Houston, there’s a problem with the new Women of NASA LEGO set, according to advocates who promote more Latina representation in the sciences.
Although the set received praise when it was released earlier in March for its diversity and for including one of the African-American women featured in the movie Hidden Figures, one pioneering woman was notably missing—the first Latina woman in space, Dr. Ellen Ochoa.
“We were also excited that something had been put out representing the women, but we also noticed that there was a missing piece. We were disappointed that Dr. Ochoa was not considered or included,” said Cecilia Fernandez, director of administration for Latinas in STEM.
The mission of Latinas in STEM is to make professions in science, technology, engineering and math visible to young girls.
“Even if it’s just a figurine, it could have an impact on them and their future. It’s saying, ‘hey, here’s someone who looks like you,’” Fernandez said.
In 2010, only 3.5 percent of bachelor’s degrees in STEM went to Latinas, according to a 2015 report authored by Patricia Gandara, professor of education at UCLA. Currently, 1 in 5 women in the United States is Latina.
The LEGO set, like the women it represents, breaks ground for highlighting women in science and for including women of color.
The set’s creator, Maia Weinstock, sees it as a way to get young girls interested in STEM: science, technology, engineering and math. She submitted her idea through the LEGO Ideas program.
The LEGO figurines represent five trailblazing women: Sally Ride, the first woman in space; Astronaut Mae Jemison, the first African American woman in space; Katherine Johnson, the mathematician whose story is featured in the movie Hidden Figures; computer scientist Margaret Hamilton; and Nancy Grace Roman, who served as NASA’s chief astronomer.
It would seem appropriate to include Ochoa, according to Latinas in STEM.
Not only was Ochoa the first Latina in space, but in 2013, she made history again when the Johnson Space Center named her director, making her the first Latina to serve in this role.
Ochoa was selected as an astronaut by NASA in 1990. She became the first Hispanic woman to go to space in 1993 when she flew aboard the space shuttle Discovery as a mission specialist. Three more trips to space followed in 1994, 1999 and 2002. She has more than 975 hours in space, according to her official NASA biography. Among her many accolades, Ochoa holds a doctorate in electrical engineering from Stanford University and is co-inventor on three patents. She was also inducted into the California Hall of Fame in 2015.
Three years ago, Ochoa was featured by Latino USA.
Weinstock chose the women for her set because she wanted to portray a mix of people within the space program.
“I also wanted to show a mix of well-known versus less well-known women; a mix of cultural backgrounds; a mix of professions —mathematician, programmer, scientists, doctor, entrepreneurs— and a mix of ages,” Weinstock said.
Asked if there were plans to add more mini-figurines including an Ochoa one, Weinstock said, “There are no plans to add an Ochoa mini-figure.”
“But I actually made a figure for her a few years back,” Wienstock added. “I had the honor of presenting it to her when I was visiting NASA Johnson in 2014.”
Weinstock said she would most likely not be submitting another set with this theme, but didn’t discount the idea that LEGO could do more sets based on the Women of NASA in the future.
LEGO spokesman Andrew Violante, said the Women of NASA set will be moving into development but the final design and product details were not yet available.
“I cannot offer any comment or details about which mini-figures will be included in the set. I can only confirm that those five women are who were included in the fan submission,” Violante said.
Fernandez still hopes that LEGO reconsiders.
“Or they come up with more sets and she [Ochoa] is included in that set. It’s a missed opportunity for LEGO to reach this growing population,” she said.