This started out as one of the iterations of the old Monogram Apollo 11 Landing kit. I decided to modify it to Al Shepard’s Antares LM (seen in the first image) so I threw away the base and ALSEP instruments and started fresh.
To begin with, I used the resin and photo-etched parts to bring the stock lunar module up to snuff. I also went for a more accurate color and texture scheme. Probably everyone who’s into the Apollo program knows that the original LMs were necessarily flimsy to shed as much weight as possible. The external skin of the ascent module was a thin layer of aluminum (mostly) so lightweight that when attached to the framework on the outside of the spacecraft, the metal buckled. I tried to approximate that uneven look by thickening the paint and applying it with a brush, doing what I could to simulate the unevenness of the original. The color was a very light green, approximating the oxidized color that the operational LMs sported. Most photos make the skin look silver or gray, but most of it was that green (the exceptions were the two LMs from Apollo 9 and 10 which were not fitted out to land).
For the descent engine I jettisoned the gold foil that most kits utilize. Instead, I used a ‘space blanket’ from a trip a couple of years ago to Johnson Spaceflight Center. A thin sheet of mylar coated with gold color on one side and silver on the other, it was perfect – it ‘wrinkled’ in a way that was a closer match to the real thing. And why not – the kapton blankets actually used on the descent stage were very similar. To hold that texture and attach it to the model, though, I had to use copious amounts of rubber cement on the back. I was pleased with the final effect, though. That unfinished look also extended to the parts wrapped in black thermal blankets. For those I did used aluminum foil (also wrinkled and uneven) which was then painted flat black.
For the base, I built up a contour platform with stacks of sheet plastic to act as a support for the ‘lunar surface.’ Shepard had landed Antares on the slope of a crater, so I wanted to simulate the ‘tilt’ seen in the NASA photo (you can see it in the NASA photo). Then I used a two-part epoxy modeling compound to create the surface itself. While still pliable, I pressed the LM footpads into the material. To create the footprints, I earlier used the same modeling compound to create ‘boot positives’ from the footprints on the original Monogram base. I used these to stamp the boot treads into the still-pliable ‘lunar surface.’ For expediency’s sake, I chose to ‘freeze the moment’ at the time when Shepard and Mitchell would have been on the surface and deployed the ALSEP package from the descent stage, but before any of the instruments or the MET (also known as the ‘lunar rickshaw’).
One of the strangest things about building this model was having to remember that the real lunar modules were hand-make things, built to get the job done, not to look pretty. I think we all have a reflexive mindset to make our models very clean and finished. With the LMs the philosophy is 180 degrees the other way – whereas the Apollo command module looks like a spaceship, the LM looks like it was slapped together with tape and a prayer. But rough as it looked, it certainly got the job done whether on the surface of the Fra Mauro highlands or even as a lifeboat for Jim Lovell’s Apollo 13.