Project: Mercury
Atomic City Models 1/12 Mercury Spacecraft

By Mike Whye

The big Mercury spacecraft so many people have been waiting for has arrived! Originally a project undertaken by Atomic Models and now handled by MRC, the 1/12 scale Mercury Spacecraft is certainly big, coming in a sturdy box that measures 16x12x5½ inches and weighs a few pounds. The box top's side panels have some nice photos of Mercury spacecraft so hang onto this as a reference.

The first thing that strikes you upon opening the box is that this is one large kit that's going to take a fair amount of paint and glue. When complete, the entire thing from retro rockets to the spire atop the escape rocket will measure more than two feet tall!

What's in the Box

In sealed plastic bags are five sprues of nice, crisp styrene pieces--a large red one of mainly the escape tower parts, two light gray ones of interior parts and parts for the retro rocket pack; a clear one for the instrument panel, window and face plate; and a black one of miscellaneous parts. Of course there are the large styrene parts which are individually wrapped--the spacecraft shell (which is six inches in diameter and five inches high), heatshield, retro pack, antenna compartment and recovery compartment. Flash is nil, the only seam lines to be seen are the minor ones on the escape tower's legs and spire and there are no sink marks. For the most part, the ejector pin marks are in places that won't be seen once the model is constructed however some are very visible on the circuit breaker panels that flank the main instrument panel....if you have a thing against ejector pin marks, prepare yourself to work in some really tight places to eradicate these.

Also in the box are a vinyl sprue of an astronaut and four hoses and cords that connect to his spacesuit (no seams found anywhere); a sheet of clear PVC (more about that in awhile); and 3 metal straps for the retro pack.

The kit has two nicely printed decal sheets; one has the exterior markings for the spacecraft such as "United States," the American flag, various small stencils and the names of all 6 manned Mercury space flights; and the other sheet has 17 instrument faces but primarily the stripes to be used on the retro pack (with all those parallel and converging stripes, for a moment, I thought someone had included an eye test in the kit!!!).

There was supposed to be a piece of metal wire in the kit to act as a hinge for the spoiler but it wasn't there. On its website, Atomic City Models acknowledges that some kits are missing the wire and suggests using a piece of 0.36 piano wire, 0.73" long.


The main instructions are eight pages long. The assembly of the model looks straight-forward and is reminiscent of how the Revell 1/48 Mercury spacecraft model was built years ago but at a considerably smaller scale.

As the instructions suggest, you can show the complete model at launch or as it appeared in space without the escape tower or while re-entering the earth's atmosphere with its spoiler deployed, antenna housing gone and the retro rocket pack detached. You can leave the hatch open and not glue the shell of the spacecraft to the heatshield for a look at the interior. A template on the instruction sheet shows how to cut the clear PVC sheet to create an outer window panel.

Basically the instructions show how to build the spacecraft as used by John Glenn, Scott Carpenter, Wally Schirra and Gordon Cooper and there's a bonus--one page details how to reconfigure the model to look like the spacecraft flown by Alan Shepard and Gus Grissom; be prepared to use some extra styrene sheets and to cut the spacecraft shell.

Other nice touches include a large diagram illustrating the locations of the major decals, a section on how to install the antenna fairing properly (a bit of a trick) and notes on the spacecraft markings.

Decal and Painting Instructions

A separate information sheet tells how to apply the striped decals to the retro pack, a tedious task but one with great-looking results. It would have been nice to have pointed out during the construction part of the instructions how to paint the retro rocket pack and apply the decals before assembling all of those pieces so ALL of these instruction sheets before working on the model.

There is a major oversight in that no instructions are included about how to place the decals on the instrument panel. Two uniquely-shaped ones are easy to figure out where to go...into the same-shaped indentations on the instrument panel...but after that, it's your guess where the remaining 15 round-faced decals go. Maybe Atomic City feels it doesn't matter where the instrument decals are placed--the instrument panel is hard to see anyway--but I hope Atomic City sets up something on its website to handle this oversight. One more word about the instrument panel... there was no one configuration for all the manned missions; the one in the kit approximates the one used during Cooper's MA-9 mission.

There are also "a few words about painting." Basically that means the escape tower is "primary red," the spacecraft "black primer," the interior "light gray" and the heatshield "either silver or phenolic brown."

Well, after years of model manufacturers calling out colors in the instruction sheets in terms of FS numbers and codes for Humbrol, Xtracolor, Tamiya and the like, these instructions seem odd in their brevity. There is a nice touch suggesting that modelers buff the spacecraft's primer black with steel wool but, overall, the painting instructions by Atomic City and MRC are vague. One could be left wondering what type of red; while Testors does make just a red in its small bottles, its Model Master lines has eight types of red. Also, is the red gloss or flat?

As for primer black, I'd take that as a flat black.

Phenolic brown? The instructions say that's the color of dark brown circuit boards and then tell how to create this by spraying Model Master Black Window Tint over a brown primer that's been buffed.

However, all that's said about the interior is to paint it light gray. If you reference some photos (noted later), you'll see that it's not all light gray.

And silver? Well, there's aluminum, steel, stainless steel, magnesium and titanium to use as starters........

I'm not trying to sound like a rivet counter nor someone lost in the woods but I would appreciate more guidance about the painting than what's given.

By the way, the only comment about how to paint the instrument panel is that it was painted in various colors that varied from mission to mission. That's it, folks, that's all that's written in the instructions which is sad. In mid-December, Atomic City added a note to its website about the instrument panel's colors. Look at the box top and you'll see a white band (might it be flat aluminum???) around the antenna fairing but look in the instructions for any mention about this band won't find any. Dang.

Similarly, the instructions have no information on how to paint the vinyl pieces--absolutely none. I had thought one could just spray vinyl with any paint but don't do that, say friends who have painted other vinyl items. They recommend using Krylon Fusion paint which comes in various colors and a primer which a modeler might be able to paint over with other paints.

An Overall Look

Perhaps because I did some research about NASA several years ago, I know enough about Mercury spacecraft to be dangerous (the astronauts hated the word "capsule," by the way) and with that knowledge and being a modeler, I have the following observations:

The box top states that the kit has a complete interior. Actually, if one does some research and, for example, looks at some websites, it's possible to see that the model is missing some interior details and the interior is definitely not a uniform light gray.

Also, the box top art shows the cap that sits atop the antenna fairing during launch as being painted red but the side panel shows it being black. According to NASA photos, it was black like the rest of the spacecraft.

The kit lacks the electrical cords connecting the escape tower to the spacecraft and the funny little dogleg seen on one of the lowest struts of the real escape tower. For a model this scale, these would have been very easy to have included in the molding, as Revell did in its 1/48th scale kit. If anyone who wants to replicate the wiring, about the best reference I can find is an overall rending of the spacecraft by NASA, which is referenced below.

There's no guide about painting the astronaut figure nor the two oxygen hoses and two electrical leads. I can state that if you paint the suit basically a shiny silver (a non-buffing aluminum is fine), the zippers brass amid black cloth strips, the helmet glossy white and the parachute straps flat neutral gray or off-white, you'll be close to what the astronauts wore. If you wonder what that round disk is just below the figure's chin is, that's a mirror.

If the astronaut figure is not put in the model, you'll see there's no couch detail. Likewise, the thruster handles are molded with the astronaut so if he's not used, your model won't have thruster handles. Thus, you're practically forced to use the figure (which has fine detail, it should be noted).

As for the oxygen hoses and leads, the instructions are incomplete, showing where to place some but not all of them and you're left wondering what to do with the lower ends of one cord (part #130) and the main oxygen hose (part #131). If you want to know their colors, the hoses and cords are flat white with metal connectors.

The hatch has no interior detail. That's okay if the hatch is glued in position (I recommend a touch of white glue so it can be removed) or just laid nearby, topside up.

If one looks at pictures of the real spacecraft with the hatch removed, it's easy to see that there's more thickness to the walls of the spacecraft than the model has.

Being I haven't built the kit yet, I do not know how the model will balance if stood upon its retro rockets. For that reason, I suggest you buy a three-inch deep section of six-inch-diameter PVC pipe, sand the rough cut edges smooth so you won't scratch your model, paint it however you wish and position the model on that as a simple but nice stand. If you don't want to make a stand on your own, check out Nautilus Models which has a wooden one for $10.


Okay, final question: is it a good kit? Yes. Definitely yes. There are shortcomings but I recommend this kit to anyone wanting to do ultimate Mercury kit and building it out of the box will provide you with a great model. If you want to do some scratchbuilding such as thickening the walls near the hatch opening, creating some additional interior details and adding bundles of wires near the base of the escape tower and behind the instrument panel....wires that were easily seen when the hatch was open....then you can have fun with this model too.

The 1/12 Project Mercury Spacecraft is available from dealers at a retail price of $69.98.

Suggested Resources

Here's some information that might help anyone wanting to build the 1/12 Mercury Spacecraft kit. Mike Robinson assisted with finding some of these and his assistance is appreciated.

Check this website for updates by Atomic City Models:; then click "The Mercury Project"

Mercury Spacecraft Modeling:

NASA schematic drawings of the Mercury Spacecraft:

NASA drawing of Mercury Spacecraft with escape tower and retro pack:

A nice .pdf of reference material and photos regarding Mercury spacecraft markings:

Good views of Mercury-Redstones MR-4 (Grissom) and MR-3 that reveal that the lowest elements of the escape tower might not have been red but black in some areas:

Mercury spacecraft with some of escape tower visible:

Mercury-Atlas combination:

Excellent detail of retro package:

Line Drawings from David Weeks' excellent build-up of the Revell kit:

Excellent detail drawings by Robert W. Blaske

Ninfinger has some painting suggestions:

Head-on view with antenna housing detail:

Aft view of heatshield and retro package:

Retro rocket pack detail:

Hatch interior detail:

A view of the interior as the astronauts saw it:

Aurora 7 including interior views:

Sigma 7 including interior views:

Faith 7 including an excellent view of the instrument panel:

A great collection of photos of the interior of Mercury 17, one of the five spacecraft that did not fly, includes the multi-colored instrument panel; also note the thickness of the walls near the hatch:

View of the instrument panel.

Glenn in his spacesuit during his flight (note the mirror on his chest in the latter image):

Glenn on way to launch in spacesuit:

Carpenter in Aurora 7 showing mirror on spacesuit, cords and hoses:

Group photo of Mercury astronauts showing differences in spacesuits:

Cooper on earth in his spacesuit (upper half visible):

Cooper in spacesuit, full length:

Shepard suited for his flight (note cords and hoses)

Detail photo of spacesuit helmet, gloves and boots:

Two good websites--type something like "Mercury Spacecraft" or "Mercury astronaut" in the "search" blank and have fun:

Mike Mackowski has created books about spacecraft including a 53-page one on the Mercury with 70+ photos and drawings; its price is $14 plus shipping.

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