Friday, June 05, 2009

Building a Moon Rocket From Common Household Materials, Part 2

If you haven't seen it already, you can see part one of the article here.

Well, yesterday, just as I was starting to relax a bit, that I had 24 fewer hours to finish my Saturn V model than I planned. So it's been a sprint to get it done in time, but (except for some drying glue) it's done, or as done as it's going to be.

The first couple pictures show the nearly complete rocket. The lower stages are done, though there are still rubber bands holding things on while the glue dries. The interstage (the lower taper) between the second and third stage is missing its final roll-markings, and actually that whole part of the rocket is just dry fitted together, and awaiting final gluing and assembly.

From start to finish this has been a question of compromise, but due to time constraints, I didn't detail it as much as I'd hoped to. It's got none of the external tunnels or rocket housings I'd hoped to add. The service module has only one of its twelve thruster nozzles, I never got around to adding nozzles to the escape rocket, and the engine nozzles were never painted silver (the protective covers for the engine nozzles were nearly an identical shade of red to the cups I used, so this isn't a huge issue).

But also along the way, mistakes were made. The biggest one is that through some error of measuring or calculation, the first stage/second stage joint is way too low. The first stage should be longer than the second. Actually, that could be the problem. I may have measured from the wrong end when I put in the lower second stage wrap. During assembly I kept turning the tube upside down and back again for various parts of the assembly, and that got confusing.

There are other smaller things. One of the flags is a little crooked. There are small gaps and imperfections I wish weren't there. A couple of tank wraps I'd planned to add got skipped for time (and one of the because the first stage was too short, because of my mistake, for it to look right.

Several things about the interstage between the second and third stages are less perfect than I'd like them to be, including a staggered joint in the roll pattern that should be straight.

I kick myself about these things, and yet I know that probably nobody at this party is going to know enough to notice, and there's just not doubt, looking at this thing, despite its flaws, that it's a Saturn V. It has the look, even if the details are wrong.

It also has size going for it. One problem with most Saturn V models, no matter how detailed and accurate they are. They just don't communicate any of the sheer size of the rocket.

The Saturn V was 362 feet tall. That's well over twice the height of the 10 story hotel the party is being held in. Refer to what I call the "shock and awe" low-angle shot of the incomplete model above. The fact that even I (being six-foot six inches tall) still have to look up to see the top of the model (if it's sitting on the floor) makes a huge difference. Put it on a table or pedestal, and it really reminds you that this is a a model of something big.

The details for tomorrow's display are still being worked out, but due to limited ceiling height in the party room, it will likely end up sitting on the floor tomorrow. I really wish there was room for even a short pedestal. Oh, well.

These last two pictures show the final model.

I'm really nervous now that something will happen to the model tomorrow. Parts of it (especially the fins) are fragile, and could be damaged if someone knocks the thing over, kicks it, or moves it without knowing what they're doing. I'm really hoping to get the model back intact after the party.

As I said before, we might be able to donate or loan it to a local school for educational purposes. Failing that, it will probably end up hanging (sideways) from my office ceiling. In fact, since school is out (and due to budget crunch, I don't know how much summer school they're having this year), even if it does go to school, it may have to be stored hanging from my ceiling until fall.

I'll let you know how it goes.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Building a Moon Rocket From Household Materials

This is a little off the usual topics around here, but... (Actually, given that I've done a lot of posting about space issues, maybe not so much.)

The beach hotel where my wife, Chris works her day-job is celebrating it's 40th anniversary this month. Given that this closely coincides with the 40th anniversary of Apollo 11, the moon landing is one of the major themes for the party. Somehow I got talked into (or did I talk myself into it?) building a model Saturn V moon rocket as a central decoration.

Somehow I got the great idea: We can get one of those cardboard concrete form tubes (used to pour piers and the like) at Lowes and build it around that! It'll be easy and cheap.

Yes, this is being done on a budget of close to nothing. So far I've spent about $30 for materials. No, I'm not being paid for my time. I'm nuts.

Fortunately, there were lots of free resources on the web to draw on, especially for the capsule and escape tower. There are free paper models on the web that you can print out, cut out, and (with only a hobby knife, some glue, and the skills of a brain surgeon) turn into a nice 1/48th scale (just the size I needed) model of an Apollo space vehicle.

Actually, there are rather sketchy models of the whole thing in 1/48th, and better ones in smaller scales. I've ended up using bits of at least four different paper models. But only bits. Mainly the capsule "skin" and the shrouds that connect the stages and cover the four outer engine bells at the bottom. Everything else has been engineered from scratch, scrounging and adapting as I went along.

I needed this thing to be stronger and more durable than a paper model could be, so the entire upper stack, from the upper interstage to the end of the escape tower is supported by a "spine" of wooden dowel. You could put your eye out with the escape tower, but it isn't going to break off.

The interior structure is full of foam-core-board rings and plates, and this material is also used for the fins. All of the black markings are hand-cut bits of black posterboard or craft-board individually glued in place. The engine bells are carefully (we went through three stores measuring to find the right ones) selected plastic cups bolted to a foam-board base-plate. Because the cardboard base tube isn't EXACTLY to scale, and my hand-rolled third-stage tube also wasn't precise, the lower shroud had to be enlarged and modified.

There are well over a hundred (maybe two hundred) parts at this point, and most of them have been designed from scratch, hand-cut, and fitted.

This isn't a museum model though, and it has to be done on a deadline, so like a Hollywood prop, it's a rolling compromise to time and materials. I couldn't find a corrugated material like I wanted to use on the tank wraps, so I had to compromise and use bands of flat poster board.

I may not get around to adding the service module thruster nozzles (twelve tiny cones that would be cut from round toothpicks.)

I may not add many of the service tunnels, ullage (once again, my vocabulary exceeds my spelling checker, a small rocket-motor used to push liquid fuel to the back of the tank of an in-flight vehicle before main-motor ignition and stage seperation motors, and other "bumps" that cover the real Saturn V.

Still, it's nearly 8 feet tall, and even incomplete, the iconic look is there. Get some more paint and a few roll markings on it, and any baby-boomer will know exactly what it is.

I don't know what will happen to it after the party this weekend. Presuming it survives the proceedings (uncertain, but I hope), I hope to get it back. Maybe it can be donated to a local school, or failing that, it could end up hanging from my office ceiling.

In any case, I am very much a child of the space age. Building this is my homage, my totem (in more ways than one) to the anniversary and one of humankind's greatest achievements.

See part two of the article and the finished rocket, here.