You are go for launch with LEGO Ideas 21309 NASA Apollo Saturn V [Review]

The Saturn V moon rocket is a masterpiece of engineering and remains the largest rocket ever successfully launched. Between 1967 and 1973, thirteen rockets left earth, taking us to the moon and building Skylab, the United States’ first space station. So it’s fitting that LEGO Ideas 21309 NASA Apollo Saturn V is the largest Ideas set produced to date, clocking in at a massive 1,969 pieces in an homage to Apollo 11. When countdown ends and the rocket set launches on June 1, 2017, it will retail for $119.99. Included is the Saturn V rocket in three stages, the command and service module, lunar lander, and command module with floatation device.

21309 NASA Apollo Saturn V

21309 NASA Apollo Saturn V

The Box (and instructions)

Like other Ideas sets, Saturn V comes in a black box, with the model on the front and the LEGO Ideas branding. Unlike other Ideas sets. the box is not made of the thicker, sturdier cardboard, likely due to the size, nor does it have a hinged lid that opens and reseals easily. Our box, sadly, arrived a little worse for the wear.

The box features a beautiful picture of Earth below and a starry sky above. The front has blue schematics of the model made to mimic blueprints, giving the scale and physical size of the model. The back of the box shows the model in its finished sub-models, along with a launch sequence and iconic pictures from Apollo 11. A map of the moon shows where each Apollo mission landed.

21309 NASA Apollo Saturn V

The instruction book is just as beautiful as we’ve come to expect LEGO Ideas books to be. It’s bound like a book and 182 pages long. The cover features a white-line drawing of the rocket leaving Earth.

21309 NASA Apollo Saturn V

When you open the cover, you are greeted by historical photos from NASA of Saturn V, the command module, the moon rover, and members of the crew in front of a training lunar lander. The opposite page contains a brief history of Project Apollo, focusing mostly on Apollo 11 with brief mentions of the other missions. Turn the page to see the LEGO version of the rocket broken down into each of its parts, giving names for the engines, stages, and modules. Included are photos from the rocket in the Vehicle Assembly Building, along with descriptions of how the command and service modules docked with the lunar lander.

The following pages give a visual timeline, from launch to lunar landing of an Apollo mission, complete with photos (where available) of different stages along with more photos of the program. Flip the page one more time to learn about fan designers Valerie Roche and Felix Stiessen and LEGO designers Michael Psiaki, Carl Thomas Merriam, and Austin William Carlson.

21309 NASA Apollo Saturn V

The Build

This is a long, luxurious build. Overall, the model took more than 5 hours to construct, and each moment was spent uttering things like, “oh, that’s clever” and, “Wow. Really? In an official set?” Practically the entire rocket makes extensive use of some of the most complex SNOT techniques to ever grace an official set.

21309 NASA Apollo Saturn V

The set comes with 12 bags: Bags 1-8 make up the first Stage (the business end of a Saturn V); Bags 9 and 10 make up Stage 2. Bag 11 contains Stage 3, while Bag 12 completes the rocket with the launch escape system, command module, service module, and lunar lander.

21309 NASA Apollo Saturn V

The rocket comes together from the bottom up and inside out, then circles back around: most of the first Stage is complete before adding on the F1 engines that the entire rocket rests on. Despite being a 39″ tall tower, the model is bottom-heavy and relatively stable. A good push will knock it over, but its sturdy enough to stand alone while building.

21309 NASA Apollo Saturn V21309 NASA Apollo Saturn V21309 NASA Apollo Saturn V

One point of difficulty comes from attaching some of the sub-builds to the core of the model: the tolerances for getting studs lined up is very tight and on more than one occasion, I had difficulty snapping pieces together. This is particularly noticeable on Stage 1, since the sub-assemblies are so long. Part of the issue included a mistake I made early on: the instructions were unclear on precisely which studs the sub-assembly was supposed to attach to. This was due to the point-of-view angle in the instructions, resulting in my sub-assemblies being misaligned by one stud. This was the only place there was an issue; all other instances of attaching long sub-assemblies had easier visual references.

21309 NASA Apollo Saturn V

A number of unorthodox techniques are at play in holding the exterior panels in place, including brackets turned at 45° angles, as well as clips and Mixels ball joints. In some instances, the designers have even exploited the geometry of unusual parts like the 1×2 plate with vertical bar (in green) to hold segments in place.

21309 NASA Apollo Saturn V

The Parts

Like all Ideas sets, there are no stickers to be found around here. There are tiles that say “United” and “States”, printed 2×3 curved slopes with U, S, and A, along with four printed curved slopes with American flags on them. There’s also a single 1×8 white tile with black rectangles to add detailing. Additionally, there are printed elements on the lunar lander and command module, as well as the 1×2 clear tile with the flag used for the vignette of the lunar lander.

21309 NASA Apollo Saturn V

The set comes with four micro astronauts (one is an extra). They are all identical, so it’s up to you to choose who gets to be Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, or Michael Collins.

21309 NASA Apollo Saturn V

Saturn V does not feature any new element molds; it does, however, feature some parts in new colors. My favorite part in a new color goes to the half large barrel, appearing in Pearl Dark Grey for the first time. The texture on it works perfectly as the F1 engines. It also includes the new 1×1 round tile with bar (aka inkwell) in both black and white. White is currently only otherwise available in the Collectible Minifigures Series 17 Dance Instructor, while black has only just shown up in the Speed Champions Bugatti Chiron.

You’ll also get 144 2×3 curved slopes in white, not counting the printed ones, plus 144 brackets in various styles and colors.

21309 NASA Apollo Saturn V

The Finished Model

This model is stunning. It’s impressive to behold, standing 39 inches tall. The iconic black and white checkered patterns stand out, with enough details worked in to help the rocket avoid looking like a bland pillar. Putting your micro Neil Armstrong at the base of the rocket gives a sense of just how massively large these rockets really are.

21309 NASA Apollo Saturn V21309 NASA Apollo Saturn V
21309 NASA Apollo Saturn V21309 NASA Apollo Saturn V21309 NASA Apollo Saturn V

Once assembled, the rocket fits the lunar lander above the third Stage. Unfortunately, the landed command module does not fit inside the finished rocket.
21309 NASA Apollo Saturn V
21309 NASA Apollo Saturn V

The very top of the rocket is made up of the service module, command module, and launch escape system. There are a number of changes here from the original fan model to the set, most noticeably on the launch escape system. The fan model used a 2x2x5 lattice support brick in white, which has been changed to columns of white taps here. The overall look is streamlined, and works quite well on the final model.

21309 NASA Apollo Saturn V

Each stage is connected using clips, creating a very sturdy connection that’s still easy to separate for transport or display. Stage 1 uses four sets, while the other stages use two sets each. Much of the most complicated SNOT work is used to put the clips into place in such a way they stand up to the force necessary to separate the stages.

21309 NASA Apollo Saturn V

This is a big set, and I knew that after reading the press release, but nothing quite prepared me to stand next to the finished model. The large Stage 1 section stands taller than my cat.

21309 NASA Apollo Saturn V
21309 NASA Apollo Saturn V

For reference, here’s Saturn V standing next to 10231 Shuttle Expedition. The shuttle has 1,230 pieces, and stands an impressive 17.5 inches tall, and was formerly the largest NASA LEGO set. It includes the fuel tank and booster rockets. The shuttle and rocket are not quite to scale with each other, but they’re close, with the shuttle being just 3 inches shorter than it would be at the rocket’s 1:110 scale. Nevertheless, the shuttle looks tiny compared to its predecessor in manned spaceflight.

21309 NASA Apollo Saturn V

With all this talk about large rockets, let’s not forget about the smallest of the builds: the command module and the lunar lander, the reason for the rocket’s existance. After all, that giant rocket is merely the propulsion system for this tiny lander.

21309 NASA Apollo Saturn V

The lunar lander is adorable and instantly recognizable. It’s a simple construction, without using many parts.

21309 NASA Apollo Saturn V

A printed 2×2 round boat tile is used to great effect as the hatch.

21309 NASA Apollo Saturn V

Smallest of all is the command module, floating in the ocean after returning to Earth. The whole thing uses just 10 pieces, with eight orange hinges for the floatation ring. The ring simply rests snugly around the module with no official connection.

21309 NASA Apollo Saturn V

The Verdict

The set will appeal on many levels: it’s a solid build with excellent techniques. It’s got a good selection of parts, and it’s a scale model of the most iconic launch vehicle of the 20th century. The Saturn V deserves a place on any LEGO or Space fan’s shelf. Plus, even if you just want it for the pieces, it’s a bargain at just over $0.06 per part, roughly 40 percent lower than most LEGO sets average.

21309 NASA Apollo Saturn V

21309 NASA Apollo Saturn V will be available June 1, 2017.


The LEGO Group sent The Brothers Brick an early copy of this set for review. Providing TBB with products for review guarantees neither coverage nor positive reviews.

17 comments on “You are go for launch with LEGO Ideas 21309 NASA Apollo Saturn V [Review]

  1. horacio

    Incredible, I’m so excited by this set! I love how engineered the build is.
    Any idea (haha) where to get it from on the 1st?

  2. JBLKS

    Can’t wait June 1st! Wonderful set! I prefer planes to rockets but… what a rocket!
    My wife will be upset but I will buy it yo display in my office at work! :)

  3. Nathan

    I think I’ll have to break down and get this one :). Any idea if the piece count was intentional? (1969 being the year of the first lunar landing)

  4. Steven Stevenson

    Just wanted to fix a slight mistake in the article: The landed command module is not intended to fit inside the rocket. The intention is that when you are re-enacting the lunar launch procedure, you swap out the landed command module with the white cone+lattice+tower at the top of the final stage.

    When you remove the little ring with orange baubles from the landed command module, you are left with 1×1 exposed technic rod. This allows you to connect the end of the landed command module to the lunar lander, as depicted on the back of the box.

    If they didn’t include this, you would have to take off the white lattice+tower from the white cone at the top of the final stage in order to recreate the 180 spin maneuver that connects the command module to the lunar lander, which would be really difficult.

    Great article!

  5. Brian H.

    Ordered 2 last night and it’s already on back order. Very excited to build this and give one to my Dad who is a Space Nut.

  6. Federico Astica

    Great review! Could you please tell me the approximate size of the box? My wife is traveling to the States and she wants to know how big is the box. Thanks!

  7. Mark's Millennium Falcon

    I wish lego would only allow the purchase of 1 of these kits. These people buying 2 are all probably hoarders depriving people who just want to own one kit and not gouge others. You can’t even purchase this kit any more. Either Lego’s short sightedness in under producing kits, or gougers rushing to relist on ebay and amazon. Grrr.

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