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Pat LeBlanc's Orbital Space Station!

Once again Customizer Pat LeBlanc does something unique and "big"... unsatisfied with the limited use of the moon-anchored Space Station, Pat embarks on the creation of his own Orbiting Platform...

From Pat:
When I started re-collecting MMM stuff in late 2001, I had no intention of getting a Space Station (SS). Even though I had one as a boy, I didn't feel like the SS was one of those "have to have" items as I rebuilt my collection. But one day I won an item on Ebay that included a partial SS. Now I had always thought the coolest part of the SS was the triangular grid on the floors that held the astronaut's boots in place (I remember seeing pictures of the floors in Skylab that had a similar pattern and purpose). But there was a reason this SS had been thrown in with another item: the floors had seen better days (the plastic had yellowed and warped), most of the blue solar shields were cracked and of course the locking pins for the command console were missing. Borrowing a theme from Toby Denham, I decided to try and make something out of these discarded pieces.

I always thought that the SS was misnamed (it should have been called a moon base). A space station belongs in orbit and that's the direction I decided to take with this project. I remembered some early concepts of space stations that rotated to provide artificial gravity. My SS would be dumbbell shaped with crew compartments at either end connected by the girders. Of course this meant I needed parts from another SS (which I subsequently got). I considered using the solar panels, but the enclosed areas would be too small (plus I only had one complete control console). With parts from two SS's I could use two floors per compartment, doubling the area available for securing the astronauts.

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Walls and Panels
After eliminating the solar shields, I chose 0.1" thick plexiglas as a substitute for the walls. I drilled three holes in each of the six sides of the floors to secure the plexiglas panels. When bolted on, five panels are rigid enough to correct the warping of the floors and hold them parallel (leaving the sixth side open for reaching in to pose figures). The panels are 8" wide to match the floors. After some trial and error, I chose to make the panels 11" tall so that astronauts could stand on the "ceiling" without hitting their heads on anything else. Since I was going to cover some of the panels with a printed pattern, the 11" height meant I could use standard size paper.

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Interior Panels
I chose to cover three panels and leave the others transparent. I created three separate "scenes". The first is a wall of lockers with a view port. The second is a status display (those are supposed to be computer keyboards on the four corners). The third is the sleeping area with three "hammocks". All three scenes have ventillation grills at the top and bottom.

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PVC Connectors for Tunnel
I wanted to use the original girders but I also wanted to have a tunnel between the two compartments. The inside diameter of a 4" PVC fitting matches the hole in the SS floor pretty well. I made up the difference by lining the inside of the fitting and the hole in the floor with strips of styrene sheeting. Four inch PVC fittings are pretty heavy so I decided to make the tunnel using two 4" x 3" reducers and a 3" x 2" tee. I thought of using the 2" connection for a docking port but ended up using it to mount the whole station on a wall. When I assembled the PVC fittings, the girders were not the right length (they were about 2" shorter than the fitting stackup). Of course I was going to have to do something about the girders anyway.

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Custom Girder Clips
In order to hold the station together, the two crew compartments needed to press against (or compress) the tunnel section. This means the girders would be in tension. The way Mattel designed the girder/floor connections, the girders were always in compression. To solve this, I made small "C" shaped clips that would hold the girder tops tightly to the floors. Now all I had to do was make up the 2" gap bewteen ends of the girders. I made splice plates out of plexiglas and bolted them to the ends of the girders.

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Interior Air Locks
While I didn't have two complete control consoles, I still wanted to use them. The hole in the bottom of the console (where the transparency used to go) matches the diameter of 3" PVC pipe pretty well. I decided to use the consoles as airlocks. The inner portion is a 3" pipe with a plexiglas lid on a hinge. The outer portion is a 3" pipe with a 3" cap on a hinge. By the way, the consoles are held to the floor by #6 machine screws, washers and nuts (a convenient and sturdy substitute for the old locking pins).

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Manipulator Arm
I also wanted to have a manipulator arm like the Space Shuttle or the International Space Station. I decided to use 1/2" wooden dowels joined with wire. Since I had an old figure that was beyond repair, I (Matt forgive me) cut off the elbow bellows and used them to cover the joints. I cut a portion from the console roof that I had for a platform and attached it to the arm.

The next two items are definitely a product of the holiday season. Any space station needs tanks to hold oxygen, water and other consumables. I found some red, blue and silver plastic Christmas ornaments that were just the right size (60mm) and mounted them around the airlocks. At this point I decided the station was going to be a Christmas display for years to come so I added eight (8) high intensity red LED's and provided circuitry to make them flash. The lights can be seen in between the "tanks". There are also two white LED's that illuminate the interior of each crew compartment. Unfortunately these lights don't photograph very well.

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Final Touches
The final touch was to add the tops of the two radar beacons from the original SS's. The overall length of the finished station is just under 43". While that sounds large, this station would easily fit inside the cargo bay of a similarly scaled Space Shuttle. The Space Station is also a good way to display some of the figures I've acquired that don't have helmets.

All Mattel images and captions are copyright Mattel and used without permission. All other content, including images and editorial is Copyright © 1997-2017 John Eaton or Pat LeBlanc. If there are any comments or objections, please contact John Eaton, by clicking here or Pat LeBlanc by clicking here.

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