Apollo Astronaut on the Moon: Space Is The Place

Space Is The Place - page 3


This third page of my Space Is The Place focuses on my hobby: building models of historic spacecraft and launch vehicles. Space models is also the focus of the fourth, fifth and sixth pages. For information on the visits to space centres around the world that I have made, please return to the home page and the second page.



Space Models and Spaceflight History

I have been a collector and builder of space models since the 1960s. As a modeler I think "my grasp exceeds my reach" often - my models are never as beautifully finished as others I see at model shows - but I am comfortable with this. I get the greatest thrill out of conceiving of something a bit unusal, "pushing the envelope" a bit, and then seeing it realized. I never seem to have the patience, let alone the skills, to do the super-detailing and beautiful finishes of some other modelers. But I do have a knack for taking on some unusual subjects, as I think you'll see in the following pages. In choosing subjects I am interested in capturing significant moments or honouring technical achievements in the history of spaceflight. In the following pages I have tried to provide some historical context relating to each of the subjects being modeled.

The history of the development of spaceflight technology is intimately intertwined with the development of late World War II and especially Cold War military technology. Indeed the "Space Race" between the Soviet Union and the United States, beginning in the 1950s and arguably continuing until the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, can be seen as serving as a surrogate for war. Since nuclear conflict was seen by both superpowers as potentially having no "winner", competition for political influence took place in other spheres. As US President John Kennedy said, the challenge "before this decade out to land a man on the moon and return him safely to the Earth" would "serve to organize and measure the best of our energy and skills". The Space Race was consciously a competetion to demonstrate the superiority of one of these two very different economic, political and social systems.

Interestingly, as more information has become available from the archives of the old Soviet Union since its fall, and with the persective afforded by time, the Space Race, which most observers would agree was won by the United States, arguably can be seen as demonstrating the superiority of a capitalist economy in a free and democratic society. Far from giving it an advantage, in the long term the secretive, totaliterian state of the Soviet Union, where projects were not subject to the eye of a scutinizing public to whom all government activity was ultimately accountable, was characterized by destructive internal competition between political and industrial groups and organizations. Superior organization, as well as the greater resources that America was able to put into the race to land the first man on the Moon, that gave them the edge.


The following displays and models are featured on this page:

  1. The Shrine
  2. V-2 (A-4)
  3. Sputnik 2
  4. Soyuz T launcher
  5. Mercury-Atlas
  6. Vostok
  7. The Loss of Liberty Bell 7


  8. The Shrine (1/1)

    The Shrine (diningroom/space museum)

    This is a photo of my diningroom/space museum. My friend Barry Shanko once referred to it as a "shrine to aerospace technology" and the name "The Shrine" has stuck ever since. There are models, displays, photos and posters on all four walls, and an increasing number of models hung from the ceiling in recent years. In addition to the models I have built, there are contractor models, souvenirs, fairly accurate space toys and other collectables and memorabilia relating to space flight spread throughout the room.

    Over the years my approach to displaying models has evolved and changed. Rather than just "models sitting on a shelf" I am now attempting to "create an environment". This "environment" is best experienced after nightfall when the lighting in the room is entirely under my control instead of mother nature's. There are now three projectors focussed on the ceiling and 14 sources of ultravoilet light placed around the room. I am trying to get just the right balance of "black" and "white" light, so you get a sense of the darkness of space, but yet have just enough light to see the models and displays fairly well. Much of the lighting comes from secondary sources from various "glow-in-the-dark" items (e.g., stars, planets, silly putty) placed around the room, and especially near the models on display. This is supplemented by lighting from very small spotlights for some models, and various "educational toys" like a Moon that goes through phases, as well as illuminated Earth and Mars in the 3 corners of the room away from the entrance. There is a globe that spins and is lit with the light from the cities on Earth at night. Unfortunately the result does not photograph too well, at least with the equipment and skills I possess, but the best of the photos I have are shown here.

    As well, in recent years I have tried to better develop "themes" in the individual "cubby holes" on the display shelves. Some of my favourites are shown here, such as the Sputnik display, the Vostok display, the Voskhod 2 display and the Gemini-Agena display.



    V-2 (A-4) (1/69)

    V-2  (A-4) (1/69)

    The V-2, which was known by its designers as the A-4, represents perhaps the single most important development in the history of rocketry. It heralded the transition of the rocket from realm of small, experimental devices to large, operational weapons systems, and in doing so also opened the door to spaceflight.

    The V-2 was developed during the Second World War in Germany by a team led by Dr. Wernher von Braun at Peenemunde (click to go to page 2 with info on my trip to Peenemunde) on the Baltic coast. This rocket integrated a number of great technical innovations for its day. For example, for the first time fuel components (in this case liquid oxygen) were circulated inside the walls of the rocket engine to cool the engine bell, which otherwise would have melted.

    The V-2 entered WWII very late, in late 1944 and 1945, and hit targets in London and Belgium. It was more effective as a weapon of terror than for the destructive impact of its one-ton bomb, and had no significant influence on the outcome of the war. However, after the war both the Americans and the Soviets captured and tested V-2s, eventually beginning development of their own series of rocket weapons and booster systems by reverse engineering captured V-2s. In the late 40s and early 50s V-2s, with upper stages added, took the first probes into space on suborbital flights. And of course, the von Braun group went to America and developed rockets for the US including the Redstone, Jupiter, and Saturn series, culminating in the Saturn V which took the first men to the Moon.

    This V-2 model is from the Revell 1/69 scale kit. It is depicted in a diorama during the war on its trailer/transporter. To highlight the details of the V-2's propulsion system the fuel/oxydizer tanks and engine are displayed in front of the diorama with a mirror placed underneath to afford better viewing.



    Sputnik 2 (1/30)

    Sputnik 2 (1/30)

    On October 4th, 1957 the Soviet Union launched "Sputnik", the first artificial Earth satellite (AES). The world, especially the United States, was stunned, having historically considered the USSR to be a backwards nation, not up to the level of sophistication of American technical know-how.

    Less than a month after Sputnik, on November 3rd, 1957, the Soviet Union launched the second AES, Sputnik 2. The West was shocked to learn that this second satellite carried the first living creature into orbit, the dog Laika. Sputnik 2 certainly signalled,if there had been any doubt previously, that the USSR would be working towards sending a man in into space eventually. Unfortunately at this early stage in the development of space technology there was no way to return the spacecraft to Earth, and Laika died within a few days.

    There is now considerable evidence that, while the US could have fairly easily achieved this feat first, it was US President Dwight Eisenhower's intention to let the USSR put a satellite in orbit ahead of them. Before the mid-50s the military capabilities of Soviet Union, with its vast impenetrable land mass, was a huge unknown to the US. Eisenhower was under pressure from the US Congress to increase military spending to address the "bomber gap" and later the "missile gap", and had limited data with which he could counter these pressures. Already in development, even before Sputnik's launch, was the first American spy satellite program, Corona. But why would the Soviet Union, which forebade aircraft to overfly its territory, allow a satellite to overfly? (even if they were unaware it was for reconnaissance purposes) Hence, the theory that perhaps it was Eisenhower's preference that the USSR orbit the first satellite, to establish the precedent that space overflight was different than air overflight, and acceptable to the other superpower.

    Interestingly, when more data from overflights of the USSR later did become available to the US, starting in 1956 from the U-2 spy plane (until Francis Gary Powers was shot down in a U-2 over the Soviet Union in May 1960), and then beginning in August 1960 with photos from Corona (which orbited under the guise of the US Airforce's "Discoverer" scientific satellite series), it became evident that the US had a considerable lead on the USSR in strategic nuclear missiles. Indeed, from the perspective of Soviet Premier Nikita Krushchev, this may have been the biggest value of the early Soviet victories in the "Space Race" - that it gave the American public, and to a lesser extent their government, the impression that the Soviet Union had considerably greater strategic missile capabilties than it really had, thereby hopefully reducing the possibility of a "first strike" against the Soviet Union by the US.

    This model of Sputnik 2, my little memorial to Laika, is entirely scratchbuilt. Thanks to Toys-R-Us for the plastic dog figure.





    Soyuz T launcher (1/100)

    Soyuz T launcher (1/100)

    The Soyuz rocket in its many variations has been the most well utilized booster for manned space flight in history. The origins of this rocket go back to the early 1950's and the Soviet Union's development of the world's first Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) the R-7, or "Semiyoka". The first successful test flight of this first ICBM took place in August 1957. On October 4th of that year the same rocket was used to launch the world's first artificial Earth satellite,"Sputnik" (click for photo of model). The Soyuz booster in use today still utilizes essentially the same rocket for its first stage.

    The R-7 consisted of a central core stage with a four chamber engine surrounded by four conical shaped stap-on boosters (click for photo of model), each with a similar four chamber engine, all of which were fueled by kerosene and liquid oxygen. These strap-ons drop off after the first few minutes of flight, leaving the core stage to continue firing. In the case of the early sputniks there was no upper stage and, in fact, the entirety of the core stage was placed into orbit along with the satellite payload. The large lift capacity of this rocket, the need for which ironically was driven by the relatively primative state of Soviet thermonuclear weapon technology at the time which resulted in much heavier bombs than comparable explosive yield American weapons, placed the Soviets ahead of the Americans in the "Space Race" for many years, in fact well into the mid-1960s.

    To increase the lift capacity of the R-7 various upper stages have been added over the years. In 1959 an upper stage was added to boost Luna 1 to become the first man-made object to travel in the vicinity of the moon. A variation on this upper stage was used for the Vostok launcher (click for photo of model) which placed the first men in orbit in 1961. In the mid '60s a more powerful upper stage became available and was used as the Voskhod booster (click for photo of model), which was a heavier, modified Vostok used to take the first multi-man crews into orbit. Since 1967 variations on this upper stage have been used to boost the many versions of the Soyuz manned spacecraft into orbit. The Soyuz T variant, modelled here, was in use in the early 1980s for several years before being replaced by the improved Soyuz TM spacecraft and booster.

    Today, besides regularly launching crews in Soyuz spacecraft or Progress supply ferries to the International Space Station (ISS), the Soyuz booster remains a frequently called upon workhorse for the launch of many other unmanned satellites for weather, communications, reconnaisance, etc. Russian technology, at least by comparison to American technology, tends to be simpler but more robust and, if it works, they just keep using it. The long history of Soyuz booster is a classic demonstation of this philosophy that underlies Russian engineering.

    This model is based on the long unavailable MPC 1/100 Vostok launcher kit for the first stage, with an entirely scratchbuilt upper stage, spacecraft shroud and launch escape tower.



    Mercury-Atlas (1/48)

    Mercury-Atlas (1/48)

    The Atlas was America's first intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). It was developed in the 1950's just slightly later than the Soviet R-7 rocket (click to go to Soyuz-T launcher section for more info on the R-7). In fact the R-7 and the Atlas share many characteristics besides both being their respective nations' first ICBMs. Both were fueled by kerosene and liquid oxygen. Both consisted of 1 1/2 stage designs, where the the core "sustainer" stage as well as booster/strap-on engines were ignited on the ground, with the booster stage/strap-ons dropping off after several minutes leaving only the core/sustainer engine to continue firing. (click for photo of model demonstrating Atlas staging) And both the Atlas and the R-7 were modified to boost their respective nations' first men into orbit (though the first two Americans in space made suborbital missions using the smaller Mercury-Redstone (click for photo of model)).

    However, the Atlas was considerably smaller than the R-7 with a smaller lift capacity to orbit, which ironically was as a result of the American's more sophistocated thermonuclear weapon techology at the time the two rockets were designed, allowing for the American thermonuclear weapons to be smaller and lighter than Soviet weapons of comparable destructive yield. Variations on both the Atlas (click for video on launch of today's Atlas V) and the R-7 (click to go to section on Soyuz launcher) are still in use today.

    This 1/48 model depicts the last Mercury-Atlas launch vehicle, MA-9 or "Faith 7", in which Gordon Cooper made 22 orbits of the Earth over a day and a half in space in May 1963. The Atlas is based on the Eagle's Talon multi-media kit (resin, lucite tube, etc.) and the Mercury is from Revell's 1/48 Mercury-Gemini kit.



    Vostok (1/30)

    Vostok (1/30)

    This model is the first manned spacecraft, the Soviet Vostok. This was a one-person spacecraft first flown by Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space, who made one orbit of the Earth on April 12th, 1961. This vehicle made six manned flights between 1961 and 1963, the last flight of the series placing the first woman in space, Valentina Tereshkova, in June 1963.

    The Vostok in many ways was a simplier craft than its contemporary, the American Mercury manned spacecraft. Most of the Vostok flight was pre-programmed, and the cosmonaut actually did no real "flying" of the spacecraft, unless required to do so because of system failure(s). This is in contrast to the Mercury, which was designed (under some pressure from the Original 7 US astronauts) to require a pilot's input during flight.

    This model is based on the Ogonjek kit made in the Soviet Union and available (if you had connections) for a period in the West in the mid-1980s. It has been extensively detailed, most notably with the addition of the extended radiator panels on the retro module.




    The Loss of Liberty Bell 7 (1/48)

    The Loss of Liberty Bell7 (1/48)

    This diorama, a detail of which is shown here, depicts the end of the second manned American spaceflight, Mercury-Redstone 4, Gus Grissom's "Liberty Bell 7" flight of July 21st, 1961. The one-man Mercury spacecraft took the first Americans into space and later into orbit. After a successful 18 minute sub-orbital flight, Grissom splashed down in the Atlantic. While awaiting rescue, the capsule's hatch, held on by explosive bolts, inexplicably blew off, and water rushed into the spacecraft. Grissom almost drown and Liberty Bell 7 sunk to the bottom of the Atlantic in 18,000 feet of water.

    Grissom went on to command the first Gemini flight, GT-3 in March 1965, but was killed in the Apollo 1 fire (along with Ed White and Roger Chaffee) in January 1967. Liberty Bell 7 lay on the bottom of the Atlantic for 38 years, but in the summer of 1999 it was found and recovered by a type of submersible that was not available in the 1960s. The spacecraft has now been restored and resides in a museum.

    This diorama is based upon the Revell 1/48 Mercury capsule and two different 1/48 kits of variants of the H-34 helicopter, with lots of detailing borrowed from other sources. The ocean base is polyester resin, which was cast in an RTV mould made from a Plaster of Paris ocean surface. The trickiest part of making this diorama was finding a way to suspend the helicopter, and finding something to represent the rotating rotor that was not too heavy.


    Click here to continue on to the fourth page with more of my models of spacecraft and launch vehicles and the history behind them. Click here to carry on to the models on the fifth page and sixth pages. To return to the descriptions of my trips to space centres around the world, return to the home page or the second page.

    This page will change and evolve over time, so check back periodically. I welcome any questions or comments and can be contacted at:

    Ken R. Harman
    last revision date: December 2013