By John Lester - text and model photos copyright © 1999
That was the sound of the Space Race starting, broadcast on 20.005 MHz and 40.002 MHz. The US had announced plans to orbit a satellite as part of the International Geophysical Year, but on October 4, 1957 the Soviet Union beat us by launching the first artificial satellite to orbit the Earth. Seems hard to believe now, when the only satellite launches that make the news are the ones that explode, but at the time this event caused a national outcry in the US. It was a time when the Communist and Free worlds stood toe to toe, glaring at each other across the Iron Curtain ... back when using atomic weapons to contain the foe was not out of the realm of rational possibility. In other words, it was downright scary when Americans woke up on October 5th to find the Reds had seized the high ground first.
Four months before the first successful US satellite launch, the Soviets put an 84 kg (183lb) ball containing two radios and a power supply into low earth orbit. The poetically named "Sputnik" (Satellite) (officially called PS-1, or Satellite 1) was lofted by a three stage rocket based on the Soviets' first intercontinental ballistic missile, the R-7. In addition to transmitting the famous beeps, the satellite collected valuable information on the ionosphere and space temperatures. One month later, a similar rocket put Sputnik II into orbit carrying a dog named Laika. In the meantime, the first US attempt to launch a satellite, the US Navy's Vanguard, blew up. It wasn't until January 31, 1958 that the US got off the starting line with the US Army's Explorer I satellite.
It's hard to overstate the importance of the Sputnik launch. It galvanized the US into supporting a space program. In the near term, it led to the foundation of NASA in 1958. A decade later, we set foot on the moon. And now, because of technology brought about by and used for satellites and the space program, we live in a world of instant communication, 600-channel satellite TV and school children with beepers and cell phones.
The rocket that launched Sputnik was modified over the years and continues in service today as the Soyuz launch vehicle. It is the most used launch vehicle in the world.
Apex's 1:144 Carrier Rocket Sputnik is very good for a limited-run, Eastern-European injected kit, with fine detailing and simple construction. It depicts the first Sputnik launch - though the box art shows a later configuration. All one would need to do to depict a later Sputnik launch is to modify the payload section. Turning this into a Soyuz launch vehicle, however, would take more work.
Inside the box are three sprues: one for the main body, first stage boosters and engine bells, one for the top, and one with a display plate and the payload section. They consist of typical Eastern European soft grey styrene, with minimal flash and surface defects. Molding is generally good, with only the typical thick sprue attachments to cause any headaches. Raised and engraved details are crisp; all visible detail seems to be included, with the possible exception of several hoses further up the second stage (reference photos are hard to find so I couldn't be sure). No decals are provided, which is fine since the real rockets were unmarked. Rounding out the kit is a one-page (front and back) instruction sheet/paint guide..
Assembly is not difficult, which is a good thing because the instructions are vague. Booster and main rocket halves are glued together, then their end caps. There are no alignment pins on any of the pieces, but if you're careful this is not a burden. Parts fit nicely and I used almost no putty. Seams needed a light sanding, after which I had to rescribe some of the fine engraved lines. I left off the payload (part C5) and all engine bells to simplify painting.
The paint guide is ... well, it's even vaguer than the 4-step assembly diagrams. It also depicts the Sputnik II mission, which caused me some confusion. There are call outs for four paints, using a number system that corresponds to none I know.
Image: Novosti/AP via NY Times
I used these Testors Model Master paints: Flat White for the payload section, Steel for "steel" areas around the base of the engines, Stainless Steel Metallizer for the "Silver Blue Metal" engine bells, and Euro Dark Green FS 34092 for everything else. I sprayed the green parts after everything was primed. The TMM paint was unbelievably flat and showed every fingerprint and (later) glue drop.Engine bells were painted while still on the sprue.
After all the paint dried I glued the engine bells to each rocket base. Because of their small size - and the large sprue attachments - I had some problems. I ended up cutting all but one attachment point off each bell, filing down excess plastic, then snipping the remaining attachment point and trying to clean it up while pinching the pieces between my fingers. Not easy, and several bells got more sanding than they needed. Ah, well. After the nozzles were superglued in place I touched the paint up as needed.
When all that was dry I carefully glued the four strap on boosters to the central rocket using superglue. Some fiddling was necessary because of the lack of alignment pins. As a result, I had small smears of superglue marring the flat green paint. These disappeared after I spot painted them with the airbrush.
I mounted the model on a simple stained wooden plaque. I drilled a hole through one of the larger, central engine nozzles large enough to fit a wire cut from a coat hanger. the rocket was slid down this wire, which was then glued to a hole drilled in the base. Finally, I added a custom-made decal to the base - a red star with the word Sputnik in Cyrillic and the year "1957"
All in all - a decent kit of an important subject. Despite the problems with the engine nozzles, I'd do it again (and do it better this time!). Sadly, Apex has fallen prey to bad economic times in Russia - but you can still find this kit (and it's sister the Vostock) for under ten dollars in many hobby shops and mail order outlets.
This page copyright © 1997-9 Starship Modeler. Last updated on 8 February 1999.