I’ve noticed a recurring pattern when building Metal Earth models. Not in the model design, but in the building experience. Because there seems to be a point in almost every model where what you’ve finished so far changes from something funky / weird / odd / ugly looking to something exciting. It’s often a quick transition, all of a sudden you can appreciate how gorgeous, or detailed, or awesome this thing is going to be when you are finished. That happened during this build session for the ISS.

And, I really felt like it was time to do a 360-video, because I didn’t think I would be able to capture that feeling with photos alone. In particular, I think it is the “stacked” solar panels that triggered the change in view, but not until I had it all attached together. This thing is going to just grab your eyes and not let them go! I can’t wait until I get the whole thing together now. I mean, I am waiting, because I’m writing up my reviews as I go, but I’m really getting excited about this build now.

Of course, the funny thing is that, when I saw this model, and knew I would get it, those same panels intimidated me. I was looking at them from a builder’s perspective, and they look scary. But once I’d built them (and didn’t fail as miserably as I was worried I would), I could appreciate how good they look. And my hat is off, once again, to the designers over at Fascinations, cause they look amazing. Even with the tabs being twisted (I didn’t dare try to fold them) they look amazing. I don’t even see the twisted tabs! I don’t know how they did it, but I love it.

Of course, building them was a trick with my giant sausage fingers. I was so worried that I was going to mangle them beyond recognition. But, as delicate as they look (and they are delicate, to be honest), they are actually pretty robust. The key is to go slow, have patience, and get those tabs secured tightly! I did end up adding some UV-cured resin to the backs, just to make sure that it was extra secure, but it didn’t really need it. I was just overly concerned with my poor handling skills while attaching further components.

Ack! I just realized that I was so excited about talking about this session (well, technically two one-hour sessions on the same day) that I forgot to do my research to figure out what I had built this time! Off to do some research. Be right back!

The large cylindrical section in the middle, with the stacked solar panels attached to the long skinny part – that’s the Zarya Functional Cargo Block. Attached off the bottom of that is the Rassvet Mini Research Module, to which another Soyuz is docked (I built these two components out of part 25 in the last build session). Just forward of that is the Pressurized Mating Adapter (PMA-1) that joins the Russian and American sections of the ISS together.

But I didn’t stop there! I appear to have worked on the beginnings of the American managed section of the ISS. Which begs the clarification that, while there are primarily Russian and American sections, the components and occupants of the ISS come from more than just these two nations. The ESA (European Space Agency), JAXA (Japanese space agency), and others have all participated as well. But, back to the research details…

The most forward central cylinder that I’ve [mostly] completed is the Unity Node (node 1). On the starboard-side (left when viewed from the “front”) is the Quest Join Airlock with the rectangular External Stowage Platform (ESP-2) protruding forward of it. To the port-side, we find the Tranquility Node (node 3), which I am now realizing I’ve attached upside down (the cupola, an etched feature, is supposed to be on the bottom side of it). Off the starboard port side of that is another PMA as well. Moving to the area above the axis cylinders of the ISS, we find the Z1 Truss Segment which also houses the communications systems for the ISS.

And now, we get another interesting lesson about the ISS. It’s not as static as you might realize. because in this build, the Leonardo Permanent Multipurpose Model is attached underneath the Unity node, which is not actually where it is currently attached. This configuration was targeted to make space-shuttle docking easier, but it has since been reconfigured (during the summer of 2015) to have this module relocated to the forward port of the Tranquility module. It took a bit of research to figure that out, but it’s kinda cool to realize that even semi-permanent (and definitely large) modules can be repositioned as needed. In this case, it was done to make docking commercial supply vehicles (such as the SpaceX Dragon) easier.

Okay, random learning session about the ISS is over now, back to the build process! As is no surprise, the pair of stacked solar arrays was the big challenge of this portion of the build, but it wasn’t the only challenge. Forming the long skinny cylinderish section – that they are attached to – is also rather interesting, and then there is the Pressurized Mating Adapter off the end of the Tranquility node (a non-conical tapered cylinder).

We’ll start with the Zarya FCB, specifically the narrow section that seems to have a bracing structure around it. There are two big challenges with this. First is joining the two halves of the cylinder at the core of this (parts 19 and 20). After carefully shaping the two half-cylinders, you get to figured out how to secure 4 tabs on the inside of a tiny cylinder, not to mention slotting those tabs into place. Similar to the solar panels on the Zvedza, you will probably want to bend the arms of the attached solar panels back past 90 degrees. This will make it easier to align tabs to slots, you can gently bend the arms back to the correct position afterwards. Then do your best to shape the cylinder.

After that, it’s time to shape up the support scaffolding stuff (part 21). I chose to curve the two small lateral supports before folding up all the flaps, but how you approach it is up to you. For me, I like to do as much curving with forms as possible, and sometimes that means thinking ahead and doing a curve early, compared to when the instructions suggest it. Once all the beams are shaped, you connect this to the end of the core cylinder, then fold the beams down and… get to secure four more tabs inside that tiny cylinder! When I was done, the four beams were not evenly spaced around that core cylinder. I’m not sure if they are supposed to be, but I couldn’t force them to be.

That brought me to what I think of as the big challenge of this building session. Those stacked solar panels. The instructions suggest that you start by folding the small solar panel section at an angle to the arm that attaches it to the previous work, but I chose to wait on that until I finished attaching the rest of the solar panels (parts 22 and 23). It seemed to offer better access to secure the tab behind the smallest solar panels. I prepped all four of part 22 and two of part 23 by folding the arms at roughly a 90-degree angle to the face of the panels. Make sure to keep the two part number separate, though. Then it was just the fun of gently, but firmly, holding the parts together as straight as possible and twisting the tabs as close and tight as I could. Of course, aligning the tabs was also a process, but it wasn’t as hard as I was expecting. When I was finished, I repeated on the other side, then “folded the arm on the smallest panels, and twisting it 90 degrees. I also added a couple of dabs of UV-glue (as I said) to help keep those connections tight, and then did my best to straighten the solar panels to each other. Lots and lots of fussing, but oh so gently – I didn’t want to break those metal strips!

One quick note before we get to the final challenge of this build session… it’s really easy to get the Tranquility node upside down like I did. The instructions do not make it clear like they do with some other sections, but the cupola etched pattern (circular pattern) needs to be on the “bottom” of the part as you are assembling it. The easiest way to make sure of that is to put the seam of the cylinder on the top. So I’ve “tweaked” the instructions to make that more obvious:

Finally, I just want to call out part 39, the PMA at the far starboard end of the Tranquility node. First of all, props to Metal Earth for staying true to the weirdly angled connectors, because these things are really like that. I think it had something to do with making docking the Space Shuttle easier. That being said, don’t expect your usual cone shaping skills to apply here. This is a funky shape and you just need to work it carefully and as best you can. And remember that both ends are supposed to be circular when you are done, though the big end did have a bit of a point (or peak) at the top edge on my build.

With all that said and done, this session covered another two hours (roughly) of build time, bringing the total to six hours at this point. As I said earlier, this post technically covers two build sessions, each around an hour, but completed on the same day, so I’m calling it “one” build session in effect. You can watch the videos below: