I’m a millennial who wasn’t even born when the space shuttle first flew, but as a child in the early 1980s I was fortunate to continue many of its missions until NASA retired the fleet in 2011.
Naturally, as a Canadian away from the launch pad in Florida, I saw him fly for the first time on television. But I dreamed of seeing a pitch (literally, as I remember having a fun dream that involved running nearby in a golf cart); I finally got a chance to see three releases in 2009 to 2010 (including Discovery), after graduating from college and landing a part-time job during the last recession that allowed me to travel, albeit counting pennies as I did so. I was lucky because the show was retired a decade ago, on July 21, 2011.
Discovery of NASA’s Space Shuttle Lego. $ 199 at Lego.com.
Build your own Hubble Space Telescope Launch with NASA’s 2,354-piece Lego Space Shuttle Discovery Set.
So you can imagine my nostalgia when I took a look at the latest Lego set representing the space shuttle Discovery. and the Hubble Space Telescope mission, STS-31, which was launched on April 24, 1990, almost exactly 31 years ago. I don’t remember that mission, but I do remember many of the astronaut’s upgrade excursions to the telescope in the decades that followed; the first mission primarily addressed a faulty mirror that was accidentally thrown at Hubble and obliterated its sight, while others replaced and upgraded components.
The shuttle and Hubble defined pieces of space technology for my generation. The shuttle deployed several satellites and helped build the International Space Station, while Hubble charted the cosmic expansion and showed us cool scenes ranging from Comet chunks colliding with Jupiter yet huge picture of the Andromeda galaxy (M31) in high definition.
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An epic build
The NASA space shuttle discovery set (MSRP $ 199.99 USD) releases Thursday (April 1) with 2,354 pieces to build. It’s a long way from the first set of Lego shuttles, and longtime Lego fans probably know that the company launched a Hubble Shuttle Kit for children a few years ago.
This set is firmly designed for the adult show-only audience. My “frustration-free packaging” build (that is, the parts and stickers were organized into 17 numbered bags and a couple of no-label bags) took almost 11 hours to complete.
I was moving pretty fast as I have experience putting together other recent large space sets such as the International Space Station (864 pieces), the Apollo 11 Eagle lander (1,087 pieces) and the Apollo 11 Saturn V rocket (1,969 pieces in honor of its year of release, 1969). But your mileage may vary. Incredibly skilled Lego builders will likely log less than 10 hours, while beginners can expect to spend much longer. But really, what’s the rush? It is a set that is worth admiring on the go.
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In NASA style, I recorded some “lessons learned” building this set. The first is to have a very large surface. The available space on my desk was approximately 3 feet by 2 feet (1 meter by 0.6 meters); I would recommend a bit bigger as organizing the pieces, the ever-growing manual shuttle got more difficult as the hours went by. I did it last, but it was very tight as the final set is 8.5 inches (21 centimeters) high, 21 inches (54 cm) long, and 13.5 inches (34 cm) wide.
Then keep up, as parts of the ensemble require a lot of finesse to put together and you’ll want to have a lot of energy when those sections come up. One example is the numerous reflective stickers that need to be precisely pasted on the sections of the payload compartment doors, which happens at the rear end of a huge bag of parts where you might be tired anyway. You will also need to take care that the shuttle base remains attached while the upper payload bay is being built; one or two pieces fell off the bottom during my build, but I easily put them back together.
The diagrams Lego sends out in their superb manual, full of fun ferry facts, are self-explanatory, although I did have trouble on a couple of points. To admittedly weary eyes, while building the set over three long days for this story, it seemed like Lego was asking me to build two left wheels in no time. Also, the Canadarm robotic arm has a single piece in the middle that is easy to confuse with other gray joints, so make sure you don’t repeat my mistake of using it on an antenna and scratching my head in complete confusion for 15 minutes until I saw the misused part.
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However, these are small quibbles with the amazing set. I got smaller nostalgic flashes when I built the cockpit, with the computers that looked from the ’80s and the tiny astronaut chairs. The rudder and flaps fit easily into the frame of the shuttle, along with the engines. Lego was also careful to minimize the use of black and white pieces in places that will not be shown in the final build. The use of yellows, blues, greens and reds made it much easier to quickly navigate these sections, because otherwise you would have been searching for hours for the right part.
I love how various parts of the shuttle move when you have it assembled, although being a clumsy one, I didn’t take the set too far in terms of flexibility. That said, the wheels appear to fold up and down from the frame. The rudder and flaps rock back and forth. Best of all, the payload compartment doors open and close very smoothly. You can put your entire Hubble inside this empty space, or stack it inside or set it aside on a stand; Lego gives you complete freedom to determine your viewing preferences.
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For those who might be introducing themselves to the shuttle, I love how the set incorporates a bit of construction education. I already mentioned the facts in the manual, but what I also love is how much the set shows in terms of the capabilities of the shuttle. Looking at it, it is obvious that it was designed to land like an airplane.
The relatively large size of the payload bay was one of Lego’s main design challenges in making this set work. But it’s worth your effort, as it shows one of the shuttle’s main functions, which was to transport things up and down from space. The ferry does not show the actual capacity of this vehicle, which was usually seven people; however, eight astronauts were possible if you really squeezed them, STS-61A style. But I can appreciate that the relative size of the cabin made it difficult to fit all the seats. As a little bonus, I love how you can see some of the seats and computers when you look through the glass windows at the front.
This set will require a lot of money and time on your part to launch successfully, but if you can afford both, it is well worth the investment. Shuttle lovers finally have a set that can stand proudly alongside those of the Apollo and ISS generation, and the small details make this set a great tribute to the memory of Hubble’s enduring success.
Follow Elizabeth Howell on Twitter @howellspace. follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and Facebook.