To the stars and beyond: my microscale LEGO spacecraft inspired by NASA – part 1

As a longtime LEGO space builder, I found I was ready for a bit of a change. After years of building Star Wars and video-game inspired spaceships, I wanted to try my hand at building a spaceship that is, paradoxically, a little more down to earth. Rather than ships bristling with big guns or outfitted with wings, I decided to take my visual cues from movies like Interstellar, The Martian, and of course, NASA’s own designs. Several years ago I built the space shuttle launch system for the theme, and since then I’ve been working on a couple of spacecraft. I’ve displayed them at a number of conventions, but over the holidays this year, I finally polished them up and photographed them. The first ship I built was the Vanguard, part of the fictional Interplanetary Expedition Alliance, mankind’s first attempt at visiting nearby planets and their orbiting bodies.

I.E.A. Vanguard

I built it as a series of discrete modules, and then strung the modules together to create the larger spacecraft. I like this technique because it lets me play with small structures of a few dozen elements at a time, which also results in a look similar to the real International Space Station’s modular design.

This also allows me to try out a lot of unusual elements, such as the Ninjago spinner for the micro-asteroid shield on the ship’s front. If you’re familiar with the Ninjago spinners, you may be wondering how I got it to stay in place, since they’re filled with a cast-iron weight. But some Ninjago spinners have screws, so I was able to disassemble the spinner and remove the weight without damaging the pieces (sadly, later spinners are riveted).

I.E.A. Vanguard

Another part that sat in my unused bin for way too long before finding a home aboard this craft are the Buzz Lightyear wings, which I combined with just two other elements and some custom stickers (trimmed from the leftovers of official LEGO sticker sheets) to create an auxiliary shuttle.

I.E.A. Vanguard

Once I had all the modules created, I strung them together with Technic axles that run through their cores, and then mounted the ship on a display stand. Although it sounds simple, it’s a lot of trial and error, because not all modules work well next to each other, both from aesthetic and engineering standpoints. I ended up with a handful of leftover modules that just didn’t fit the look I wanted on this ship. The finished model is about 89 studs long, putting me just shy of the 100-stud length that LEGO space builders venerate. Up next, however…

I.E.A. Vanguard

Read part 2 here.

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