This is Pegasus Hobbies’ version of Wernher von Braun’s original conception of how we’d land on the moon—in a stonking great 4000-ton spacecraft with 30 engines and a crew capacity of 25. (Actually, three stonking great ships were planned—one carrying cargo and the others carrying crew.) The landing would be preceded by a lunar fly-by mission, in a spacecraft I’ve previously modelling by adapting Lindberg’s venerable old Moon Ship kit.
The design and mission plan for this spacecraft were outlined in three articles written for Collier’s magazine, published in the issues of 18 and 25 October 1952, and these were my guides when building the kit. They’re available on-line, republished in Horizons, the newsletter of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Houston Section. The first two articles, by Wernher von Braun and Willy Ley, were reproduced in the Horizons issue for September/October 2012 (47MB pdf); the third, by Fred Whipple and Wernher von Braun, appeared in November/December 2012 (49MB pdf).* In fact, the Horizons issues from July/August 2012 to September/October 2013 all reproduce classic Collier’s articles on the theme “Man Will Conquer Space Soon!”
The first thing to say is that this is a lovely kit—the parts fit together like a dream. And it arrives beautifully packed, with delicate pieces wrapped in foam. It’s also complicated, with some parts actually threading through other parts, and a few opportunities to mis-assemble if you don’t pay careful attention to the instructions and examine the pieces carefully before you commit to gluing. Parts are supplied for the crewed version or the cargo version.
I added a few details from ParaGrafix’s photoetch detail set, and some decals left over from previous projects. I ignored Pegasus’s painting guide. This follows Chesley Bonestell’s illustrations for the Collier’s articles, with fuel and oxidizer tanks tinted in shades of red, yellow and blue—you can see the effect in the box art at the head of this post. The colours seem to be lifted from a colour-coded diagram in Collier’s, showing the function of each set of tanks, and I couldn’t see a reason for them to be colour-coded in “real life”, so I went for plain white tanks instead.
I also needed to do a little modification. The big, outer, spherical tanks, prominently visible in the box art, didn’t actually make it to the moon. They were used to accelerate the ship out of Earth orbit, where it had been assembled, and were then discarded during the trans-lunar coast. So the ship actually landed in a slightly stripped-down configuration, as illustrated by Bonestell’s cover illustration for Collier’s.
Until the landing approach, the legs were stowed out of the way of the rocket blast—the outer legs folded upwards, and the telescopic central leg (which doubled as a landing sensor and shock absorber) drawn back between the rocket nozzles. The outer kit legs look as if they could be assembled in the folded-back position (though I didn’t try it), and it would require only minor surgery to model the central leg in the retracted position—so there’s the potential to configure this model into “Earth departure” mode with the large tanks in place. But I elected to reproduce the appearance shortly after landing, so I needed to remove the large tanks and then add a little scratch-built detail to the stumps of the support structure.
First up, I drilled out the portholes in the crew compartment, and added ParaGrafix detailing. Here’s a comparison of the upper half in its original state and the lower half with its modifications completed:
Then there was a tedious and repetitive period spent assembling and painting the various subcomponents of the spacecraft:
To get the eighteen central engines aligned with each other, I used slow-drying epoxy glue, so that I could tweak them around once they were in place:
Getting to the next stage of assembly requires the horizontal support structures to be slid on to eight vertical rods, while locating the various tanks between. There’s potential for confusion with the relative placement of long and short rods; and note that the shorter rods, which bear the small spherical helium tanks, have a definite right way and wrong way up.
Since I was planning to omit the big departure tanks, I needed to modify the support structures, guided by a diagram from one of the Collier’s articles which shows the plane of separation when the tanks were discarded:
First I needed to remove most of the external framework:
And then chop through the horizontal support frames and add a few bits of styrene to close off the open ends:
The upper end of the framework will support a couple of cranes which are included in the kit but are effectively undeployable until the departure tanks are discarded. The only way for the crew to reach the ground from their habitat sphere, 40-odd metres above the ground, is to descend using these cranes. The ParaGrafix detail set includes a couple of little elevator cages and some crane hooks.
To populate my elevator cage and add some indication of scale to the model overall, I wanted to add some astronaut figures. Tamiya produce a set of 1/350 crew figures for ship models, and I modified a few of these to look a bit more like astronauts by adding some strip styrene for backpacks and blobs of glue for helmets:
Here’s the final product, with a pair of crew members descending to the ground while others look on from the airlock “balcony” of the crew sphere and from the engine platform.
The outer banks of engines can be vectored in a single plane on the model, as was intended for attitude control in the real thing:
Finally, I’ve put together a couple of size comparisons to show what a monstrous thing this spacecraft would have been. Firstly, compared to the real Lunar Module:
And with the Statue of Liberty:
Now that would really have kicked up some dust when it landed.
* The AIAA Houston website vanished from the internet some time after I wrote this post. My links now go to the relevant pages preserved by the Wayback Machine at the Internet Archive—they take a while to load, but they appear eventually.