Space Shuttle Columbia-The Forward Reaction Control System

The Forward Reaction Control System (RCS) controls many aspects of the shuttles flight while in orbit. While on the ground there are covers over these thrusters to stop foreign objects falling in and potentially damaging the motors. In orbit the are open. The model has most of them moulded as if the covers are in place. Particularly the ones on the side.

The picture shows the shuttle out at the launch pad and it still has the covers. Pictures without the covers in place are not common since it’s presumably difficult to take pictures of them while in orbit.

RCS Thrusters
RCS Thrusters

This shows the details on the kit, with the flat, featureless areas where the thrusters should be. If this was a model of the shuttle stacked up then these would be fine with a little extra detailing.

RCS Thrusters
RCS Thrusters

They were drilled out and the area smoothed off with needle files and sandpaper.

RCS Thrusters
RCS Thrusters

The holes were backed with a big squash of Milliput and working slowly with the tip of a paintbrush the thruster bells were formed in the soft Milliput. Using water and a little alcohol you can produce a vert good finish. Also allow the Milliput to set up for a few hours before giving it a final polish while still slightly soft.

RCS Thrusters
RCS Thrusters

The thrusters on the nose were more detailed than those on the side but the oval ones at the front still looked too flat, so these were also removed.

Top RCS
Top RCS

Here they have been drilled out.

Top RCS
Top RCS

And filled in using the same Milliput technique described above.

Top RCS
Top RCS
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Space Shuttle Columbia-The Shopping List

The starting point for the build is the long list of items I’ve purchased to complete it in the way I have in my mind.

The Revell Space Shuttle

I have elected to do this in 1:72 scale, which is the largest commerically available version of the Shuttle. The choice is the Revell version or the Monogram version, both companies having produced their own versions prior to them merging. The Revell version was the only one I could get hold of so this limited my choice and decided on the model. I found mine at Hannants and didn’t really realise what I was letting myself in for until it arrived. This is a big model and is going to take some time and a great deal of effort to build. In retrospect maybe using a 1:144 model would have been a better bet, but it should certainly be impressive once it’s finished.

The first clue that this was going to be a major project was the size of the box. This thing is huge.

The Box
The Box

The first sprue which has the left hand side of the fuselage, the cargo bay doors and some of the smaller parts including the two astronaut figures.

Parts
Parts

Revell have made an attempt at representing the thermal tiles and blankets which protect the shuttle by adding raised panel lines. You can just about see them in this picture. These will need to be sanded off.

Panels
Panels

The second sprue with the underside and the ends of the cargo bays. Also parts of the landing gear which wont be used in this build.

Parts
Parts

The underside has a finely etched tiles pattern on it which will need to be filled into order to use the tile decals.

Raised Tile Details
Raised Tile Details

The topsides of the wings and more of the landing gear parts.

Parts
Parts

The right hand side of the fuselage, the interior of the cargo bay and the engine bells.

Parts
Parts

The interior parts for the cargo bay. These will probably not be used as the contents of the cargo bay change from mission to mission and these elements were not present on Columbia on STS-107. The access tunnel (the parts on the left in the middle) might be useable with modification.

Parts
Parts

Finally the clear parts.

Parts
Parts

Decals

Columbia was the first of the shuttles put into active service but the markings were updated during her lifetime and included the NASA meatball rather than the worm logo. Those supplied by Revell represent the original ones, so replacements would need to be sought.

The Revell decals only contain the original NASA logo used, which is known as the worm logo (that curvy NASA text). I realised in advance that the decals supplied with the kit would not be sufficient to allow a modern Columbia to be built.

Revell Decals
Revell Decals

There are a couple of choices for replacement decals. Meteor Productions did a set under their Cutting Edge Decals banner (now defunct and not available anymore) and a set is also produced by Real Space Models. Each has it’s pluses and minuses but either will produce a much better end result. I opted for the Cutting Edge’s decals based on other items I wanted and the ease of ordering them in one go.

The replacement decals from Cutting Edge contain all variants on the styles used by NASA on shuttles upto the current time.

Cutting Edge Decals
Cutting Edge Decals

The current meatball logo is the large blue one. Three different decals are also provided for the access hatch and all the different names and sizes.

Cutting Edge Decals
Cutting Edge Decals

Thermal Tiles

One of the most obvious features of the shuttle are the hundreds of thermal tiles which offer protection from the extreme heat of re-entry. The Revell model offers a half-hearted attempt to represent these with a few raised lines. This is really not the effect I was looking for and instead I opted to purchase (although they are expensive) a set of Cutting Edge Decal’s. These consist of three A4 sheets of decals which allegedly are an exact match to the colour of the tiles actually applied.

As you can see these are a major set of decals which will no doubt test the skills of any model builder.

Cutting Edge Tile Decals
Cutting Edge Tile Decals

The right hand side of the wing underside.

Cutting Edge Tile Decals
Cutting Edge Tile Decals

The majority of the white tiles.

Cutting Edge Tile Decals
Cutting Edge Tile Decals

The left hand side of the wing underside together with the nose areas.

Tile Decals
Tile Decals

Painting Masks

Having invested in the above decals I spent another few dollars and bought the Black Magic painting masks. These are a set of precut vinyl masks which can be applied to the model so that the time spent masking and painting can be dramatically reduced. Like the logos the painting pattern of the shuttle varies from orbiter to orbiter and also with time. The masks are an attempt to cover all options. After all this time I don’t know if they will still work but I can at least use them as a template.

Obviously there is no scan of the parts as they are a black sheet, this is the key to allow you to identify what parts you will need.

Vinyl Masks
Vinyl Masks

SILTS Camera

One further modication which was made to Columbia during her service life was to install a Shuttle Infrared Leeside Temperature Sensing (SILTS) instrument on the top of the tailfin. I believe that this was unique to Columbia and was not included on any other orbiter. Cutting Edge come to the rescue again with a small resin part to represent the SILTS Camera.

SILTS
SILTS

Engine Nozzles

I had anticipated that that would be the extent of the aftermarket parts I would use, but I noticed one final thing and decided to add it to the shopping basket. Namely a set of replacement engine nozzles. Having built a few Ma.K.  models with engine nozzles I know that these are generally supplied in two parts and it is difficult and frastrating trying to get the seams to vanish and often you end up with flat surfaces where they have been sanded. In addition I found out that the parts supplied with the Revell kit are inaccurate as well.

The Cutting Edge replacement engine nozzles. They are single pieces and have correct details on them.

Resin Engines
Resin Engines

A comparison to the Revell parts. The lack of a seam on these replacement parts probably makes them worth it in their own right. Joining two part nozzles is extremely difficult.

Engines
Engines

The real thing at Launch Complex 39 at the Kennedy Space Center. Fortunately replicating all that piping wont be necessary.

Shuttle Engine
Shuttle Engine

Cargo Bay

This is something of a postscript. Once I had all the parts to hand and started thinking more carefully about the build I realised that the cargo bay would be one of the most visible areas, since this was to be an in-orbit version of the shuttle. The cargo bay that comes with the kit is sparse and not very detailed. A lot of detailing would probably make it OK but there was an alternative in the form of the Real Space Models cargo bay set. This set is excellent and the level of detail is really quite amazing. But it is designed for the Monogram Space Shuttle which was to introduce some difficulties.

The cargo bay area comes in two parts which must be carefully glued together.

Cargo Bay
Cargo Bay

Another view. These parts are extremely well detailed, with all the thermal blankets nicely rendered.

Cargo Bay
Cargo Bay

The ends of the cargo bay are also supplied to replace the kit parts.

Cargo Bay
Cargo Bay

You also get a set of photoetched brass parts which will form the details like the grab rails and the cargo bay door hinges, a large stainless steel photoetched sheet for the radiators and a number of small resin pieces for the antenna, cameras and robot arm. I wont be using the arm for this build since it wasn’t fitted to Columbia for this mission.

Cargo Bay
Cargo Bay

A close up of the resin parts.

Cargo Bay
Cargo Bay

And a close up of the photoetched sheet.

Photo Etch
Photo Etch

That just about wraps up where I was starting from. The next step is to start some of the modifications which are required and sand off the raised lines of the kit.

Space Shuttle Columbia-Intro

One model I have always meant to build was the Space Shuttle. Many, many years ago I built a full stack of the Moonraker which was released after the Bond film, but that’s long since joined the model scrapyard in the sky. In November 2002 I was fortunate enough to visit the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. At the time we were there the huge vehicle assembly building was open and we were lucky enough to be able to peer inside to see the nearly complete stack of the shuttle being prepared for it’s next launch held vertically in the building. That was Columbia being prepared for it’s launch on mission STS-107 which was to be its last. During re-entry on 1st February 2002 the wing failed and the orbiter broke up over Texas with the loss of all hands. This was the 113th shuttle mission.

We revisited the Kennedy Space Center again in November 2003 and I decided at that time to do this project which had been in the back of my mind for far too long. On arrival back in the UK I started to assemble the many components which would be required to complete the project.

Columbia STS-107
Columbia STS-107

Obviously a lot of time has rolled on since I started this build and got completely stalled on it.  I’ve since moved house and the half done model is still with me, although it suffered some damage to the tail during removals.  But as the 10th anniversary of the Columbia Disaster is approaching I thought I would get this back out and try and get it completed.  Had initially thought to do it by that date but not realistic now and will definitely miss that.

So I will start by adding back online my original build pages to bring this up to where it was before stalling and then hopefully get going again.  I still need to find some of the parts but I know that they were packed and it is just a matter of finding them.