Tom Hering’s Disney Moon Rocket RM-1

This is the iconic “moon rocket ship” from Walt Disney’s “Man and the Moon” (1955). The design was a serious concept that appeared on the cover of LIFE magazine, in books about future space travel, and on the postage stamps of other nations. Its purpose was to perform a reconnaissance of the Moon from lunar orbit, looking for sites that could be used by the first fleet of landers (much bigger, completely different ships). Apollo 8 would carry out this reconnaissance for real in 1968.

I built and painted my model – the 1993 Glencoe reissue of Strombecker’s 1958 kit – to match the look of the ship in the Wernher von Braun segment of “Man and the Moon.” In that segment, the ship is an aqua color, and hasn’t yet received its “RM-1” markings. The paint I used to replicate the studio model’s color is Model Master “Fifties Aqua.” (In the action sequences of “Man and the Moon,” the ship looks white or gray. This may be a matter of lighting and/or film stock. Or it may be that the model was repainted when markings and a retractable flare launcher were added. Or it may be a second model. Whatever the case, in one close up, where an external fuel tank is being repaired, the ship still looks aqua.)

The following modifications were made to the kit.

The kit’s bulky pedestal mount for the “directional radio-radar antenna” was trimmed to more closely match the pedestal on the studio model. The heavy braces connecting the dish antenna to the pedestal were replaced with stretched sprue. The ribbed face of the dish was sanded smooth.

The kit’s plastic support struts for the external fuel tanks were replaced with paper clip wire. Each wire was bent at both ends. The 3/16” circular feet connecting the struts to the ship’s fuselage were punched out of pre-painted adhesive labels, and applied after the fuselage was painted.

 

The way the fuselage in the kit is designed, a tank support strut interrupts the row of portholes (on both the left and right side of the ship). Whereas on the studio model, the portholes run between two struts. The cause of the problem is that the portholes are placed along the ship’s beltline in the kit, but are placed above the beltline on the studio model. The simplest solution was to reposition the struts where they meet the fuselage, filling the old mounting holes and drilling new ones.

Two thrusters, their mounting braces, and their fuel tanks were added above and below the main engine. Each thruster was made of scrap styrene (the silver box), two road wheel hubs from an armor kit (the combustion chamber), and a tail light from an armor kit (the exhaust bell). The mounting braces were cut from the kit’s plastic tank support struts and bent to shape. The fuel tanks are 1/4” styrene tubes filled with epoxy putty. Two tiny tabs cut from a length of 3/64” square styrene rod were glued to the bottom of each silver box, forming a channel that made it possible to attach the thrusters to their mounting braces. The scene in “Man and the Moon” where the ship passes in front of the Moon, and the main engine ignites, shows the thrusters best. (Thanks to David Merriman for his von Braun Cargo Rocket Part 1 here on Fantastic Modeling. The photos of his project confirmed my guesses about details of the Moon rocket’s thrusters.)


The kit base was replaced with a simple disc and dowel. A printed detail of the Korolev crater on the far side of the moon was glued to the disc.

Tom Hering

You can watch the ship in action here:

 


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