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