Revell 1/48 Mercury & Gemini Capsule Set
By Jay Chladek
What You Get In the Box
This kit documents an interesting transition point in the space program, as it was originally designed about a year after the Mercury program had concluded with Gordon Cooper's flight aboard Faith 7 and came out just before the first Gemini flight in 1965. One model represents a well understood spacecraft while the other one represents a vehicle that hadn't yet flown. So there are some accuracy issues to overcome, depending on which versions of each spacecraft you plan to build.
The kit has a nicely rendered retro-rocket pack and escape tower. For 1960s molding technology, both assemblies are very well done with wiring and conduit bits, which might be ever so slightly over-scale in spots. But they don't detract from the looks. One drawback with the kit though is as designed, the Mercury can only be modeled with the escape tower in place. In reality, a Mercury capsule would only look like this if it were undergoing a launch abort with the tower pulling the capsule away from the booster. During a normal flight, the escape tower would be jettisoned just prior to the capsule separating from a booster using three posi-grade rockets on the rocket pack bolted to the heat shield. It will take some cutting and scratchbuilding to fix the front end if you wish to represent a Mercury in orbit. But at the same time, the escape tower does practically double the length to the completed model as the Mercury spacecraft is rather tiny otherwise.
The interior is nicely rendered with a control panel, seat and an astronaut figure, albeit with some simplifications and compromises. A super-detailer could really go to town in the interior as Mercury craft had a lot of relative clutter compared to aircraft cockpits. But a modeler likely won't see much in there unless they shine a flashlight inside. Each Mercury spacecraft was a little different in its equipment fit, so consult references depending on which mission you plan to build. Spacecraft in Miniature SIM book #5 on the Mercury Spacecraft is an excellent resource. RealSpace Models also makes a modestly priced resin correction set for the kit which allows modelers to correct several of the flaws and display the capsule in either launch or on orbit configuration. One version of the correction set also includes a replacement outer shell for early style porthole capsule.
Like many other Revell space kits, the Gemini suffers a bit from "prototype syndrome". This means in their rush to get the first kit of a spacecraft (or aircraft) to market, they tend to give the model features only found on either the earliest spacecraft, or non-flying mockups. Since the Gemini kit was designed about a year before it flew its first manned mission, the Revell Gemini is no exception. The biggest error involves the cresent shaped cutouts on the capsule just in front of the hatch doors and viewports. On this kit (as on the non-flying mockups and trainers that NASA used) the cutouts go about three quarters of the way up the capsule in front of the hatches and curve back in a gentle crescent. On the flight articles, these cutouts went all the way up to the cylindrical snout that housed the forward thrusters and the parachutes. The interior is also a little simplified as the interior seats aren't very good matches for the actual Gemini ejection seats. The instrument panels are nicely rendered though for their size. Given how Revell offered a nice set of decals for the interior of the 1/48 Apollo CSM, I was hoping they might have given the Mercury and Gemini interiors the same treatment. But unfortunately, they did not do that in this case.
The gear struts offered in the original kit were deleted from reissues offered in the 1970s and 80s. They were reintroduced with the previous SSP offering of the kit and are also present in this one. They allow the modeler the chance to build a Gemini as it was originally conceived for an interesting "what if". The separate door covers mean that a little more assembly is required for a clean Gemini, but it is nothing a typical modeler can't overcome.
Both the Mercury and Gemini kits features some nicely done display stands with a ball and socket (i.e. the infamous "Revelling" stand feature) to allow the models to be posed in different positions. The fit of these kits requires a bit more modeling skill than a typical modern day "shake and bake" kit. So expect to use filler in spots. Liquid Solvent glue would probably be best for assembly, since it would allow a builder to coax and massage potentially troublesome parts into place.
There are also conversion kits out there to allow the Mercury to be paired up with the Glencoe/Hawk 1/48 Jupiter C rocket kit in order to turn it into a Mercury Redstone. A couple of resin kits for both the Mercury Atlas and the Gemini Titan of varying quality have also been done. These could be combined with the capsule models for a nice display as well.
It is very nice to see this blast from the past around again. While it has its flaws, the Revell Mercury and Gemini Capsule set is a nice offering from the era when spaceflight commanded the world's attention. It can be done out of the box for a bit of a nostalgia flare, yet there are plenty of resources already out there for those who desire turning these models into a set of contest quality display pieces. There are also plenty of detail parts that could be scrounged for other space projects (either hypothetical or science fiction) as well. Price-wise, the kit retails for about $20.00 US, so it won't break the bank. Given the age of the molds, I would say intermediate model building experience is required. But anyone who has built a few vintage Revell or Monogram kits should find no trouble building these, as long as they know that some coaxing and filler might be needed in spots.
Our thanks to Revell for supplying the review kit.