With a set name that is a bit to remember, the NASA Space Shuttle Discovery comes in at at a retail price of $199.99 and a part count of 2354 parts. Already, the price per part is lower than the threshold of 10 cents a piece, but is the set worth the buy? Well, let’s stop for a second and take a step back…why would I be a good reviewer of the set? Well, that takes a step even farther back, to 2003.
I am a guy that was brought up on Star Trek (Kirk and Spock, not Jean-Luc and Riker) and became a space geek. I became a science nerd as a result, and while I thought of being an astronaut for about five minutes, that was dashed when my eyesight went downhill. Still, I followed NASA and went to a shuttle launch in my senior year of high school, watching a tiny bright light go into the afternoon sky…and feeling its thunder over a minute later.
My LEGO hobby surprisingly became another aspect of my NASA geekdom – some of the first sets I chased after on eBay were shuttle sets, including the LEGO Town set Space Shuttle Launch (1682), the Shuttle Launch Pad (6339) and the Technic Space Shuttle (8480), which still is an astounding LEGO set. My first favorite theme was Space, and that got me involved with an event that took place in Houston, where I was able to do a VIP tour of Houston Space Center>
This happened because I met an AFOL who happened to work in Mission Control there as an spacewalk trainer. And with him, I got to see Mission Control (both the old and new) and all get to visit the Space Shuttle training facilities.
I got the full tour and had a great time. And I got to see life-size versions of what I built in this particular set. So you’ll see a few (very few, since the visit was in 2003, and I didn’t know I would be using them for this – I have other pics) here to show what things really look like.
So let’s get started, shall we?
Opening and Setup
The box is big and heavy. When you open it, you’ll find a box inside and a few of the part bags.
There 17 numbered bags and one unnumbered bag, which has the bay door and tiles for the name plate.
Looking through the backs, you can see some things:
Stickers and Flimsy Things
There’s more than a few stickers, which I would complain about , but most are for making the inside for the bay doors reflective. If chrome was chosen, this would have been a much more expensive set, so I will be quiet.
The instruction book is 318 pages long, with 503 three steps. That’s a lot, and it will keep you busy for one full night.
You’ll build in the following sequence:
Hubble Space Telescope (bags 1-3)
1. Stand and Name plate
2. Hubble model
Space Shuttle Discovery (bags 4-17)
1. Stands and Name plate
2. Space Shuttle
In terms of building, this is a nice way of going along – the boring stuff (the stands) are first so you can mount the finished models afterward. But the stands have a couple of building tricks.
Building the Hubble Space Telescope (HST)
The Hubble build starts with the base. And it has a clever building technique.
The Hubble is built with a solid core and sideways (SNOT) building to make the round shape.
The Hubble build was the only place where I had a problem. One of the 2×2 rounded slopes would not attach – it was crimped inside somehow so it was too tight of a fit. Maybe the silver coating was too much, but the other slopes fit without a problem. After some effort, I was able to fit the part in, but it made a loud snap when it finally went into place.
The solar panels are neat to build, but by its nature a little temperamental assembling,
What makes them tricky is that they are not tightly bound, so either side can shift when they want. It’s not a big problem as nothing is stressed, but it will drive you nuts when you set the panels up on the telescope.
One really clever aspect is how the model is attached to the base.
Now, onto the main model…
Building the Shuttle
The Shuttle build also starts with the base, and for the most part is straightforward building. There are some thing that caught my attention as I went along:
The book is printed in black, but the parts are outlined strong enough that I didn’t have a problem seeing where a part went, even if it was black. I did accidentally skip a step or two as I went along, which I was able to correct.
The Shuttle is built from the bottom up, and this is because of the mechanics used in the model, The landing gear retract from a central control and the wing flaps move using a central control, so they have to be built in place, and with some precision, as seen above.
Another thing to be impressed with is how the leading edges are fit into place. Hinge plates and 3 x 2 plates with one hole are used to attach the edges on, and with the wing plates, they are aligned to leave very little gap.
And if you want to invert a plate, use this method – 1×1 with vertical clip with a 1×1 round on top the stud and a 1 x 1 round with pin attached upside down to the clip!
Another set of printed tiles are used on the wings.
Another nifty feature is how the landing gear works. The back flap (the ‘beaver tail’) not only pivots up and down, by pushing it forward, the landing gear pop down! Push the wheels up, and the flap automatically resets. It’s clever engineering done by making a center strip (seen in the um…center of the shuttle bay) that trips the wheels (which each have a Technic shock absorber to power the pop! Like other sets, though, the model has no landing gear doors, which would add another level of complexity.
The reaction control thrusters on the rear are modeled, but if you look at the assembly, it seems a bit…over done. Isn’t there another way to fill the stud hole on the headlight bricks? This solution has the virtue of being a solid building effort, but flex-tube could have been inserted in the holes…
Placing the reflective stickers on the inside of the bay doors proved to be a challenge – the inside curve of the part made it difficult to place the stickers very accurately and the stickers would make air bubbles that had to be worked out. Part of this was because of the thinness of the stickers and their tendency to stick across the part surface, not on the part surface. Be careful on these steps.
The Shuttle model uses clips to keep some assemblies in place – which allow for different non standard angles.
The bottom of the engine bulkhead is held in place with two clips (seen in blue beside the ball joints) that attach to the yellow bars.
From there, the top of the bulk head attaches to the rudder at the yellow bar. The rudder is attached to the white forward bulkhead with clips also, hidden behind the slope and under the ‘ingot’ tile.
Note about the rudder – like the actual shuttle , the rudder splits to make an airbrake. However, the set rudder doesn’t stay together. It kind of hangs together loosely, and is the only part of the set that I was dissatisfied with.
These are printed and are mentioned in the book as a trivia point.
And another newish piece – one that I have wanted, a 1×1 brick with axle hole!
Also, a 1×1 plate with a 2 stud bracket, directed up.
Now we are heading toward the cockpit, so here’s a comparison to the LEGO model and the real thing:
The tightness of the scale makes it difficult to make an accurate rendition, but the model tries..
A cool view of the interior can be seen if you look through the windows.
And the cockpit was the last thing to be built, so here are some more shots of the set close up so you can feel like a micro fig and also completely miss the mess that was the build space!
The Final Word
This set is good, almost as good as the Saturn V set, which is one of my favorite sets (Another? The Technic Space Shuttle) There are some building techniques to learn (clip-oriented construction), some new parts (not many though), and really nice renditions of the subjects. Outside of the rudder and a couple technical issues with stickers and a silver part, this was a great build and well worth the time and price!
Advice to space builders and novices: take your time on this. It’s fun and a learning experience.
Next time though – landing gear doors and an astronaut figure or two to show scale.
This set will be released April 1, 2021 at LEGO Brand retail stores, and Lego.com.
Note: A review set was provided to BrickJournal by the LEGO Group. Such sets are not guaranteed a positive review, especially since in this case, the builder has an interest in the subject model.