Apollo CSM
1/96 scale resin model kit
by RealSpace Models

and

Ultimate Apollo Command and
Service Module (CSM) Decals
1/96 scale by Space Model Systems
 

Kit Review by Alan Nadel

This review originally appeared at MundoHobby.com


     By 1967, The United States was entering the active phase of the Apollo program to put a man on the Moon. On January 27, the Apollo 1 spacecraft was on the launch pad, ready for the final “dress rehearsal” before launching into the first manned orbital test of what would hopefully become Man's first operational Moon Ship.

    What the engineers at NASA and the rest of the world could not anticipate was the tragedy that followed. An electrical spark ignited the flammable interior of the Apollo Command Module in a nearly pure oxygen environment, killing astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee. This catastrophic event would prompt NASA and the Rockwell Corp. to redesign the Command and Service Modules into what would become the Apollo Command/Service Module, Block II.

    At this same time, model kit manufacturers were rushing to produce kits depicting the Apollo spacecraft. What they didn't anticipate were the visible changes that would be made to the spacecraft after their kits hit the shelves. This is not unusual in the modeling industry. Kits of a variety of subjects including cars and aircraft are often patterned after prototypes which may differ from production versions. Rather than retool their molds to reflect the changes which would, no doubt, be very costly, manufacturers chose to go on producing their kits of the Apollo CSM in its Block I form.

    RealSpace Models of Tallahassee, Florida has been producing highly accurate resin kits of factual spacecraft since the mid 1990s. One of their kits is a reproduction of the Block II CSM in 1/96 scale. Although it's primarily sold as a replacement for the Block I CSM that is supplied with Revell’s tremendous Apollo/Saturn V kit, I decided to build it as a companion to Heller’s 1/100 scale Lunar Module, which I had already built. I had determined that the scale difference would be minimal.

    Out of the box, the kit contains only four parts: The conical Command Module ("CM") molded together with the Service Module ("SM"), the main engine bell and Service Module heat shield and the CSM umbilical which transferred air and power from the Service Module to the Command Module. Other parts, such as the four Reaction Control Thruster assemblies and the four-dished High-Gain Antenna are to come from the Revell kit. (I had the parts from a 1/100 scale Heller kit. I figured the difference should not be enough to notice.) The kit also comes with a vacuform part representing the Command Module's Boost Protective Cover or "BPC". This conical part shielded the Command Module during launch and was carried away from the spacecraft by the Emergency Escape Tower before reaching orbit. Since I was modeling the Apollo spacecraft in space and not in launch on a Saturn V, I omitted this part. Excellent photos of the unassembled kit can be seen on a "Quick Look" page on Sven Knudson's Ninfinger Scale Modeling website.
 

Click on the above image for a larger view
    The quality of the castings, as is usual with kits from RealSpace, is excellent. RealSpace’s casting quality rivals and in some cases exceeds that of many injection-molded kits. Part surfaces are mostly smooth although the Command Module has a rather uniform pebbled surface texture. The straight panel lines are raised and very fine. The ½ inch long umbilical had a large “pouring stub” which was easily removed and cleaned up. The Heat Shield/Engine Bell also had a resin "plug" on the front end that went against the Service Module which was easily sanded off. The same was true about the back end of the Service Module. Though the resin was soft and sanded easily, care must be taken to sand both surfaces as flat as possible. These sanded ends are joined to each other.

    Problems with this kit are few, the biggest being the Command Module's tripod shaped docking probe. The three struts of the probe are molded with flash filling the space under them and the docking collar. The struts themselves are delicate, making the thick flash very difficult to remove. So difficult to remove, in fact, that I broke off one of the probe struts trying to de-flash it. This prompted me to remove the entire docking collar and scratch-build a new one out of spare parts.

    Also very fragile are the "scimitar" antennas, two semicircular, paper thin resin shapes extending directly out of the Service Module. Care must be taken in handling the part to avoid breaking one or both off as I did. They were replaced with the antennas from the Heller CSM kit.

    Another problem, and this one cannot be blamed on RealSpace, is that the parts from the Heller kit are out of scale and really don't look very good. The same parts from Revell's 1/96 scale kit are no better. These parts would be scratch-built, instead.

   In my trusty spare parts box, I found some sprue from an old Lindberg aircraft kit. (Sprue is the familiar "trees" that plastic model kit parts come attached to.) Sections of this sprue were the perfect size and shape for the RCS units. The RCS thruster cones came from a Heller Lunar Module kit in 1/100 scale. The scratch-built RCS Units are much more convincing than the ones that come with the Heller or Revell CSM kits.

   The four-dish high-gain antenna was scratch-built using spare parts for the armature and the dishes. The docking probe was made using a wheel from a 1/72 scale armor kit and three pieces of stretched round sprue.
 

    Painting the model was very simple. The CM was masked off leaving the docking probe exposed and the SM was sprayed with Flat White Krylon Primer. After that coat had dried completely, the ribbed cooling panels were masked off with Parafilm-"M" laboratory film and the model was sprayed with Model Master Chrome spray enamel. When the last coat of Chrome was almost dry, the Parafilm was removed, as was the masking over the CM.

    The CM was covered with Bare Metal Ultra Bright Chrome foil. I considered sanding and smoothing out the surface texture to achieve the smooth surface of the real thing but I didn't want to sand off any surface details, particularly the panel lines and EVA hand-holds. The foil followed every detail and texture of the resin beneath, bringing out the delicate raised panel work and gave the Command Module a realistic metallic sheen. The pebbled texture of the part, however, detracts from the look, making it impossible to achieve the CM's mirror finish.

    As with the RCS thrusters and the High-Gain Antenna, the decals from the Revell/Heller kit are meant to be used. This decal consists of little more than an out-of-scale pair of American flags with "UNITED STATES" printed above each, to go on opposite sides of the Command Module. Like some other inexpensive model kits, the colors were out of register.
 
    Instead, I used Space Model Systems' Ultimate Apollo Command & Service Module (CSM) Decals which include every marking found on the surface of every CSM from Apollo 8 to Apollo 17. They were researched by, among others, space artists Rick Sternbach and David Weeks. Detailed drawings, below, map out where each of the decals go. I needed to wear a magnifier just to see some of the smaller markings. Flawlessly printed by Microscale, even the tiniest decals went on easily and the set made a big difference in turning this kit into an impressive model.
Command Module decal guide
Service Module decal guide

Click on either of the above images for a larger view

    The model sits atop a 3/16 inch (4.76mm) diameter acrylic rod mounted on a flat resin Space Base upon which also sits the Lunar Module model.

    RealSpace's Block II Command/Service Module is an excellent model kit, whether used as an improvement to top off Revell's  Saturn V kit or, as I built it, as a stand-alone model. With (or without) a little scratch-building, it's possible to get an accurate model of the spacecraft that carried men to the moon.







Realspace Models' APOLLO CSM

Pros:  Very accurate, easy to build, well-cast

Cons: Pebbled texture on the CM, fragile parts that will break if not handled carefully, recommended use of Revell RCS units and High Gain Antenna not adequate for accurate model

Space Model Systems' ULTIMATE APOLLO COMMAND AND SERVICE MODULE (CSM) DECALS

Pros:  Decals for every Apollo mission flown, clearly printed, good color registration, thin but strong carrier film, go on easily

Cons: None!
 



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