By Martin Burkey - images & text © 2008
Image: Left/top view
Image: Nose detail
Image: On its stand
The Space Shuttle, formally known as the Space Transportation System, has been the main ride to space for U.S. and numerous international astronauts since 1981. The partly reusable system consists of a winged orbiter, a pair of solid fuel boosters, and an external tank that supplies propellants to the engines in the orbiter tail. In addition to the non-spaceworthy Enterprise, five spaceworthy orbiters were built - Columbia, Challenger, Endeavour, Atlantis, and Discovery. Much has been written about its design heritage, technical details, missions, and its shortcomings - so much that I wouldn't know where to start. After more than 120 missions to date, with two fatal failures, the shuttle fleet is scheduled to be retired in 2010 and replaced by the Ares I and Ares V launch vehicles and the Orion crew exploration vehicle, designed to be safer with lower cost than the shuttle fleet and support exploration missions beyond low Earth orbit, something the shuttle wasn't designed to do.
If you are a modeler or space buff with too little time to trim sprue, glue, fill, sand, paint, and decal a model, the Aoshima 4D Vision Space Shuttle should appeal to you. (It's also listed under Fame Master Enterprises Ltd.)
Referred to as an “educational toy” or “puzzle” depending on which website you find it, this 1/72 scale kit consists of 143 pieces that are pre-cut, painted in Space Shuttle Discovery markings, and partly assembled. Assembly is a combination of friction- or trap-to-fit parts, many of which are 'keyed' to fit a certain direction or adjacent part. Operating features include the payload bay doors, Remote Manipulator System (RMS) arm, and landing gear.
What You Get
Inside the flimsy but colorful outer box is a sturdy, protective, cardboard tray with a clear-molded presentation tray containing major parts such as the Space Shuttle Main Engines (SSMEs), Spacelab, flight deck, generic payload, etc. The major fuselage parts are below the tray. Most of the other smaller parts are bagged and packed with great efficiency in the tray under the payload bay heat radiators. The instruction booklet is written entirely in Japanese. Several pages are devoted to a shuttle history. Following the assembly steps is a parts layout page. The parts are numbered in the individual assembly steps and on the parts layout page, but not on the parts, themselves. This makes assembly more difficult in some cases, particularly with the SSME plumbing in the orbiter tail.
As mentioned, several parts are already assembled, including the major fuselage and wing halves, wing spars, payload bay, and flight deck. These must be pried apart to complete assembly. It's not hard, but I worked my way along the seams, prying gently, so as not to crack a part or nick the finish.
Of note, there were some grayish scuffs on the fuselage parts that wiped off with some effort. The molding process left 2 small "belly buttons" on the underside of the orbiter. They are unobtrusive as-is or easily filled with some water-soluble 2-part epoxy.
A sturdy base lets you tilt the model fore, aft, port, and starboard with 2 screws, as well as attach and detach the model quickly.
Regarding accuracy: the flight deck instrument panels are silver instead of gray. The middeck hatch is not molded into the port fuselage half. The beavertail flap is a flat slab. The landing gear and RMS are oversized, but this is, after all, a working education tool for children. The port fuselage, port wing and entire flight deck ceiling are clear to show interior details, as is the port half of the Spacelab module and tunnel. Overall, the interior detail is greatly simplified, except for the very representative SSMEs and their associated plumbing. The forward RCS is simplified to the point of wondering why the manufacturer bothered making it visible. I'm no expert on the flight deck windows that seem to be an issue with other kits. If you'd like to see what internal structure and equipment is not included in this kit, one of the best online references is this site.
Assembly & Finish
I assembled this model in an evening of not very intense effort, except the SSME plumbing, which took quite a bit of test fitting to find the right parts. Resist the urge to trust the friction-fit feature of this kit. At least use some super glue on the main gear tires, flight deck and sleeping berth figures, vertical tail parts, the beavertail flap, and the SSMEs and their plumbing. Otherwise, you'll be re-assembling several times initially and losing the parts later.
For this price, I would have liked to have had more and more accurate interior detail and engraved Thermal Protection System (TPS) lines. The clear flight deck canopy prevents you from having a complete exterior view from the starboard side, not to say you couldn't paint it yourself.
In my opinion, the see-through feature and interior detail, alone, are not enough to justify the price. But this model is attractive for several reasons, including its see-through feature and easy no-sprue/no-glue/no-paint assembly. It's a nice classroom prop and a novel collectible as the shuttle program comes to an end in the 2010 timeframe. It's also a superdetailer's dream… or nightmare. Does that make it worth the $158 to $199 prices it's commanding on the Internet? That's so far beyond objective that I won't attempt to answer. Except to admit it's not the most I've ever paid for a kit. It's sufficiently attractive to justify what one SSM poster has already done - install the 4D Vision shuttle on a 1/72 Monogram external tank and boosters for a complete STS stack.
I'd love to see the aftermarket provide additional interior detail and a darker, more accurate sheet of TPS decals to replace those offered by now-defunct Meteor Productions. It would be great to see Revellogram rent the molds and combine the 4D shuttle with clear parts for External Tank and Solid Rocket Boosters for the old Monogram 1/72 Shuttle kit. It might even be well-timed to release such a kit when the shuttle fleet is retired, and there's bound to be a wave of interest and nostalgia.
Many thanks to Martin's wallet for providing the review samples. Manufacturers and retailers, interested in getting your wares reviewed and publicized on a site averaging 3500+ readers a day? Contact us!
This page copyright © 2008 Starship Modeler. First posted on 29 October 2008.