John David Kappeler's passion for all things LEGO once earned the 11-year-old a chance to watch a live interview with Star Wars creator George Lucas. "How many 11-year-olds can say they saw George Lucas?" said his mother, Shelley Kappeler, who holds the family's membership in the Greater Florida LEGO Users Group, an adult group that lets John David participate because of his talent. The group was invited to display its creations at a Star Wars convention in Orlando this summer and got to see Lucas' interview with Daily Show host Jon Stewart. Now the homeschooled sixth-grader has been invited to a front row seat to history as he represents the LEGO company at the last launch of the space shuttle Discovery.
The launch, which had been set for Monday, was scrubbed on Friday until at least Tuesday afternoon after crews failed to plug a small helium gas leak aboard Discovery. A nitrogen gas leak also was detected.
John David hopes to stick around for the launch, which would be his first close-up view.
Before that, "I'd go out with my dad and watch in the driveway," he said.
However, the LEGO project, in which 27 busloads of local kids will get to build with the multi-colored plastic bricks, is expected to go on as scheduled Monday, a LEGO representative said.
John David will get to help the kids with their creations as part of a LEGO Group program sponsored with NASA.
Called "Build the Future," it will allow children to spend an hour using the toys to create their vision of the future, whatever that might be.
"They can build whatever they want," said Andrew Arnold, a spokesman for LEGO. The company will take photos of 200 creations and upload them onto a company Web site. He said LEGO sponsors similar events around the world.
They found John David by contacting the local LEGO interest group.
John David, who began playing with LEGOS when he was a toddler, has built his own display of a space center to take to Cape Canaveral.
It even has miniature staffers in command center.
He made his creation by printing photos of rockets on launch pads off the NASA web site and replicating them.
John David spends about four hours a week building with LEGOS. One of his favorite creations is a replica of the firehouse from the film Ghostbusters.
Lest you think it's all child's play, think again. John David is also a member of a competitive LEGO robotics group. Called Brick Buddies, the team uses LEGO robots to complete missions as part of FIRST LEGO League.
FIRST LEGO League is a robotics program for 9- to 14-year-olds and is designed to get children excited about science and technology — and teach valuable employment and life skills.
This year's theme is Body Forward, in which teams program robots to place stents in plastic arteries, cast bones and install pacemakers.
"It's like a sports event," Shelley Kappeler said. "It's all noisy and chaotic."
Previous themes have involved climate change and wildlife preservation.
During the wildlife project, team members worked with Bob Tietz, the county's biologist who died this year. He took them on tours of wildlife corridors.
"Normally you don't associate robotics with mucking out in the woods," Shelley said.
John David, who also likes to watch the television show MythBusters and play RollerCoaster Tycoon 3, a video game in which you design virtual roller coasters, said he may go into engineering someday, but he's not wed to the idea.
"I have a lot of interests," he said.