Kit preview of IRMCo ISS .

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Starship Modeler: International Space Station Kit Preview

By Ken Smith

On December 3, 1998 the US Space Shuttle Endeavor launched to start the construction of the ISS (International Space Station). The primary mission objective was to rendezvous with the already launched Zarya control module and successfully attach the Unity connecting module, providing the foundation for future ISS components.

Directly after this historic launching I thought to myself, "OK self, it may be some time now before you see an ISS kit so cool your jets and be patient." However, to my surprise, in mid-December I heard that an ISS kit was in development! What's this? A kit already? Who would do such a thing?

Enter InterMountain Railway Co. Yes, that's what I thought too. What's a freight car maker doing in the space industry? Enter Johnson Engineering. Ah, a partnership. Johnson Engineering (an Aerospace subsidiary) was giving the rights to develop the kit, but they didn't have the facilities to begin production. So why IMRCo? Probably because of a bidding process. Although I was told that they were given the contract due to excellent quality standards and pride of workmanship. OK, I can believe that.

So, the day before Christmas I trundle off to the local hobby shop and behold, THE ISS KIT! Already in stores. Available for purchase was a partially assembled (painted and decaled) kit that contained 36 blister-packed modules that ran $159.99, or a plain white box containing 320 parts with full assembly required at $129.99. "OK self, be patient... well... I could always give the wife a Mix Master for her birthday." I found myself inspecting parts and contemplating assembly the day after Christmas. Never try to outwit the modeler's self. I chose the un-assembled kit.

After bringing the box home, my first thought was, "How did they ever fit 320 parts in such a small box." (1'x7"x51/2") They're crammed in there alright. 320 parts fitted into 21 zip lock baggies along with a bag full of printed solar panels. Excellent quality on these panels by the way. They are brightly printed on glossy card stock. I personally like this approach to solar panels as opposed to having to paint overly bulky and drastically out of scale injection molded plates. The colors are true and I haven't seen one that was printed askew. Upon further inspection of the pieces (injection molded in white styrene plastic) I noticed very nice detail with crisp clean edges and lines. The quality is very nice compared to some others I've seen in 1:144 scale or even larger -- (such as the Skilcraft HST). Something of note is the very limited use of sprue and nearly no extra flash. Another great help when assembling is that all the modules are molded in whole cylinders instead of 2 halves.

Everything so far looked great, until I started to dry fit some of the hatches and module assemblies. They just plain don't fit. A strange way of connection was designed for the coupling of modules and struts. There are 1/8th inch square pegs that fit into the module bodies. I'll assume that this approach was taken in order to strengthen the overall structure, which will be a massive 30"wide, 22"long, and 20"high. OK, so I plan to do a lot of filing, sanding and scraping. I can live with that. On to the instructions..


Such a small box.



[More Parts]


Detail of pegs


Zarya Module

Included with the kit is a letter from IMRCo suggesting that the assembly of the 36 modules take several hours to several days, and the assembly of the modules in 15 to 30 minutes. Also included is a line drawing of the assembled station, a black and white photo of the same, a line drawn exploded view of the 36 modules, and 5 fold-overs ranging from 2-6 pages. Let's just say that the instructions are cryptic at best. One BIG draw back is the lack of part numbers - which is OK only if you can match the pieces to the drawings. Getting to know all the ISS acronyms is going to be very helpful. All of this can be worked through with time and patience. However, there is one important component missing. There are no painting instructions/schematics, so if you don't have regular access to the Internet this will cause a problem. I found that NASA has provided a site to help in the coloring and details. It can be found at

Speaking of details, I spoke to a woman named Joyce at IMRCo about an Enhancement Parts Kit that is to be priced at $39.95. She told me that she didn't know the particulars but that the extra parts will soup up the standard kit into museum quality. She also stated that these enhancements should be available after the first of the year. With this in mind I have decided not to begin assembly until after I receive the Enhancement Kit. I'd hate to have to remove anchored parts or try to work within the entire assembly.

All in all I'd have to say that the IMRCo ISS kit is a winner, the quality of parts and detail will really make the assembly shine when displayed. As long as you don't intend on displaying the instructions you'll be fine. Because of the complexity of the kit and the less than informative instructions I wouldn't recommend the un-assembled kit to a novice builder. If you can't find the kits locally they can be ordered from IMRCo at (or call 1-800-472-2530).

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Please note that the opinions expressed in this article are those of the reviewer.
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