Drawing modified from Shane Johnson's U.S.S. Discovery Blueprints

Scale Modeling Tutorial by Alan Nadel
This tutorial originally appeared on the 2OO1: A Space Odyssey Collectibles Exhibit website

    I've been a big fan of 2001: A Space Odyssey since I first saw it in 1969 at the age of 13. Considered a groundbreaking film, it set a new standard for how a space movie should look by pioneering special effects techniques and getting visual inspiration from the hardware used during the Space Race of the 1960s.

   Shortly after release of the film, Aurora and Airfix released model kits of the Moon Bus and the Orion III space plane, also known as the Space Clipper. There were a few other spacecraft in the film that would have been great subjects for model kits but nothing else from 2001 was ever produced.

   The 1980s and 90s saw the rise of the "garage kit" industry. These kits are produced by home hobbyists who cast polyurethane resin parts by hand (often in their garage). Most garage kits sold are of subjects that are not available from the major companies. In the mid 1980s, Lunar Models produced a garage kit of the Discovery.

   In the early 1970s, Aurora was rumored to have a few more kits from 2001 in the works but the company went out of business before any were ever produced.
 The kit came in a heavy corrugated cardboard box with a label and photograph of a finished, painted kit. Larger parts were in their own separate bags, smaller parts separated into two smaller bags. The fuel pods which came in three sizes were bagged separately. The 3 long spine parts were wedged into the box diagonally, un-bagged.The kit's instructions can be viewed as a PDF file by clicking here.

   The kit is patterned after the Discovery as it appeared in the 1984 movie 2010: The Year We Make Contact and is slightly different from the Discovery in 2001. Some modifications to the kit would be needed to make this model look more like the Discvovery from the 1968 film.

   Research was not easy to come by in the early 1990s. There was no Internet like we have today. The best resource I had was a VHS print of the film which I could view with a 19-inch TV set. Even with freeze-frame, the image quality of what we now call "standard definition" TV was just not up to the task of providing an image sharp enough for close-up detail.

Open Door  
  Lunar Models' Discovery is an intimidating kit. It includes 84 polyurethane resin parts, many of which are cast poorly. This was the early days of cast-resin garage kits when casting quality could range from the good to the bad and in some cases, the ugly. This kit would include samples of all three. Some of the parts would need some work and others were just unusable and would have to be replaced.

   The spherical "Command Section" had its problems. The middle of the three pod-bay doors showed signs of some serious mold deterioration. There were some resin lumps and berries that were so bad that it became necessary to grind out the entire door with a Dremel rotary tool.

   Fortunately, the kit came with an extra bay door to build the kit with the pod-bay open. I used it to replace the removed door. A hold-down jig was made to hold the sphere on a milling table to make a flat seat for the new door. The 3/8 inch thick resin of the part was cut with an end mill to just under 1/8 inch and the new door was glued into place.

   Overall, detail looked klunky and a little exaggerated with many air bubbles in the resin. Some panel lines were at slight angles and others almost looked as if they were scribed freehand. Most of the detail was filled with putty and sanded smooth until the part was nearly featureless. Instead of scratch-building the lost detail back onto the sphere, I decided it would be added back to the model as painted-on features.

Inside Sphere
New door
   The hollow pressure sphere was sanded on the inside until Discovery's sealed front window was open. The Command Room was scratch-built with sheet styrene and model railroad bulbs. A video tape of 2001 was used as a reference as was Shane Johnson's "Discovery Blueprints" which have excellent diagrams of the spaceship's interior. Assorted decals of instrumentation from other kits covered the back wall. The Command Room would be visible through the narrow slot of the front window so details were kept to a minimum. Three 3-volt model railroad lamps light the interior space - two in the lower corners, one above the center corridor. The photo on the right shows the finished Command Room with a nickel for scale.
Discovery interior
    As cast, the Command Section has eight evenly-spaced depressions which are labeled in the blueprints as "reaction control thrusters." The Discovery in the film had only one of these depressions on the forward right side, just below the pod-pay door. I filled in the other seven with Squadron brand filler putty. The air-lock door on the left side of the pressure sphere was way too deep and looked more like a trench than a door. It was also filled with putty. When the putty was cured it was wet sanded until flush with the curve of the sphere. Cured Squadron putty expands when it gets wet and shrinks when it dries. The putty on the air-lock door shrunk just enough to give it a better, more subtle recess.

    Probably the most obvious problem with the Command Section was that the part was short by 1/8 inch which caused a mismatch between the sphere and the flange behind it. A spacer made from 1/8 inch thick sheet styrene was glued to the back of the sphere which corrected this problem.

Offset Spacer
    The conical section behind the Command Section was replaced with a section of a styrene Estes Rocket nose cone detailed with a one-half ounce half-and-half container like the kind served in restaurants. This improved on the accuracy of the part. The part was then drilled out and a piece of 1/8-inch K&S brass tubing was glued inside to reinforce the joint between the flange and the spine.
Un-modified flange Nose cone
Got milk? modified flange
    The three section, 20-inch long spine is made of resin cleverly cast over brass for strength. The two ends are cast over brass rod and the center section over brass tube, making for a secure fit as well as providing locator pins for the Command Section in the front and "Reactor Section" in the rear. The spine of my kit was fairly straight and cast pretty well but I have heard that owners of later kits weren't so lucky.
    The spine was nicely molded with lots of fine detail. One of these details, the spine "Segment Clamps" (arrow, right), run along the spine in 36 places. Many were broken and were replaced with pieces scratch-built from sheet styrene. The kit actually includes a few resin replacements but most of those were short cast or also broken.
   Lunar's instruction sheet has a diagram showing the locations of the 62 "fuel pods" which come in three sizes and are positioned along the spine. Though confusing at first glance, the instructions were helpful in arranging the fuel pods in their accurate configuration. In order to ensure that all the pods wouldn't look uneven when glued to the spine, a jig was made to hold each one down on a milling table and they were all milled to the same thickness. To glue the fuel pods to the spine, I made another jig to hold them in a straight line, similar to the milling jig but 24 inches long to hold an entire row of pods. 

    The entire communication antenna and mounting were unusable. The base was inaccurate, being modeled after the Discovery in 2O1O and the antenna mast was not only warped but short cast. The three dishes were anything but dish-shaped and the main antenna's probe was so covered with flash and resin lumps that it took me a while to figure out what it was.

   A new main dish was made from a section of a spherical fuel tank from another kit The two small dishes were made from left-over vacuformed warp drive domes from my Enterprise build.

   A new probe for the main dish was made by chucking a piece of 1/16 inch acrylic rod in a hand drill and shaping it lathe-style with a needle file. Dish cross members were made from strips of .020 inch sheet styrene.

   A new swiveling mast and base were scratch-built from sheet styrene and acrylic rod.

Reactor Section  
   The Reactor Section was detailed using a combination of K&S brass wire with spare parts from other kits. This hollow cast part was almost problem free with an easily cleaned up mold parting line.  1/8-inch diameter holes were drilled in the front and back ends of the part and a length of brass tube was glued inside the piece flush with the front and extending 3/8 inch from the back (indicated by the gray stripe in the photo at left). This would help to secure the joint between the reactor and the back end of the spine and would also provide a locator pin for the center engine.
  One of the three engines looked as if it were cast during another run of the kit. While two of them were cast in light tan resin with very sharp detailing, the third was a darker (maybe older?) resin with very soft details and flaws in the resin such as air bubbles and "mold berries." It was cleaned up with a Dremel grinding tool and the addition of sheet styrene.
   The EVA pod is beautifully detailed for its size, about 5/8 inch high. Though not entirely accurate, I thought it looked good enough to leave alone. 

   The pod's arms are cast resin and considering the size show some nice detail. After seeing how other small parts like the antenna pieces were cast, this was a nice surprise. Flash was easily scraped off and no other clean-up was needed.

   The "WARNING: EXPLOSIVE BOLTS" marking on the door (which may or may not actually say that - it's too tiny to read) is from a 1/72 aircraft kit.

    The model was painted with Tamiya acrylics. Using my trusty Badger 150 airbrush and lots of masking material, I painted a series of panels in various shades of light grey on the Command Section. Details that were sanded off in the process of cleaning up a less than perfect casting job were painted back on.

The spine and reactor/engine sections were spray painted with medium gray automotive primer. Details were then colored with a black Sharpie marker. An airbrushed coat of white acrylic paint makes the Sharpie markings just barely visible.

    The 31-inch long Discovery was mounted on a scratch-built display stand. The stand's forward support post is topped by a 1/8 inch phone plug which connects to a phone jack below and behind the Command Section and provides the 9 volts necessary to light the Command room. The EVA pod is mounted on a 1/8 inch piece of acrylic rod.


    Though I didn't keep a record of my work on this model, I'm sure that with all the part cleanup and additional scratch-building the Discovery took at least 40 hours to complete. Though this kit presented many challenges, it was a lot of fun to build.

   In 2002, the model was filmed for a television program on the Discovery Science Channel called The Great Books - 2OO1: A Space Odyssey which examines the writing of the novel and 1969 film by Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick. In a few scenes, actors portray Clarke and Kubrick working at a table covered with typewritten ideas and models from the movie. Discovery is visible stretched across the middle of the table and the command sphere actually appears in close-up. The show is available on YouTube and can be seen by clicking on the image below. The model first appears at about 18 minutes into the show.

Gallery Page


©2OO1 - 2O23, Alanoodle Creations