by Doug Jones
Project Constellation was created in 2004 from a mandate by President George W. Bush as a result of findings by the space shuttle Columbia Accident Board. Determining that the shuttle was simply too dangerous a machine to continue flying Bush ordered NASA to stand down orbiter ops by 2010 and begin work on the crewed exploration vehicle or CEV.
It was determined by NASA after considerable research, that the CEV would in essence be Apollo 2.0 or as NASA administrator Mike Griffin called "Apollo on steroids!". Interestingly enough the crew module does resemble an over sized Apollo command module. As Griffin put it, the Apollo designers in the 1960's "got it right".
For nearly five years NASA has labored over the final design of the new CEV or as it is called now 'Orion' spacecraft. Problems with the Orion's launch vehicle-Ares 1, have imposed several changes in the initial design. As of January 2009 the critical design review for finalizing Orion is still months maybe even a year away as engineers continue to workout weight issues between Orion and Ares 1.
Garage model kit company Fantastic Plastic http://www.fantastic-plastic.com/OrionCEVCatalogPage.htm is a fairly recent start-up. Allen B. Ury teamed up with model kit designer Scott Lowther to create several factual designed spacecraft as well as a host of sci-fi subjects. In 2005 Ury released the first 1/72 scale kit of the CEV based on early NASA concept designed. In 2007 Ury released an updated Orion reflecting changes that were in work at that time. Since the critical design review has not conviened there is really no telling what the final design that ship will take on. Nevertheless, those modelers out there eager to build at least some sort of Orion kit will not be disapppointed with Fantastic Plastic's latest version of the Orion.
I have the earlier CEV kit from Fantastic Plastic and I will say Lowther and Ury have made improvements to the newer kit that make it much easier to work with. First and foremost is the crew module is hollow making the overall model much lighter to handle. The decals are much better this time around although everyone should follow the instructions regarding a clear coat over them before applications to the model. I messed-up one decal because I didn't take the time to read the instructions.
The tiny RCS thrusters for me were too much to deal with. That doesn't make what Fantastic Plastic produced bad. It simply meant I did not have the proper tiny cutting tools and patience to cut them off the resin "sprue". I opted to use RCS thrusters from a Revell 1/96 Apollo CSM left-over.
Since the final design is still up in the air I felt I had some license to the paint scheme. I used foiled Halloween candy wrappers for the service module. I don't know if the final version will have Kapton foil however, I felt it added to the final look. I did somewhat follow the box art as well as photos I made of a full-scale mock-up of the Orion crew module at the Kennedy Space Center this past summer.
The kit is essentially a straight-forward build. With the RCS thrusters being the most difficult part of the assembly process everything else went together without a hitch. The kit does not come with a stand. You may either purchase a stand from Fantastic Plastic or make one yourself. I made my own and added 1/72 scale astronaut figures. At $60 it is a little pricey however I felt that it was worth the money considering that there are no other available Orion kits in 1/72 scale on the market.
Doug Jones, OVSMA#1