Vostok-1 with Yuri Gagarin
One of the LEGO books in my small collection is called “Brick Wonders” by Warren Elsmore. It follows what seems to be a fairly typical format for such books: several pages of introduction to LEGO building in general and its terminology, large glossy photos of completed large-scale models (in this case, of various Wonders of the World including the original classical Seven plus extra sevens selected by the author, of “Historic Wonders” from non-Mediterranean cultures, “Modern Wonders” and “Natural Wonders”), plus photos of smaller builds with instructions generated through one of the various something-like-a-CAD-program-for-LEGO applications.
Unfortunately, these instructions aren’t always easy to follow (especially where blue and black elements are involved) due to the small size and dark colours of the printing and the fact that multiple steps seem to occur at once. Well, and the sometimes questionable required brick inventories. I mean, who of the people likely to be wanting instructions is going to have 86 grey 2×2 macaroni bricks laying around to build an Iron Age roundhouse with?
However, flipping through the book for inspiration, one of the small builds associated with the author’s International Space Station “Modern Wonder” build caught my eye.
The model was of the Russian Soyuz spacecraft, and through the mystical workings of chance I (a) had all the required bricks, (b) in a colour scheme that would work even if it wasn’t the author’s one, and (c) actually had instructions where you could see what was going on. I decided to give it a go, especially as I’m something of a fan of the underappreciated Russian spacecraft.
The author’s Soyuz capsule is a relatively simple model, a bit more angular than a real-life Soyuz but using the clever trick of utilising one of those cup-and-ball mounts as the spherical crew module on the front. It’s not bad for a start, but I thought I could do better. I decided to have a go at Vostok-1, the very first spaceship as flown by the first cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin.
Actual Vostok capsule
Russian/Soviet space hardware has a very definite style to it, usually characterised by disparaging adjectives like “clunky”, “unfinished” and “not very stylish”, and I remember as a kid being rather put off by the bristly, exposed-wiring appearance of things like the Vostok space capsule and the Lunokhod robotic moon rover. It was just so darned difficult to draw, for one thing.
However, I confess to have become something of a convert to the “vacuumpunk” Russian design aesthetic, and there’s no denying the stuff worked, as evidenced by the long string of Soviet space “firsts” prior to the American Apollo moon landings. Indeed, despite its more primitive appearance the Vostok space capsule was both larger and more sophisticated than the cramped American Mercury capsule, whose astronauts often commented that it was “worn, not piloted”. The Soviet 2-man Voskhod spacecraft was substantially the same as the original Vostok but with a backup retro rocket attached to the re-entry module.
At any rate, Gagarin’s Vostok-1 capsule seemed like a cool thing to attempt.
After a very Brick-Wonders-Soyuz-derived intermediate model to testbed aspects of the design, I set about building a larger-scale version.
Working at this larger scale, I had to work out a way to build the sphere rather than using a cup-and-ball mount, but that’s not beyond my capability. I wanted something smoother than a Lowell sphere, and though I think it would be improved if I had a fifth 4×4 dish in dark grey, I do like what I eventually came up with.
I got the service module’s broad cone shape a lot closer to right in this larger version (though the fact that I neglected to photograph the smaller version before I broke it up for pieces for this one prevents a comparison shot), including at least some of the antennas that bristle from the craft. The forward-facing antennas on the capsule itself are sadly missing with no place to attach, but the possibility might exist of building an even larger version using a planet sphere for the capsule, and that could be made to carry antennas.
The final result is close enough to minifigure scale that I assembled a Gagarin, using the orange deep-sea-diver torso as a reasonable substitute for the space pioneer’s characteristic orange flight suit. Alas, he cannot be placed inside his cutting-edge-1950s-high-tech spacecraft, but he does add a litte something to the display.
It’s not the very best brick-built Vostok-1 I’ve seen, but the intricacies of the Soviet design ethos and generally underappreciated nature of Russian space vehicles mean it’s not something a lot of people attempt. I did. Here’s the result, once again: