Lego has a new 2,354-piece NASA Space Shuttle set, and it’s awesome

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STS-31 —

The toymaker has had space shuttle sets in the past, but none as detailed as this.

Jonathan M. Gitlin

  • Lego’s latest official NASA set is this massive model of space shuttle Discovery on mission STS-31.


    Jonathan Gitlin

  • There are 17 bags of Lego bricks. Well, technically there are 19, because there are two bags labeled 2 and a bag that isn’t labeled that contains some softer pieces that would otherwise get scratched in transit.


    Jonathan Gitlin

  • A big instruction book with plenty of shuttle facts. And blissfully few stickers. My top tip was going to explain how it’s much easier to use Lego’s iPad instructions app, but I built Discovery the day it came out, and it was evidently too new to show up in the app.


    Jonathan Gitlin

  • If I was truly insane (or had a lot of free time), I could dump all 17 bags out into a single pile and build from there. Instead, I sort the bags out a little.


    Jonathan Gitlin

  • This is the core of the Hubble Space Telescope, which is an example of Studs Not On Top, or SNOT.


    Jonathan Gitlin

  • The completed Hubble model on its stand.


    Jonathan Gitlin

  • So far, so conventional—this kind of build should be familiar even if you haven’t built a Lego spaceship in decades.


    Jonathan Gitlin

  • Now we’re starting to look like an orbiter.


    Jonathan Gitlin

  • A closer look at the wing bracing.


    Jonathan Gitlin

  • Lego designers intentionally include brightly colored pieces that will be covered in the final build.


    Jonathan Gitlin

  • There are always a few extra pieces included. And did you know that Lego is the world’s largest tire manufacturer?


    Jonathan Gitlin

  • I had already stopped and said “that’s so cool” at least twice by this point.


    Jonathan Gitlin

  • Discovery stands on its wheels for the first time.


    Jonathan Gitlin

  • Some of this controls the elevons, some of it is the main landing-gear mechanism.


    Jonathan Gitlin

  • Our cargo bay is taking shape.


    Jonathan Gitlin

  • Cameras watch the bay from all angles.


    Jonathan Gitlin

  • If you look closely you’ll see why I hate having to apply stickers.


    Jonathan Gitlin

  • For STS-31, there was only one chair for an astronaut on the lower deck.


    Jonathan Gitlin

  • Just missing the Orbital Maneuvering System.


    Jonathan Gitlin

  • About to start bag 16, with bag 17 waiting in the wings.


    Jonathan Gitlin

  • The OMS has been installed.


    Jonathan Gitlin

  • Not quite done yet.


    Jonathan Gitlin

  • Here’s the flight deck.


    Jonathan Gitlin

  • Discovery on its stand.


    Jonathan Gitlin

  • You can also mount Hubble in the bay.


    Jonathan Gitlin

  • Another look at Hubble being put into orbit.


    Jonathan Gitlin

  • Once Discovery was finished, I had to turn my attention to repairing this partially disassembled Saturn V, damaged by a cat who, to scale, would be frankly enormous.


    Jonathan Gitlin

The ongoing collaboration between Lego and NASA continues to delight. Back in 2017, the Danish toymaker brought out a highly detailed Saturn V—a model ably assembled in time-lapse by Ars’ Eric Berger before its release. Two years later, Lego followed up with the Apollo 11 lunar lander, and in 2020 it was the turn of the International Space Station. And earlier this April, Lego released the latest set to bear NASA’s famous worm logo: space shuttle Discovery, as it was for 1990’s STS-31 mission. This was an important mission, reaching the highest orbit for a space shuttle to date. Discovery put the Hubble space telescope into orbit, and its crew even captured the event on IMAX cameras brought along for the ride.

Lego has made a number of space shuttle sets over the years, but none has been as detailed as this 2,354-piece set. The finished orbiter is a substantial 21.8 inches (55.46 cm) long with a 13.6-inch (34.6 cm) wingspan, and it lends itself well to reproduction in Lego bricks at this scale; the space shuttle was covered in blocky tiles, after all.

STS-31 was a mission to launch Hubble, and so it is with Hubble that you begin, a build that was reminiscent of the construction techniques used in the Saturn V. Over the past decade or so, Lego has adopted new building methods, sometimes known as SNOT (Studs Not On Top), that give designers much more freedom than vertically stacking bricks one atop another, and this set is a wonderful demonstration of that.

Although the set is aimed at adults—the box says 18+—Discovery has a decent amount of playability. The undercarriage is spring-loaded, the elevons and rudder move, and it’s solid enough to have decent swooshability. The mark of a good Lego build, to me at least, is when you build a step, then stop and exclaim “that’s so cool!” as you understand the mechanism or construction you’re putting together. I had at least five “that’s so cool!” moments with Discovery, which should be taken as a ringing endorsement of this set.

The only thing I’m not so effusive about is the price. At $199, it’s nearly twice as expensive as the Saturn V, despite a brick count that isn’t much higher.

Listing image by Jonathan Gitlin

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