Review – set 21309 the Saturn V Rocket

Two score and eight years ago, NASA fulfilled the challenge laid down by President Kennedy in 1961, which was:
‘by the end of this decade, to land a man on the Moon and return him safely to the Earth’.
Those missions were part of my childhood, with their blurry black and white pictures, and the crackly radio conversations between Mission Control and the capsule, all punctuated by that ubiquitous ‘beep’ after each message.

Now LEGO have issued Ideas set #17, the Saturn V Rocket that took men to the Moon, and it brings back all those memories of space race heroics in 1969.


The box gives you the first clue about the attention to detail LEGO have paid as it announces that the set contains 1969 pieces. Now open the box! Inside you get twelve numbered bags and a booklet of 184 pages. This includes pictures from the Apollo program and a period-style photo of the lego designers, as well as a note about Felix Stiessen and Valerie Roche, who came up with the concept.

The first thing you notice is, there is no sticker sheet. Where a part needs detail, it’s been printed on. As this is one set that is unlikely to be taken apart, ‘cos the finished model is just too impressive, I think this is a good thing. I know people hold pro- and anti- positions on stickers…

The build
Building starts with the huge first stage. It’s built around a core of curved wall elements, with cladding around this. Getting the first piece of cladding on was a little fiddly, but the result when they are all in place is very sturdy. Definitely swooshable!


Lego have solved the problem of making a round shape with square bricks. What they’ve done here is to put in a platform with 8-fold snot bricks facing outwards, four on the sides and four on the corners. The outer surface is made up of four curved pieces 6 studs wide, and four flat pieces 2 studs wide. It isn’t an exact circle but it looks like one when you see the model.

There are 5 boosters at the base of the first stage. While there are several sections of ‘build this 4 times’ for sub-assemblies, clever use of the black and white colour scheme of the rocket helps you in placing small assemblies.

At the end of bag 6 the fins at the base of the first stage go on. This section is 16 inches tall in its stockinged feet, and you get a good idea of the size of the finished model.

The second stage follows the same construction as the first. Several times you find yourself putting together a small random assembly and then there’s a lightbulb moment, as with the use of the ‘padlock’ pieces at step 171. You put together something that looks like Mickey Mouse’s ears and then they fold down and lock another component into place.

Bags 7 to 10 complete the second stage of the rocket.

Then comes the third stage, with a slightly different approach to making a circle, and to top it out, the CSM with its launch escape system.

And finally, we get the LEM on its moon base, complete with astronaut microfigs and Stars and Stripes on a transparent 1×2 tile, plus the Command module in a splashdown vignette with buoyancy balloons, and the flotation collar attached by US Navy frogmen.

A nice touch is that the LEM comes in two parts, the descent and ascent stages, and the combined LEM fits inside the launch rocket. This means you can re-enact all configurations of the mission, from launch, through third stage jettison, CSM/LEM docking, moon landing and return to dock with the CSM, and finally the Trans-Earth Injection burn back to splashdown.

Any gripes? Not really. I would ideally have liked two printed Command Module cones, so I could play with it, I mean display it, with the CM both atop the launch rocket and at splashdown.

No-one will buy this set to part it out. However, it does come with an unheard-of 148 copies of part 6132212, the 2×3 curved slope, as well as another 16 printed versions. And 24 1×1 round plates with hole in pearl gold, and 4 cheeses in real gold.

What’s left?
Here are the pieces left over from the build, including a fourth astronaut microfig, so you can build a Mercury spacecraft…

It’s USD 120, GBP 110, and EUR 120.

Go buy it, if you can find one in stock (it’s been reported out of stock in early sales, but I’d expect Lego to rectify that). It’s a great build, with inventive snot techniques, and for me anyway, it’s a real piece of nostalgia.
We’ve been to the Moon. Maybe, one day, we’ll go back. Until then, this is the closest I can get.

I’m going to step off the LEM now (beep).