic arm (fitting since he is Canadian). John build a stand that could rock the 5 kilogram orbiter 30 degrees side to side. I worked on the main orbiter body. With little more than pictures to go by, I build an interactive orbiter.
The shuttle has 11 motors and 12 sensors giving the user control of the arm, flaps, rudder, ailerons, cargo doors, and roll of the orbiter. The forward and rear thrusters also can light up! There are 2 remotes and 4 control NXTs. The NXTs link over Bluetooth and RS485. HiTechnic accelerometers and gyroscopes track the movement of the orbiter to keep the system well in control, while touch, light and ultrasonic sensors ensure the machine will not damage itself. The shuttle debuted on the April 12, 2011: the 30th anniversary of the Space Shuttle and the 50th anniversary of manned space flight. That following Saturday, the model was on hand at Yuri’s Night at NASA Langley Research Center. Since then, the model has been to FIRST World Championship in St. Louis, Brickworld Chicago, and schools all over the midwest. Currently the model is on display at Kennedy Space Center for the launch of STS-135 and shuttle Atlantis. Following the launch, the shuttle will travel to Texas where it will visit Johnson Space Center and be a featured demo at National Instrument’s NIWeek in August.
Like the real shuttle, the LEGO MINDSTORMS Space Shuttle has spawned some innovations of its own. The most famous of which is the first NXT-G RS485 block. This block (and supporting LabVIEW VIs) are what permits inter-brick communication for the running of orbiter systems. This new technology has already been leveraged by people all over the world for everything from a Masters Thesis to Wall-E 5.
It has been a lot of fun to work on such a large, complex project. I cant wait for the next one!