Perhaps unknown to many, the Apollo program was planned as a series of methodical steps, leading up to the first landing on the Moon. Each mission type, labeled A-J, built on the success of the previous steps towards the initial goal of a G-Mission, landing a man on the Moon, achieved by Apollo 11, and then moving on to further goals, culminating in the J-Missions, which saw a 3 day stay on the Moon and the use of the Lunar Rover. Apollo 17, crewed by Eugene Cernan, Ronald Evans, and Harrison Schmitt (a Geologist), was the third and final J-Mission, after Apollo 15 and 16, and was the last manned mission to the Moon.
Inside the large box you’ll find not one, but three very crisply molded kits, representing the Apollo 17 equipment: a Command/Service Module (CSM), The Lunar Module (LM), and the Lunar Rover. You’re also provided with 2 Astronaut figures; one standing and one seated in a driving position. There is no flash to be found, and the CSM and LM sprues are very well thought out, with almost no mold lines and sprue attachment points on the mating surfaces for easy cleanup. The Lunar Rover and Astronaut figures do have a few mold lines and attachment points to deal with, but are still very well done.
There are approximately 120 parts across 13 sprues molded in light grey, as well as a lunar surface display base, two metal HF Lunar Sounder Experiment antennas, 4 photo etch S-Band antenna dishes, a metal display rod, and a single decal sheet covering the CSM and LM printed by Cartograf. Included as a bonus, the lower half of the LM descent stage is pre-painted gold.
Before you begin construction, a few cautions need to be said about the four page instruction sheet. In a departure from the majority of manufacturers, the instruction sheet covers only the assembly, while all the painting and decaling callouts are printed on the bottom of the box. Additionally, because there are essentially 3 seperate kits in the same box, some of the sprues share the same letters. This is handled when referring to part numbers by using black and light grey text to indicate which sprue they are referencing (For instance, there is a Black Sprue B, and a Light Grey Sprue B). This is confusing at first, but you’ll quickly realize that the parts are not intermingled, so for example, sprues with CSM parts, will only have CSM parts, no LM parts.
Another instruction quirk to keep in mind, is that only one side of the assembly is shown for each step, and parts that repeat on the opposite side are called out in parenthesis next to, or below, the part number of the illustrated part. For example if Part D1 is used on one side, and D2 is mirrored on the other, the callout would appear as: D1(D2).
Finally, there are some parts that are shown in the building instructions that do not exist, a few parts that are indicated as being used on the sprue diagrams but are not used, and a few parts that can be used, but are not referenced. None of this will cause any real troubles for an experienced builder, but may cause some serious frustration and confusion for a novice.
The assembly of the Service Module and Command Module is done separately with the two later joined into the CSM stack. The Command Module capsule is beautifully molded with all visible areas as one piece, somewhat like an upside down ice cream cone, with a plug on the underside, and the docking mechanism and grab rail details added on. The plug fills in the rest of the heatshield, and will not be seen when the CM and SM are joined as the CSM, however it is a very nice fit, and would require only a bit of putty to depict a uniform heat shield. There is no interior or clear windows in Dragon’s CM (The same holds true for the LM), although the windows are depicted as raised areas, making painting easier. The docking mechanism is a four-part assembly that fits into a hole at the top of the CM, and the 6 grab rails on the capsule fit into place smoothly with no cleaning of the mounting holes necessary.
Before beginning on the Service Module, you’ll need to decide how you’d like to display your model. The instructions suggest that you can use the included metal display rod, Part Z, to attach the finished CSM in-flight above the display base. However, you’ll need to supply your own attachment screw as one is not included. This will also require you to make a hole into the side of one of the SM panels. You may want to consider reinforcing that area and opening the hole before painting and assembly. Also be sure to take into account the orientation of the long HF antennas before making your attachment hole, so they’re not against the ground. Magnets may also be a possible attachment solution without a hole. Another option would be to epoxy the display rod into the CSM main engine, as the joint between the engine bell and SM is very robust, and can actually be press fit with no glue, allowing for easy disassembly if you need to move the display.
The Service Module construction is made up of several curved panels mated to two inner rings to create the SM’s cylinder shape. This step requires the most precision work of the entire build, but the parts are beautifully molded and fit together nearly perfectly, so long as you clean up the sprue attachment points as they are all on the mating surfaces. The only trick comes in attaching part F4, Apollo 17’s SIM bay (Scientific Instrument Module bay), as it fouls against the lower inner ring, Part E8, as seen in the accompanying photos. The easiest solution is to assemble all of the other panels to the inner rings, allow them to dry, and then cut the offending section of ring E8 out, after which Part F4 will slide into place. Once the main cylinder is complete, the lower end cap is attached, which will require very careful placement to avoid shifting it off center and creating a sanding/filling nightmare. The top endcap, Part C5, which is also the mounting point for the CM capsule, has a few issues of its own as it appears that the part was somehow molded upside down, with the CM attachment pin on the unfinished bottom and the locating pins on the detailed top. All of this is hidden once the CM is attached, so it’s not a major issue, but if you wanted to leave the CM and SM separable, you might want to do some extra work to flip the part. (Cut the locator pins off, create a new attachment point on the other side, a bit of sprue would be about the right diameter.) Using the part as-is, you’re instructed to drill out the mounting holes for the six Parts B11, which support the underside of the CM. Again however, if you’re not going to leave the CM and SM separable, the six Parts B11 are slightly too high, making the CM/SM connection more difficult, and you’re best to leave them off entirely.
When attaching the CM to the SM to complete the CSM stack, the instructions don’t clearly cover the umbilical connection, Part C2, that spans the joint between the sections on the outside. As the umbilical connection is molded there are two pins on it’s backside, and this seems to be another way in which the kit is designed to allow the CM and SM to remain separable. To do so would require drilling out a locating hole in both the top edge of the SM and side of the CM capsule. The depressions to help locate where to drill these holes are already there, but if you’re not going to try and make a separable model, just cut the pins off of C2 and glue it directly to the surface and move on with the build.
The remainder of the CSM build is simply attaching the RCS thrusters, main engine, and various antennas. Despite what is depicted in the instructions, there are no holes pre drilled into the SM end cap, part C10, to attach the two long metal HF Lunar Sounder Experiment antennas, Parts MA3, so you’ll need to make them yourself with a #73 drillbit.
Painting & Decals
As mentioned, there is a basic painting & decal guide included on the back of the box with color callouts for the Hobby Color and Mr. Color paint products, however there are also tons of great references available online and in print covering the very public Apollo missions.
The CM capsule was actually covered in strips of reflective chrome insulating tape, supposedly to aid in tracking from ground stations. This striping effect is very obvious upclose, and can be replicated with Bare Metal Foil strips, or by scribing the lines in, however it appears a uniform chrome from a distance, and that’s how I chose to model my CM. To get the chrome effect, I used Alclad II Chrome, over a Tamiya Gloss Black base. This was my first attempt at a high shine Alclad finish, and the learning curve was very steep. I practiced on scrap plastic, and still had to do it twice on the actual model. The Tamiya Gloss Black was a great help, as it stripped easily off the model with alcohol and Windex, even after being overcoated with Alclad. The key to getting a great chrome effect is to have as glossy a black base as you can manage, and then mist on very light coats of the Alclad Chrome. You’ll quickly see the reflective effect start, and you don’t want to add more paint than you need, as it will pass the reflective chrome stage and look more like a gloss silver with little reflectivity. The key moment to stop is when you start to get a light dusty powder over your chrome. It will easily brush off once dry and leave a mirror like surface below. Beyond the chrome effect, the rest of the painting consisted of detailing the various thrust and exhaust ports on the capsule, and painting the windows, for which I used an Alclad II color called Armored Glass over the chrome paint which gave a nice impression of depth.
The SM was painted overall Aluminum from the Alclad II range, with the main engine heat shield and RCS thruster bells painted Alclad Stainless Steel over gloss black using the same technique as the chrome CM. The SIM bay and radiators were painted with Testors Flat White, and the main engine was painted Alclad Copper and “weathered’ with Alclad Burnt Iron along with Tamiya weathering powders to simulate heat induced metal discolorations.
Nearly all of the decals provided are for the CSM, and mostly consist of small stencils. Dragon has done a wonderful thing and provided you with a spare of nearly every decal, which is a great help when working with the tiny stencils. On the other hand, the layout of the decals on the sheet are a bit hard to follow, with the identifying numbers seemingly randomly placed above and below, side-to-side, with no real rhyme or reason. The decal placement guide on the back of the box is far too small to see exactly what the decals say, which is a shame, because every single stencil is legible! In the end, and with a little help from some pictures for reference, the sheet began to make sense, and the Cartograf printed decals went on fantastically. If you chose to use Alclad Chrome, it’s best not to use decal setting solutions as they can leave stains on your paintjob.
The Lunar Module is comprised of two separate parts, the spider-legged Descent Stage, and the geometrically interesting Ascent Stage. These stages are built separately and then attached in the final step. The build starts with the Ascent Stage, which like the Command Module, has no interior or windows. Although the instructions call for completing several subassemblies onto each wall of the Ascent Stage’s core before assembling the core itself, you’ll find it far easier to build and paint if you build the core structure first (Parts B1, B2, B3, B4, A2, A3). Once the core is completed and painted, the precise fitting front (Part A1) and rear (Parts A4 and A5) structures, as well as all of the various detail parts, can be painted themselves, and added onto the core structure with no noticeable seam lines; further evidence of how nicely designed and molded this kit truly is.
The Descent Stage requires some skill and patience owing to the complex leg structures. Once the core structure of the Descent Stage is completed by attaching the top (Part A6) to the bottom (Part K), CA glue and proper cure times are the key to getting strong bonds and precise alignment of the legs and supports. Once built however, the legs form a very solid base. Also pay special attention to ensuring the leg strut with the ladder ends up at the correct corner with the slot for mounting the porch (Part B12). The only fiddly part of the legs are the small support struts (Parts C18, C19, C20, and C21) that run from the lower leg support to the Descent Stage body. They fortunately serve no structural purpose in the model, as they are difficult to line up and firmly attach at both ends. To further complicate things, the location callouts for each strut don’t seem to result in the greatest fit, so your best bet is to test fit all of the struts in each location until you find the best matches.
Once you have a set of legs under your build, you’ll want to pay special attention to fitting the RCS shield supports (Parts C5 and C8) to each quadrant of the Descent Stage. Parts H3 and H1, equipment protrusions added to the outside of the Descent Stage, cover the mounting slots for the shield supports requiring the shield supports to be attached before H1 and H3, as well as also requiring the removal of the lowest support rungs on each shield support. Be extremely careful when trimming away the necessary rungs, as the parts are very easy to twist or break when applying the cutting force. You’ll also want to sand and test fit the shield supports to ensure a flush mounting in their slots along with an even mounting with the top of the Descent Stage, as any protrusion will likely cause interference when attaching the Ascent Stage.
The instructions call for attaching the Ascent Stage to the top of the finished Descent Stage, although they fail to mention part B23, a trapezoid shaped mounting peg that can fit in the top center of the Descent Stage, and keys into the Ascent Stage motor. This will allow for the stages to be separated if desired, but also provides a much stronger joint between the two stages if you chose to permanently attach them.
Painting & Decals
The Lunar Module features a rather complex mix of materials and colors, and the box’s painting guide is rather simplified when if comes to the true variety of colors seen on the real LM. My most valuable resource was page two of the Lunar Module Coatings website (https://pfinspace.com/lmdata/) by Paul Fjeld. (Hat tip to Dick Montgomery for providing this reference in a previous LM review.) There is a wealth of information, and some amazing diagrams to help you build an accurate LM for any particular mission.
The Ascent Stage is predominantly an anodized aluminum with a beige/green tint. I found that the Alclad II color Gold Titanium was a close enough match to look right without custom mixing. Once that was applied, the rest of the Ascent Stage is made up of a few highlights of aluminum and several flat black panels for heat reduction. There are a few gold and reddish-copper colored foil accents around the door. I chose to use foil leaf to represent these areas, which is readily available at craft stores in several colors. I applied white glue to the areas where I wanted the leaf to stick, allowed it a few minutes to tack up, then stuck a slightly oversized piece of leaf to the area, and finally used a firm brush to gently remove the excess leaf after it had dried. The only decals on the Ascent Stage are used to represent the windows, two for the front windows, and a third for a small docking window above the LM Commander’s station.
The Descent Stage is made up entirely of various colored foils in real life, and the model itself is molded with a very nice foil texture. The kit comes with the lower half of the Descent Stage (Part K) pre-painted in a metallic gold. Unfortunately, as this was the only part pre-colored, I found that I could not match my painted gold to its color, and chose to prime Part K and paint the entire model in Alclad II Pale Gold. Over the gold, I added the various flat black sections, as well as tried to represent the reddish-copper colored foil. To simulate this color, I tried both Alclad Copper mixed with a Tamiya Clear Red/Clear Orange tint, as well as spraying the Tamiya clear mix straight over the gold itself. Both methods came out slightly too red once dried, however judicious use of thinner coats of the Tamiya Clear mix, or a slightly thinned version, directly over the gold will likely give the appropriate color. To finish, the engine bell was painted Alclad Burnt Iron, and the engine heat shield Alclad Steel. The only two decals on the Descent Stage, representing the US Flag and “United States” lettering, were affixed to the side, and a light “dust” wash was applied to the pads and bottom of the LM.
Lunar Rover & Astronauts
Instructions for the Lunar Rover are presented in a single exploded diagram step. There are a few mold lines to clean up, but the parts fit easily together. The wheels (a solid textured representation of the 1/1 wire and mesh wheels) and fenders are molded as one unit, which slot into axles molded into the chassis. The two-part seats, antenna, TV camera, tool rack, and control panel all fit neatly into their mounting points and quickly make a nice representation of the Lunar Rover. There is a reference in the instructions to two different Parts a12. One is part of the dish antenna and is actually provided, the other “a12” is shown as a rear bumper of sorts that is already molded into the chassis, Part a7, so you won’t find it on the sprue!
The Astronaut figures, one of which is positioned as the Lunar Rover driver, are a fairly simple four-part build consisting of the one-piece body, legs and head, two arms, and a life support backpack. There are quite a few mold lines that will need to be removed and extreme care must be taken while doing so as to not destroy the fine textured fabric folds. The standing Astronaut will require a bit of filler to get a good arm to torso joint, while the seated one fit very well. One disappointment was the fit of the seated Astronaut on the Lunar Rover; his hand is positioned as if it rests on the Rover’s control stick, yet he sits far too forward for this to be possible.
Painting & Decals
As with the other components, there is a fair amount of reference material to aid in painting your Lunar Rover. The box calls for an overall white scheme, but photos seemed to show the Rover’s main frame and accessories to be aluminum, and I chose to paint it with Alclad II Aluminum along with Testors Flat White for the some of the various cameras and instrument boxes. The large antenna is in reality a silver-colored frame with gold mesh dish, and an industrious modeler could certainly cut the solid dish sections out and replace them with a suitable scale mesh, however I chose to use Alclad Pale Gold with silver dry brushing to bring out the frame. I custom mixed a shade of orange-red to simulate the distinc fiberglass fenders, and used Alclad Stainless Steel to represent the wheels. The Rover has no decals, but there were enough spares of decal #50, a small American Flag for the Astronaut’s suits, to place a flag on the two front fenders, as seen on the real Apollo 17 Rover. Using the same technique as on the Lunar Module, I chose to use gold leaf to cover the TV camera and battery box on the Rover for a very nice effect.
The Astronauts were painted with Testors Flat White, and I chose to pick out their boots and gloves with a dark grey. Using reference photos (Eugene Cernan’s suit is on display in the Smithsonian still caked in Moon dust), I picked out the life support hoses and glove rings with metallic red and blue, added the red mission commander stripes to the Rover driver to represent Cernan, and used gold leaf for the helmet face. A few decals are provided, including the US Flag and NASA logo for the space suit, but I was disappointed that the Apollo 17 mission patch was left out.
To weather the Lunar Rover and Astronauts (and very lightly on the pads and underside of the LM) I mixed a few drops of Tamiya Dark Sea Grey with Testors Acryl Flat Clear. As would be expected, I put a heavy coat on the lower portions of the figures, tapering off the higher I went. The same held true for the Rover, with heavy “dust” around the wheels and low on the frame and then lighter on the top. This solution dried to a very satisfying dusty appearance! An interesting modeling opportunity is available for Apollo 17, as the rear fender was partially broken during one of the EVAs and fixed with spare maps. However, the Astronauts were rather fully covered with kicked up dust, even with this quick fix.
The included display base is molded as a single part, with a smooth base mimicking a rolled and routed edged wood display base, upon which a section of lunar surface rests. The Moonscape molding is cast very crisply, and likely a better rendition than anything I could produce at this point in my modeling experience. The display base also has deep set hole to mount the support rod (Part Z) to allow for an in-orbit display of the CSM above the LM and Lunar Rover.
To mimic the bright and shadowed nature of the Moon, I first painted the surface of the Moonscape in flat black, making sure to fill in all of the various nooks and crannies. I then used Tamiya Dark Sea Grey to add the lunar grey color back in. I purposefully airbrushed the color from a fixed plane behind the base, as if shooting into the viewer’s eyes. I started with the color at full strength, tilting the base up at about 45 degrees to the direction of the spray. After I had full coverage, I added a bit of Tamiya Flat White to the Dark Sea Grey, and lowered the angle between the spray and the base about 10 degrees. I repeated this several times, until I had a very light grey mix and was shooting directly across the base at an angle of only a few degrees. When viewed from the front, it appears as if there is a light source from behind casting some subtle shadows and highlights on the surface, an effect that is somewhat muted in the photos.
Painting the smooth portion of the “wood” base was easily accomplished using a great deal of Testors Model Master Copenhagen Blue Metallic, chosen to add a touch of color the the grey Moonscape, and because I had an extra bottle of it. I edged the sides of the Moonscape with Tamiya Flat Black, and called the base finished.
Dragon’s Apollo 17 kit has been one of my favorite builds since I’ve gotten back into the hobby. There is a great variety of assembly that needs to be done, a few different painting techniques to be exercised, and the potential to add some real creativity to the project. There is also a wealth of information on the Internet and in reference books regarding the Apollo missions. If you research your build, I promise you’ll learn a few things you didn’t know! The kit itself feels very modern, with minimal filling and sanding required and easy fitting parts. The only frustrating challenges come from the somewhat fantastical and incomplete instructions, and a underwhelming paint and decal guide. Because of that, I would recommend this kit to anyone with more than a couple builds under their belt, but not as a first or second kit. In short, highly recommended, and fun!
My thanks to Dragon Models/USA for the kit and IPMS/USA for the chance to review it.
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