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Last Updated: Monday, 19 January, 2004, 16:42 GMT
Mars Mania hits toy shop shelves
Caltech's Frederic Farina with the Lego model of Mars Rover Spirit
The Lego build-it-yourself version of Spirit rover has 858 pieces
The current fascination with Mars is giving a stratospheric boost to more earthly money-making pursuits.

The group that runs the Jet Propulsion Laboratory for Nasa has patented the rovers it sent to Mars and is licensing their images for commercial use.

Danish toy maker Lego Co is one the first to cash in - with its DIY toy version of the Spirit rover.

Nasa has also made a deal with a US restaurant firm to sell approved toy spacecraft with children's meals.

The California Institute of Technology, Caltech, which patented the twin rovers Spirit and Opportunity, said it had made three deals so far and expected three more.

Challenging

The private university did not say how much it hoped to make, but pledged to donate half to educational outreach programmes and the rest to Caltech's research.

"We did it more for publicity than as a commercial hit," said Frederic Farina, assistant director of Caltech's office of technology transfer.

Artist's impression of the rover on Mars
Spirit is currently exploring the Red Planet's surface
Lego said its 858 piece build-it-yourself version of Spirit - retailing at $89.99 (50.37) - was based on drawings supplied by Caltech.

"It's on the high end of challenging to put together," said Jeff James, of Lego's community development office in Connecticut.

Among the first to receive the kits were said to be Nobel laureates, industry bosses, astronauts and others on Caltech's board of trustees.

Another firm is said to be producing a collectible scale model of Rover, and a third is making larger models for museums.

Spirit rover has already begun exploring the Martian landscape. Its twin, Opportunity, is due to touch down on the Red Planet in a few days.




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