Space, the final frontier.
For something that is tantalisingly out of reach, space has been among the most popular themes in the LEGO brick-building universe over the past several decades. The first space set was introduced in the mid-1960s, and from fantasy space vehicles and space stations to spaceships from popular franchises such as Marvel and Star Wars, LEGO has hundreds of space-themed sets to suit all ages. Yet, it’s only in the recent past that LEGO space sets have truly begun to capture the nuances and sheer history of human space travel, many of which have been designed in collaboration with the US space agency Nasa. This week also marks another anniversary of the Apollo Moon landings: all the more reason to revisit this line-up.
Whether you have young adults in the house or are a young-at-heart parent (as I am), these moderately complex sets are perfect to dive into the wonders of engineering that have taken humankind beyond this planet. Plus, they make for great additions to the shelf.
Obsessed with space? You should launch off with the Space Shuttle Discovery, an authentic recreation of the craft that, over 27 years of service, launched and landed 39 times, notching up more space flights than any other spacecraft to date.
The level of detail on this 2,354-piece set will put a smile even for the most jaded of Lego builders, right from the retractable landing gear and the tailerons on the wings, to the openable payload bay with a robotic arm to deploy the otherwise-stowed Hubble Telescope model out into its low-Earth orbit. There are even five seats for the crew and a detailed cockpit with controls, but the set lacks any minifigures (somewhat understandable, given the scale of the model).
As with most of the Nasa sets, the included instruction booklet is packed with fascinating facts about the Shuttle and the Hubble, including (get this!) the fact that the flags on the starboard side of the shuttle are actually backwards due to a regulation that the American flag must always fly with the stars forward!
When it’s finished, this sizable 22-inch x 19-inch model is a tough one to display – the Hubble can be attached to the Discovery for display, or shown off separately if space is limited. But it’s a small price to pay for an otherwise impressive replica of a truly iconic spacecraft.
This is one of those rare LEGO sets that was initially retired and saw a re-release. All with good reason. This epic set is among the most imposing space sets out there, standing upright at nearly a meter tall. Made up of 1969 pieces, a delightful little nod to its successful mission in 1969 to take the Apollo 11 to the Moon, this is a relatively quick set to get through with the somewhat repetitive nature of building the Saturn V’s cylindrical rocket structure.
Despite the 180-page instruction booklet, many steps ask you to build two to four identical parts at once, which came in handy when I was splitting building duties with my 10-year-old. The reward is in the result: as long as it fits somewhere in your living room. Although you can display the rocket in three distinct sections on the included display stands if space is an issue.
From the visually accurate Rocketdyne F-1 engines and the three removable sections of the multi-stage rocket to the command and service modules that took the Lunar Lander to the moon, you get a real sense of each stage of the launch. Alongside the rocket, the set comes with microscale dioramas of the lunar lander on the moon surface and the command module in the sea after the touchdown. There are even two tiny astronaut micro figures to give you a sense of scale of this thing. The bit I loved as a long-time Lego builder was how they achieved the cylindrical shape with what is otherwise fundamentally a square building system. The relatively simple Saturn V exterior hides beneath it a complex layer of building expertise and strong underpinnings, far more than is revealed to the casual observer when it’s up and ready.
This set is, without a doubt, worth trawling around on online stores or collector forums (it’s recently been retired).
Released to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the lunar landing, the Apollo 11 Lunar Lander is an instantly recognizable set, with all sorts of nods to the Moon landing… well, at least as much as a plastic brick system could allow.
You start with building the display stand, which is a small chunk of the Tranquility Base from the lunar surface, complete with little minifigure footprints and US flag. The replica of the Eagle lunar module comes with all the little details, from the control panels inside to the realistically placed fuel and oxidizer tanks and even the external cameras that captured the moon landing. It goes further still – there are two astronaut minifigures in space suits with Nasa decorations, as well as the ladder, so you can recreate the moment for yourself.
This is one of those rare sets that uses gold rather liberally across the set, from the helmets of the astronauts to the feet of the Lander and across the body of the descent stage, but one wishes there were far fewer stickers in the set and far more printed parts. Also, in staying as close to the original design, some bits are intentionally left somewhat flimsy, which means this set is best kept away from younger children intent on recreating the iconic moon landing.
Part of the fan-inspired LEGO Ideas line, the International Space Station (ISS) is an authentic tribute to one of humanity’s most impressive achievements, one that took over 30 space missions and over 10 years to build.
This 864-piece set though, can be up and ready in a little more than a couple of hours, teaching you a lot about the ISS’s construction during its assembly. It has the same proportions - the 20-inch-long integrated central truss structure with the habitation modules, all the docking ports you’d expect and the characteristic, expansive solar panel arrangement - all of which give the set the sense of scale, depth, and stature when up on display.
The set is accompanied by tiny versions of the Space Shuttle and a SpaceX Dragon capsule, allowing you to dock into the station with supplies and recreate a little bit of the action right in your living room. It even features the ISS’ two robotic arms – the Japanese Remote Manipulator System and the CanadArm2 – as movable pieces that can grab one of the mini capsules.
As you build in the various antennae, airlocks and heat exchangers, be sure not to miss the little piece with printed windows that represents the famous viewing cupola. Experienced builders may find putting together the solar panel structure a little repetitive, and by its very nature, the set is a little flimsy and easily knocked off the included stand. Stick it in one place, and the glorious replica impresses with its attention to detail and gives one a real appreciation of the complexity of pulling the actual ISS together -- 400 kilometers up in the air, brick by brick.
Inspired by 1980s science fiction, the four space artworks feature four vignettes which can be displayed either together or separately as wall hangings or self-standing units. Each postcard-size (5.5-inch x 3.5-inch) unit depicts our childhood fascination with the cosmos, from a meteor shower falling over a pair of satellite dishes and a rover on a distant planet under the shadow of two moons to a rocket launch (with a neat Big Dipper in the night sky) and the event horizon of a black hole. It’s a tasteful addition to any space enthusiast’s study, an everyday reminder of far along human exploration has come.
Tushar Kanwar, a tech columnist and commentator, tweets @2shar.
Also read: The art of becoming a Lego plant parent