by: Michael Satin [ ]
Some History (that you probably already know)On July 20, 1969, the United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration made good on President John F. Kennedyís pledge given eight years previously to land a man on the moon. Flying the first vehicle designed by man to operate completely outside Earthís atmosphere, Neil Armstrong and Edwin ďBuzzĒ Aldrin landed the aptly named Lunar Excursion Module (which they had christened Eagle) on the Sea of Tranquility and a few hours later exited the vehicle and walked on the lunar surface, the first steps of humanity on a planetary body other than our own.
The LEM was designed and build by Grumman Aerospace as one part of a complex spacecraft system specifically created for this very mission, to deliver men to the moon and bring them home. While Armstrong and Aldrin were on the lunar surface, the Command/Service module combination stayed in orbit around the moon under the control of possibly the loneliest human being in existence at that time, Michael Collins. If the LEM hadnít done its job, Collins would have had to return to Earth without his crewmates, a possibility he dreaded. Happily, that didnít happen and all three astronauts returned safely and entered the history books.
The LEM consisted of two main stages, both of which landed on the moon. The descent stage carried the rocket motor used to slow the craft and allow a soft landing on the surface, as well as housing various equipment for experiments which would be used and then left behind when the astronauts departed. When it was time to leave the surface and rendezvous with Collins back in orbit, the descent stage would act as a launch pad for the ascent stage, which housed the sparse living quarters for the astronauts as well as a smaller rocket motor used to blast off from the lunar surface. Once they hooked back up with the command module in orbit, Armstrong and Aldrin transferred themselves and their equipment back into the larger spacecraft and the ascent stage was detached to eventually fall back onto the moon. While designed to be used for a short time only and then to be expendable, the Lunar Excursion Module nevertheless did its job perfectly and its place in the history books is assured. I know I remember vividly where I was during those incredible days!
The KitDragon released new tool 1/72 scale kits of the Apollo 11 Command/Service Module and LEM a few months ago to some fanfare and then some criticism. They also announced that they would be doing the same vehicles in 1/48 scale and recently released some of their typically glowing reports of what the LEM would include. I was looking forward to it; having built the Monogram kit at least a couple of times over the years I was very interested in an updated version. Now itís here and we can take a look at the actual plastic, how does it compare to the hype?
The kit exhibits typical Dragon quality surface detail, nice crisp panel lines recessed where they should be and with raised detail where appropriate. In fact, Dragonís moldings appear to be cleaner than the real vehicle! All parts are plastic (101 by my count) with no photo-etch or other multi-media parts in this one. There is a quite small sheet of decals (no more really needed) and some pre-painted parts. I was a bit disappointed that there is no interior for the ascent stage and the windows in the front and on top are represented by decals with somewhat heavy grid lines on them. Because of this, there are no clear parts. The descent stage has much of the heat dispersing foil molded right on to many of the parts, including the landing gear, and that is well done for the most part (if perhaps a bit heavy on some of the struts.) This detail is, however, missing from a couple of areas around the hatch and rear areas of the ascent stage and will have to be added by the modeler. No foil material or instructions are given to do this. There is no lunar surface base as included in Dragonís 1/72 and the old Monogram 1/48 kits. There are also no experiments or astronaut figures.
The instructions themselves are very simple and straightforward. The directions are on two pages (front and back of one sheet) only one of which is actual instructions. They look a little vague on the landing gear construction, pay close attention. Painting directions are on the bottom of the box which also includes lots of CAD images pointing out the kitís features. As usual with Dragon kits, theyíve made the box fit the parts and no left over room; even with this relatively small number of pieces itís hard to get everything back in the box once youíve taken them out. In the first production run Dragon has painted the foiled areas gold on the descent stage and landing gear. This is a nice touch but will require clean up where the parts attach to the sprues and where some mold seam lines appear (such as the landing leg struts) which will no doubt scrape off the paint. Also as mentioned above some gold foil areas should be on the ascent stage and are not molded foiled or painted, so the modeler will need to match the existing paint. And some of the areas that are pre-painted gold will have to be overpainted with silver or black. I will probably repaint all of it.
Some accuracy issuesIím no expert on space hardware, and donít have a lot of references on the LEM, though I was able to compare the unbuilt kit to photos on the Ďnet and see how they matched up. Unfortunately I found some issues.
The antenna set up on the 1/72 kit has come in for some criticism and it looks like this carries over to the 1/48 model as well. The VHF antennae appear to be a bit thick (as do all the smaller parts, including the braces for the maneuvering thruster deflectors) and the EVA antenna which sticks up from the top of the vehicle is missing altogether. The docking target, which is on the left side of the top, looks like itís the wrong shape. Dragon has it as a simple T shape but looking at photos it seems to have an L shaped head with braces. A well known photo of the back of the LEM on the moon as one of the astronauts removes some equipment shows a small, flat, vent-like object on the top of the ascent stage which is also missing from the model. Nor is there any detail for the dishes on the S-band and landing circular antennae. This is one place where some photo-etch would have been helpful.
As previously mentioned, the areas around the egress hatch on the front of the ascent stage should be foiled. This is clearly shown in photos and in fact in Dragonís box art. It is not depicted on the model nor is it pointed out in the instructions. The maneuvering thruster mounts and areas on the bottom of that stage should also be foiled but arenít in the kit (the thruster mounts are shown as foiled in the box art as well.) The landing legs should have thin foil strips wrapped around them as well and this isnít molded on the kit either, though once again shown in the box art. There is no detail in the drogue hatch area where the ascent stage docks with the command module, though the hole for the hatch is very deep. Also, there are one large and two small lights above the egress hatch on the front of the stage. The small lights are molded as small bumps which are probably fine, but the large one in the center is simply a raised line with no other detail or mention in the painting instructions.
The LEM has a very complex shape with lots of bulges and strange angles, since it was designed to operate in an airless environment and they didnít have to worry about aerodynamics or a lot of stress. These shapes are hard to compare between the model and the photos Iíve seen, and I donít have good drawings, so I canít really comment on the job Dragon did here. It looks pretty good to my untrained eye, but your experience may vary.
ConclusionI want to like this kit, I really do. It is an updated larger scale depiction of an incredibly important (and well recorded) event in human history and I was really looking forward to it. That said, I must confess to being rather disappointed. Dragon has a well deserved reputation for fine moldings and detailed accuracy (bordering on the obsessive in their armor kits especially. Can you say Tiger I?) so it was rather a let down to find some of the problems in this kit. If someone like me who is just looking at photos on the internet and Dragonís own box art can find so many missed bits, I wonder who was researching the actual kit? The heaviness of some of the parts is also too bad, as I know Dragon can do better than this.
I havenít built the Monogram kit in many years and so canít compare them directly, but it seems to me Dragon could have done better here. Will I be building this? Yes. Will I be adding some of the missing bits? To the best of my ability, yes I will. Am I glad I have a LEM kit? Yep. Will I be getting the CSM kit when it comes out? Yes indeed, but perhaps with a bit less enthusiasm than I would have had before.
I wonít be surprised when Dragon issues a super-kit of this with photo-etch, moon base, astronauts, etc. but itís too bad they couldnít have done a more complete job with this first release.
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