by Jay Chladek Author’s note: This is an excerpt from the kit review section of a book that I am writing. I plan for it to be the ultimate space shuttle modeling guide. As such, it is a work in progress and may change before it finally appears in published form. I am providing this as a gift to users of the Space Modeling Group on Yahoo as a thank you to all those people that have helped me out with my research over the years.
In 1/72, there are two shuttle kits made by Monogram and Revell. This is a bit confusing these days since Revell and Monogram are the same company now. Back when the kits were first tooled, Revell USA was based in Venice, California and Monogram was based in Morton Grove, Illinois. Both companies’ models were quite a bit different from one another. In 1985, Revell and Monogram were purchased by the same investment group, although both companies were kept separate until they were finally merged around 1995 to become Revell-Monogram and then later Revell with Monogram simply being a name used for vintage kit reissues. As a result, its not uncommon to see both 1/72 kits marked as Revell, Monogram or Revell-Monogram although efforts were made to ensure that the different shuttle kit toolings weren’t offered at the same time.
Revell Space Shuttle: Revell’s kit was issued in 1978 and it was intended for issue as the Enterprise (catalog literature listed it as such). But instead it came to market as Space Shuttle Columbia when it became clear that Columbia would be the first shuttle to fly in orbit. Around the time of STS-1, the kit was reboxed with packaging reflecting Columbia’s first mission and revised paintjob. Later, it was offered in both Challenger and Discovery packaging with markings for the full fleet of orbiters (Enterprise through Atlantis). Shortly before the merger with Monogram took place, the kit was discontinued. But the Revell tooled kit was offered as a standard production kit again in 2001, when the Monogram tooled shuttle kit was discontinued. The latest reissue of the Revell kit contains up to date markings for the last four operational shuttles (Columbia, Atlantis, Discovery and Endeavour) with “Meatball” era logos (see decal review section for details).
The orbiter is made up of 111 pieces and measures almost 20” long when assembled. External detailing is made up of petite raised panel lines with recessed areas for control surface splits, vent doors along the payload bay and the side hatch. The most distinguishing feature of the Revell kit is it has etched tile detailing representing the HRSI and LRSI tiles on shuttles like Columbia and Challenger. But, the tile detailing is a little overscale (i.e. the tiles are too big) and a few of the tiles tend to get removed during the filling and sanding process anyway, meaning it is best to sand off the detailing and represent the TPS pattern with other methods. Additional details are also well represented with raised panel detail, such as the payload bay door hinge points. The RCS ports are represented with deep recessed areas. Fuel line attach points on the base of the orbiter are also represented as deep recesses, but these are not correct since the ports are covered by doors after ET tank separation anyway.
Wing chord shape might be a little off, although this isn’t really noticeable to most modelers anyway and not worth the trouble to correct. The OMS pods on the 1/72 kit are a little too large and boxy in shape, like those found in the 1/144 kit. The star tracker port area is represented with door detailing, similar to what was seen on Enterprise. As such, star tracker ports will need to be added.
The rudder/speedbrake is molded separately and so is the body flap to allow for posing in different positions. The speedbrake isn’t designed to be opened, but it can be modified to do so with a little work if you so desire. Landing gear detailing looks good, although the door hinges are incorrect in shape and a bit too simplified. The gear assemblies themselves are very robust items and support the weight of the completed model quite nicely. However, either the nose gear is too long or the mains are too short as the completed model sits level on the gear instead of the correct nose down stance. The SSME engine bells are molded in two halves and look pretty good in general shape and detailing as do the OMS engines. Resin engine bells should be considered though for their better accuracy.
The clear cockpit windows look to have the proper size and shape in 1/72. Overhead and aft flight deck windows are also provided. In the most recent issues of the kit, the clear parts are smoke tinted. A lift off top piece reveals a basic flight deck interior. Four seats are provided and they are similar in appearance to what was used during the early shuttle program, but only the front two seats are needed as the aft seats are stowed when the shuttle reaches orbit anyway. A decal is provided for the cockpit instrument panel, but none are provided for the equally bare side and aft flight deck panels. No control sticks are provided either. This is a bit odd since the overhead panel on the lift off roof section has a nice set of etched switches on it. No floor opening is provided for access to the mid-deck. A single crewman in a flightsuit is provided in standing position for the flight deck. With some scratchbuilding and detailing, a modeler could really go to town here. Also, the seated astronauts from Airfix’s HO scale astronaut set fit the seats almost perfectly (without the backpacks at least) and could be modified to represent shuttle astronauts in their launch suits rather easily for this model.
The payload bay features a one-piece floor that has the correct half round shape with blankets installed, although the flat cutout in the rear of the bay that isn’t represented (easy to add). The forward and aft bay bulkheads are relatively featureless except for some light scribing on the aft piece and guide tabs for the Spacelab airlock tunnel on the front piece. Again, like the 1/144 kit, the bay is too short as the aft most payload bay door segment represents the aft payload bay bulkhead in this kit. It is a bit odd though as the aft segment does have hinge point detailing on its exterior. The doors themselves have nice interior and exterior detailing and the radiators are molded separately. They do seem a bit thick in this scale though, although they aren’t prone to warping either. The Revell kit features a set of hinges that help to open and close the doors rather easily, although the doors don’t sit in the proper position when opened and the hinges look nothing like the flight hardware. As such, for a truly accurate model, new hinges will need to be made to get the doors to sit in the proper orientation (forget closing the doors after doing this). EVA handrails will also need to be added to the doors (not to mention the rest of the bay). A three-piece RMS arm is provided and it looks good, except it has a claw on the end instead of the proper arm grapple. The payload bay doesn’t provide any supports to store the arm though. The only payload offered is a mockup version of the ESA Spacelab and as such it will need major work to represent the hardware that flew on STS-9 and later missions. A suited astronaut is also provided and detailing looks sort of like a cross between a shuttle EMU and an Apollo-era suit. But it can be modified to look accurate.
Monogram Space Shuttle Orbiter: Monogram’s 1/72 kit of the shuttle was first offered in 1979. The kit was offered almost continuously from 1979 until it was discontinued around 1999. The decal sheet from the start had the names for all the original orbiters (Enterprise through Atlantis) although it was modified in 1983 to include the newer wing markings first seen on Challenger. The kit has never been offered with the current NASA “Meatball” markings though.
The orbiter size and shape looks pretty accurate. In a sense, it seems to be slightly more accurate in some areas then the Revell kit, probably due to its slightly later release date. Recessed areas include the control surface splits, payload bay door segment splits, the side entry hatch and the seam where the forward RCS module joins with the rest of the orbiter. The RCS ports aren’t that well represented though. The forward ones are very shallow depressions on the sides and top of the nose. There are no etched aft RCS ports at all, except for the rear most ones, which are represented by separate parts. Instead, the aft ports are represented with decals. Out of the box they tend to look more like the covered ports seen at launch or the ones seen on the dummy forward RCS and OMS pods fitted when a shuttle gets transported to Palmdale, CA for refits. So expect to do some drilling to make some proper ports for an on-orbit or post landing display.
In terms of detailing, there are some very nice features represented here. The external detailing is made up of some very petite raised panel lines and these can easily be removed with a careless swipe of a sanding stick. Detailed areas include aft umbilical detailing, correct shapes for the star tracker ports (they should be drilled out though), elevon hinge panel covers and RCC T-seals on the leading edges of the wings (a detail that no other kit has). Raised lines also represent the basic TPS layout, although the wings and sides of the fuselage best represent Columbia or Challenger with the characteristic stair-step pattern below the payload bay.
The SSME engine bells are one piece units that feature some very nice looking detailing inside the bells. The exterior shape of the bells might be slightly off. You can just use resin engine bells (see the aftermarket review section for details). The OMS engine bells are way too short though and need replacement. The landing gear bays are nicely represented with the correct style hinges for the doors and some nice side wall detailing. The gear struts themselves are also nicely done and appear to support the weight of the completed model with no problems. Indeed, a built Monogram orbiter weighs a little less then a Revell one, since Monogram used thinner parts in their kit.
Clear parts provided include the cockpit windows, overhead windows, aft flight deck windows, and a window for the side hatch. The cockpit windows look a bit oversized, but seam filling around the window edges and good paint detailing will improve their appearance nicely. A one-piece flight deck is provided with a pair of separately molded pilot seats. A very nice looking set of control sticks is also provided for the seats. Monogram also added some etched detailing to all the control panels, although the shapes of the panels are a bit simplified as a result of their one-piece flight deck while Revell molded the center instrument panel and two of the aft deck consoles separately. Monogram’s kit doesn’t feature a lift off roof. So you can only see the detailing through the windows. Again, there is no opening in the floor that leads to the mid-deck. No interior crew figures are provided either. Like the Revell kit, the Monogram flight deck interior could really be detailed up nicely with a little work and some scratchbuilding to replace missing details. Crew figures, suited or shirtsleeve, can also be acquired easily from other sources.
The payload bay contains a two-piece floor that seems to have the most accurate shape of any kit. The flat cutout in the rear of the bay is represented here. There is an ugly seam that runs the length of the bay though as a result (break out the filler putty). Front and rear payload bay bulkhead detailing looks okay, albeit a bit inaccurate compared to what was actually seen on missions. A stowed RMS arm is provided with payload bay supports, as is a rather basic looking Ku-band radio antenna for the front of the bay. The doors themselves are one-piece units with no separate radiator detailing provided. The door hinges allow the doors to droop properly although they are a little overscale. Due to the thin plastic used, Monogram shuttle kits can have warped payload door (and fuselage) pieces depending on how fast the parts were pulled out of the molds. Warped doors can be dealt with, but they are annoying. No EVA handholds are provided on the doors.
An ESA Spacelab is provided as well as other payload pieces that are referred to in the instructions as a “communications satellite with launcher” and a pair of “bio-medical” satellites. These payloads don’t look like anything that actually flew, but they are nice looking. The ESA Spacelab features details that look a little closer to what eventually flew on STS-9, although additional accurization work is needed represent actual flight hardware. The payloads are designed to lock into the sides of the payload bay, allowing for different payload configurations to be modeled. Two suited astronauts are provided, posed in something like a “super hero” position with their arms extended over their heads. Again, the suits look to be a hybrid of a shuttle style EMU and an Apollo lunar suit. The backpack seems a little too small and there are umbilical lines that lead from the backpack to the chest area. These lines should be removed as they aren’t accurate for a shuttle EMU. By fixing these problems and positioning the arms in a more realistic position, an accurate EMU suit can be portrayed in 1/72 scale.
As to which kit in 1/72 is better, it boils down to which one suits your needs more. Both the Revell and Monogram kits have nice features and each kit can be built into excellent shuttle replicas with a bit of work, depending on how they are displayed.
Monogram Space Shuttle with Boosters: In 1986, Monogram retooled their orbiter kit slightly in order to get it to fit on a newly tooled ET and SRBs. The result was the largest space shuttle kit ever offered. The kit was offered in both standard Monogram packaging and in a white box for the “Young Astronauts” promotion in the late 1980s. The kits weren’t out for very long or widely distributed, probably due to them being issued not long after the destruction of Challenger on STS-51L. In 1999, Revell-Monogram reissued the kit in Monogram packaging as part of their “Selected Subjects” limited reissue program, giving modelers who missed the first run a second chance to acquire the model. The reissue wasn’t offered for very long and as a result it tends to command a pretty high price on the collectors market as well. But if you want to build a truly massive Space Shuttle model, then this is the kit to get.
The orbiter model in this kit is essentially the same. Some modifications were made to the mold to get it to fit the struts on the tank and subsequent issues of the standard orbiter kit have the same parts modifications (seen as flashed over holes). For the original issue of the kit, the payload modules were left out, probably to keep the weight down on the completed stack. But, the 1999 reissue has those parts and instructions for their use in the kit. I would recommend leaving the payload out of the kit though and gluing the doors shut for the best appearance of a launch stack.
The External tank in this kit is made up of two main halves and they are essentially the same piece. Flashed-over holes have to be opened to mount the fuel lines and attachment struts on one of the pieces. The ET features a simulated foam texture that looks the part, although it will provide a challenge when dealing with a glue seam along the sides of the tank in order to keep the texture detail. Simulated raised intertank detailing is provided and it looks good. Some of the access covers might need repositioning, but this is relatively easy to do. The base of the tank is molded in one-piece with the aft SRB attach points and segment rings. The SRBs are built up ahead of and behind these rings and glued to this piece when painting is completed, resulting in a very strong assembly that will support the weight of the completed stack quite nicely. Parts for the bipod strut and the aft cradle look very good. Of course, the orbiter kit has no fuel line cover doors on the bottom, so those should be added.
The SRBs themselves are made up of relatively few pieces. The aft skirt and thermal curtain detailing looks very accurate. The one-piece forward nosecones are also very well done and duplicate the appearance of the actual SRBs quite nicely with their sunk in detailing. No other shuttle kit has ever gotten this detailing quite right, but it’s only really noticeable in 1/72 scale anyway. Even the tunnels that run the length of the SRBs feature the horizontal splits between the tunnel segments. In all, there isn’t much that needs to be added to these SRBs to improve their detailing.
A black display base is provided to support the shuttle in the vertical position. It is molded in ABS plastic and even features “NASA Space Shuttle” molded in silver lettering on a name plaque. Granted it isn’t a launch pad, but it will support the weight of the completed stack nicely and it doesn’t look cheesy either. Just make sure though before building this monster that you have enough space to display it as the completed stack sits about three feet tall when assembled and it takes up more space on a shelf then a traditional rocket model (such as the Revell 1/96 Saturn V). If you should happen to come across a set of Monogram tanks and wish to combine it with a Revell orbiter, please be careful as the Revell orbiter is a bit heavier then the Monogram one and it may not balance properly on the stand provided.