Jim Brooks’ Apollo CSM


This is the Monogram 1/32 scale CSM model, the only commercially-produced kit of the Block II Apollo spacecraft. The kit is really very accurate out of the box, but I wanted to build it this time around without the clear section that allows you to look into the Command and Service Modules.

Unfortunately, this didn’t simply mean gluing the sections in and puttying the seams. Whether by accident or design the clear sections of the hull (especially the command module) were modeled on a slightly larger circumference. This required a great deal of sanding and shaping as well as filling, the upshot being that some of the raised hull detail was lost and had to be replaced later.

Once the clear segments of the hull had been placed and blended, it was time to finish the hull on the CM. Most of the photos we’ve all seen demonstrate that the hull was extremely reflective. Many people (the people at Monogram included) also erroneously believed that the hull was gold-colored. In fact, the hull was covered with stripes of Kapton foil (the same mylar and nickel blankets used on the LM, but silver-side out) laid out in diagonal patterns. To replicate this (and entrench and latent streak of masochism), I used an Xacto knife to cut 6 mm wide strips of “ultra bright chrome” Bare Metal Foil, then placed them in the correct pattern on the hull. I thought this would be more difficult than it was since the available photos for creating a “grid” to orient the strips aren’t comprehensive. However, I found that once I got started, the complete layout took care of itself. To stay accurate, the middle heatshield (essentially the crew cabin area) and the forward heatshield (covering the parachutes and docking tunnel) were done in different patterns. Incidentally, the width was an approximation since the only reference I had quoted a measurement that — when scaled down — would obviously have been too wide.

Certain access panels had to have additional foil covering and after I did that, I blacked out the wells surrounding the two docking windows, ran a line of red detailing tape at the junction of the middle heatsheild and after heatshield and then applied water-slide decals from the kit as well as Rick Sternback’s excellent decals (available from www.spacemodelsystems.com).

Although I thought that I’d just breeze through the SM, I ended up having to create the sections (or panels) of the skin where the reaction control thruster quads are. I did this by cutting a base of size 101 styrene sheet. Rivets were created with drops of white glue and the raised circular areas I stamped from a thicker stock using brass tubes whose ended were ground sharp with a Dremel.

The predominant color for the SM was Testor’s aluminum plate metalizer. The nozzles on the RCS quads were silver with a slight over-spray of gold to suggest the anodized finish of the real things. The after end, surrounding the main engine (SPS) bell was Bare Metal Foil “matte aluminum.” I used the color scheme from the Skylab Rescue CSM currently at the Kennedy Space Center for the bell itself.

Some time down the line, I might replace the high gain antenna on the SM with one available overseas which is made of photo-etched brass. Also, as soon as I can figure out a practical way to do it, I’ll add the EVA rail that goes around the CM docking collar.

All in all, I was surprised to find that this kit was much more time-consuming than the 1/48 LM model by Monogram (the Tranquility Base kit). I was also pleasantly surprised that the foil ended up looking the way it should (I’ve found that when the spacecraft is under intense illumination the strip pattern vanishes and looks like a solid unbroken skin, just like the real thing). The foundation of the whole project was the research material available — The Project Apollo Image Gallery (http://www.apolloarchive.com/apollo_gallery.html ), Sven Knudson’s Ninfinger Productions website (http://www.ninfinger.org/~sven/models/apollo/apollo.html), as well as a slew of others over the years which I’ve unfortunately forgotten. Scott Sullivan’s Virtual Apollo was a help, too, though this was more to confirm or clarify details contained in photos of the spacecraft.

Jim Brooks

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Sci-Fi & Fantasy Modeller vol. 25 preview