Along with Town, Castle, and Pirates, the theme of space exploration has always been one of the pillars of LEGO philosophy. It all started with 801 Space Rocket set released just three years after the first human spaceflight in 1961. Throughout the decades of play bizarre space sub-themes like Insectoids, Ice Planet 2002 and Spyrius have appeared. But it turns out kids (and adults, too!) are fascinated with the real spacecrafts just as much as sci-fi ones. The memorable LEGO Discovery line-up brought us models of the most amazing human-made space ships and commemorated the landmarks of space exploration, and LEGO’s first Lunar Lander was way back in 1976. Now celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission, LEGO is taking us back to the moon with a very special LEGO Creator Expert 10266 NASA Apollo 11 Lunar Lander set. The set consists of 1,087 pieces, includes two minifigures of astronauts and retails at US $99.99 | CAN 139.99 | UK £84.99, and is currently available with a special promotion of a commemorative LEGO Apollo 11 patch.
Box and packaging
With a recent trend of enormously large sets, it’s safe to say that a 1,000-piece set is a mid-sized one, hence the box is neither bulky, nor heavy.
My absolutely favourite thing about the box design is the famous quote by Neil Armstrong on its side. As a regular customer, I can’t imaging passing by a store shelf without checking our the box if I spotted it in person!
It takes just 4 numbered plastic bags to take all the pieces. As usual, the building guide and the sticker sheet can be found in a separate bag.
Here is another amazing trend LEGO has introduced through the recent years: purchasing a larger direct-to-customer sets you don’t just get the plastic pieces to assemble a model, but rather you get a stunning experience of studying the model, learning its story and getting to know why its LEGO version was designed the way it is. As usual, it all starts with the opening pages of the building guide, which tell you a lot about the Apollo missions in a very engaging way.
What really impressed me was a side-by-side comparison of the real lunar lander and a brick-built one including notes of various parts of the spaceship. This is when it becomes clear that you are about to build a very detailed copy of the famous lander.
The story goes that the first two humans to visit the moon were Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. The figures in set are just a couple of generic LEGO minifigures in space suits, so it’s up to you if you want to identify them with the real astronauts.
Both figures can boast brand new torso patterns with NASA logo. As for the massive helmet pieces (which is usually referred to as an underwater helmet), I don’t see them as the top pick for LEGO version of Apollo space suits. They look way too sci-fi and has Technic holes right behind a minifigure’s head, which looks nothing like the real life support system backpack. More than 15 years later I’m still a fan of old backpacks used in 10029 Lunar Lander set.
Compared to the quality and quantity of patterns and details on the lander itself, unfortunately, the design of the minifigures feels like the weakest part of the set.
You may not be a fan of stickers in LEGO sets, but you can’t ignore the beauty of those created for the set. Since the real lunar lander was covered with foil to keep the astronauts safe from thermal impact (you learn this from short notes on the pages of the building guide!), the reflective stickers give the model an amazingly credible look. Most of them are applied on black tiles, so the combination of shiny gold and matte black is remarkable.
Assembling the set
Before you can land on the moon, you need a piece of its surface. This is why the assembling starts with a mid-sized piece of the lunar landscape. In my opinion, the is the most creative stand for a model that we have ever seen in a LEGO set. Not only does it look like a proper landing area, it also functions as a stand; since the ends of the landings gears are made with 4×4 inverted dishes attached via a hinge, the lunar module can hardly stand upright on even surface. Four indents in the lunar surface guarantee a soft and secure landing. As they flew in, Armstrong and Aldrin looked for as smooth a landing zone as possible, finally settling on a patch with just a few small rocks scattered about. So the large crater isn’t accurate to the real landing zone, but LEGO told us they chose to include the crater so that it’s more easily recognizable as the lunar surface.
Just like LEGO Architecture sets, this one comes with a printed with a name of the set tile. I believe this one tiny detail really sets the mood and gives the set a very special feel an anniversary product deserves.
If you have already assembled the LEGO Ideas 21309 NASA Apollo Saturn V set, get ready to experience a deja-vu while building the lander. Its landing stage has the same octagon structure covered with plates and tiles on each of its eight sides. Even though the building technique differs a lot from those used in the Saturn V set, such structures require a strong dose of repetitive building. Our recommendation: get a partner to build the set together with!
Of course, a minifigure-scale copy of the spacecraft cannot fit all the structural elements of a real one, but the designing team made their absolute best to make the assembling exciting and insightful. For instance, those white and red tanks inside the lander carry fuel and oxidizer to ignite the fuels, since it is impossible to use fuel without an oxidizer in space. Things like this are particularly impressive!
Bag number 3 is a real treat. It brings various tiles in metallic gold as well as some other pieces of this color. There are 90 pieces of two shades of gold in the set in total.
The top surface of the landing section is a bizarre combination of SNOT (studs-not-on-top) building technique, 2×2 corner tiles and a bulky 10×10 octagonal plate in the very center of the structure. At some point it hard to believe how perfectly all the pieces sit together!
The next step of the assembling is the ascent stage. Almost all of the pieces required for the building of the structure are gray and black, most of them being bricks, arches and slopes. I bet you can easily build a small castle tower using all these pieces!
As advertised on the back of the box, the stage consists of three parts which can be removed for playability.
Once the moon is conquered, both astronauts can return to the module. By removing the front of the stage you have another scenario for displaying the model.
Although the real ascend stage was designed to leave the landing stage only once, the clips in the center of the spacecraft let you easily remove and place the top part again and again. This solution works just perfectly.
All in all, the set can be assembled in just a couple of hours. Even though some building steps feel a little bit monotonous, the set will leave you wanting for more!
Before evaluating the finished model, let’s keep in mind that it is a display model of a historic event. This is why it doesn’t feel like a proper toy at all. The printed tile in the front of the stand, detailed landing area of the lunar landscape, a highly accurate copy of the lander itself – all of these things make an impression of a rather premium product, which works as a perfect interior decoration, too. Thanks to the stand edged with black tiles, the scene feels like a picture in a frame, while shiny gold stickers on the landing module give it a very realistic look. The price/value ratio of the set is some of the best that we have seen in the recent years.
Another point in favour of the display purpose of the set is that its rear is much more dull that its front. Practically it’s just a wall of grey bricks, but also this what the real module looked like.
Since the set captures the culmination of the lunar mission, the scene has all the attributes of the historic event. First of all, it’s a minifigure’s footprints on the surface of the moon just by a place for a flag.
About two more awesome features of the set you learn from the pages of the building guide as you assemble the set. For instance, there’s a 2×2 tile with a sticker depicting a laser reflector. By using shooting a laser beam from Earth, you can measure the distance to the moon. There’s also a spot for the reflector just by the flag.
Another quadrant of the lander hides a camera that filmed Armstrong as he climbed down the ladder and made the first step in the surface. The camera is built with just three pieces, but its nice to see a 1×2 printed tile with a tape pattern which has been around since 1990.
One more piece of interest is a tile with a sticker of plaque with pictures of the Earth and signatures of the astronauts. Although it doesn’t look quite like the real one, it is still a very nice touch to the model.
Two minifigures and some open studs on the lunar surface let you play out various scenarios of the event. But it doesn’t matter how historically accurate your display is, the scene always looks as exciting as possible.
Final thoughts and recommendations
There is one simple way to describe this wonderful experience: LEGO Creator Expert 10266 NASA Apollo 11 Lunar Lander is a set no-one knew we needed. You don’t need to be a fan of space to fall in love with the set. But if you are a fan and you already got LEGO Ideas 21309 NASA Apollo Saturn V, please don’t make a huge mistake of leaving the new brilliant addition to the Apollo 11 mission out of your collection.
LEGO Creator Expert 10266 NASA Apollo 11 Lunar Lander comes with 1,087 pieces and two minifigures and is available from the LEGO Shop Online for US $99.99 | CAN 139.99 | UK £84.99, as well as from third-party sellers and Amazon and eBay.
The LEGO Group provided The Brothers Brick with a copy of this set for review. Providing TBB with products for review guarantees neither coverage nor positive reviews.
Check out the full gallery of images below.