No, I’m not done with the entire International Space Station build yet. I’ve still got to get it some more power. But I have finished up all of the pressurized sections with the completion of the American managed side of this amazing feat of engineering. And what an interesting session it was. Now, some of it felt very familiar – more cylindrical objects being attached to other cylindrical objects. And most of these cylinders seem to have a consistent diameter, unlike the Russian side of the station. But the similarities stop there (well, except for the identical PMA). There are a lot of interesting little details, both extending from and cutting into these cylinders. Plus some cool looking arms. And, of course, more boxes!
So, let’s get some learning in, shall we? Feel free to scroll down to where all the “I was confused by” illustrations start up below if you aren’t interested in learning about what exactly it was that I added to the station this time. I know this stuff isn’t for everyone, but for those who do like it… here we go!
Let’s start with the cylinder attached immediately forward of the Destiny module (the cylinder below the Integrated Truss Assembly). That cylinder is the Harmony node, or Node 2. Starboard of Node 2 is the Columbus European Lab. Moving to the port side of Node 2 you encounter the Japanese Experiment Module (JEM), which also goes by the nickname Kibo. Attached to the JEM are two elements: the JEM Experiments Logistic Module Pressurized Section (JEM ELM-PS) above it, and the JEM Remote Manupulator System (RMS) & Exposed Facility farther to port. Finally, forward of Node 2 is another Pressurized Mating Adapter (PMA-2) and the Canadarm2 extending forward with the Dextre Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator (SPDM) attached to the end of it. And that’s all of it (that I added this time). It was a shorter build session.
It was also a much simpler build session than most of my other sessions. Lots of cylinders, as I said, but I’m good and used to cylinders by now. But it does throw you a couple of curve balls, mostly with attaching things to the cylinders, and not mangling the thin and delicate arms / manipulators. It was kinda fun, though, because the instructions have you build a bunch of components, put them aside, and then you kinda pull them all together.
The first two components, Columbus and the JEM ELM-PS (in steps 25 and 26, respectively) have conical ends to the cylinders, formed with folded-in petals. I’m not always fond of the petal approach to cones, as it can be a bit messy / imprecise, and these two don’t disappoint on that front. For one thing, they fold in a lot more than the instructions seem to indicate, at least for me. When you do encounter these types of conical segments, I advise you to check if they have tabs on some of the flaps that need to be folded (they usually do). It will serve you well to fold those tabs a bit (towards what they will end up folded as in the end) before you fold the petals in that they are attached to. This prevents the struggle of trying to get a good grip on the tabs when two of them meet in the middle and block your access to each other.
The next component you work on, the JEM Exposed Facility, is a bunch of rectangular solids connected together. Which seems like it should be easy, but since most of them are tiny, and they are best secured with folded tabs, it gets tricky quickly. First off, they are all close together. Second, you’re going to want to make sure that they stay oriented correctly, because not all of them are rotationally symmetric. And finally, because all the tabs need to be folded, they tend to want to misalign as you fold the tabs (attaching with a slightly rotated preference). This is a common challenge, but with them all being close proximity, it gets very obvious. Oh, and attaching this to the end-cap of the Kibo module along with the RMS arm is a delicate operation.
Then it’s time to form the Kibo cylinder and attach both the ELM-PS and the end-cap with it’s attachments. These are two somewhat challenging feats, as the end of the ELM-PS that is being mated to the cylinder is flat, but the cylinder is not. I ended up having to accept that the tabs would not be seated all the way, and the result is a fairly secure connection. But I almost crushed the ELM-PS in the process of trying to get it to fit in place. The end-cap, on the other hand was not that hard to attach. What was hard was handling it while attaching it. And resisting the urge to straighten the RMS arm every time I mangled it.
Finally, in step 28 we get to pull it all together. But first we have to assemble the core Harmony module itself. Which is it’s own challenge. Cylinders are often seen as one of the tough things to learn to deal with in building Metal Earth models. Cones and domes are generally the next challenge to master after that. But… there’s a middle step: cylinders with holes or tabs in their surface. These create “weak” areas where the metal prefers to bend, rather than smoothly curving across the entire length of the part. Which means it takes more work and convincing to get the cylinder to look it’s best (sometimes etched pattern lines have a similar effect). The Harmony module takes this to the next level by having both holes and tabs in the middle… and then throws in a bonus part that’s attached to the inside of the cylinder.
The instructions direct you to attach that inset panel before shaping the part into a cylinder. I refused to do so, because I know myself, and I knew this cylinder was going to be a challenge even without something blocking me from using my cylinder forming tools. So… I formed the cylinder first, but did not immediately seat and secure the tabs to close it. Inserting the inset panel was already complicated by having the cylinder curved – I wasn’t going to make it worse by closing up the cylinder and giving myself even less room to work with. The process still manages to funktify the shaping of the cylinder a little bit as you secure the tabs for the inset panel, but I find it easier to fix that funktification than to get the cylindrical form correct after attaching stuff on the inside.
Throw in the fun of another not-conical tapered-cylinder, attaching the super delicate Canadarm2 plus Dextre, and putting all the components together, then attaching it to the rest of the station, and you have finished out the entirety of the pressurized modules of the space station. All that is left to do from here are the giant solar panels and the truss components they are attached to. No big deal right?
So, as I said earlier, this was my shortest build session. Clocking in at just over an hour, you can watch the silent film starring my two hands, some tools, and a bunch of pieces of metal right here: