Taking off with Artemis: 60351 Rocket Launch Centre

As I write this, we are awaiting the second launch window for Artemis I, after the mission was delayed earlier this week, as the result of cooling problems. This mission will see an integrated test of the Space Launch System rocket as well as the Orion space craft – which will house the crew when they are taken to land on the moon in 2024.

In Greek Mythology, Artemis is the twin sister of Apollo, as such it seems fitting that this is the name chosen for NASA’s missions to return to the moon, 50 years after the last man stepped foot on the surface.

This year, the LEGO City range has featured a number of sets with a ‘Space’ theme, based on the components being investigated for the Artemis mission. We have previously looked at the Lunar research Base, as well as the Lunar Rover. The Rocket launch centre represents the largest set in the theme, with 1010 pieces, and with a RRP of $AUD249.99. This is a big set, and contains everything you need to set up a rocket launch base. Designed in cooperation with NASA, the rocket bears more than a passing resemblance to the Artemis Space Launch System… But I am getting ahead of myself.

I have given Ann the evening off from knolling out the elements. However, the set comes with bags numbers 1-8, as well as including two unnumbered bags containing larger elements. There are four subbuilds: A service vehicle and robot (along with a test piece of ‘lunar’ rock; an observatory; the launch command facility and, finally, the gantry and rocket. I feel that this set could have been potentially broken down into 4 smaller sets, rather than force the purchase of a $AUD250 set in order to build a rocket and launch pad.

Utility Vehicle

We start the build with the service vehicle – we have a female minifigure wearing sunglasses, and a high visibility vest, as well as pale blue legs. Her helmet has incorporated her ponytail.

The vehicle seats 4 figures, and is six studs wide. Attached to the rear is an extendable yellow arm on a ball joint. The arm can pick up the 2×2 round offset plate which is attached to the upper aspect of a titanium metallic moon rock sample. The interior of the rock is lined with transparent light blue – you might imagine it to be ice, or trace water.

We also construct a small robot with gripping claws, a light brick, and genuine imitation treads – well, a technic beam lying flat on the ground.

The Observatory

Next we move onto the observatory – set on a 16×16 plate, we start by working on a garage for the vehicle. the garage incorporates a sliding door, as well as a rack for tools, ad bollards to prevent inadvertent collisions with the building. There is a common design language used in this set where there are white inverse slopes, a dark blue row with a more acutely angled slope.

Set on the roof of the garage is a turntable. On the freely rotating platform is a telescope, whose angle can be adjusted with a worm gear; There is also the launch platform for a small drone, as well as a magnifying glass examining a specimen of [extraterrestrial] water.

The observatory is enclosed by the new 1/4 sphere panels, previously seen in the lunar research base in transparent light blue.

To remind us that we are still in Florida, there is a small palm tree, as long with a parrot sitting nearby.

This section comes with another figure in a hi-vis vest; a figure in blue coveralls, as well as a scientist, identified on the box as Dr Wylde from LEGO City Adventures.

Mission Control

Our third sub-build is the launch control station: following similar design lines as the garage, we have 3 large windows, with panels on either end, and an open rear section.

There is a control desk that sits 2 , facing the large windows. It comes with the obligatory 2×2 sloped computers, and coffee cup! On one wall is a mission map, which shows the rocket as it takes off, moving by rotating a gear on the side of the building. At the other end is a microscale model of the Artemis, with signage pointing to the various components of the vehicle. There are a few stickers in play here, but they really add to the appearance of the centre.

We get another scientist, this time Director Ravenhurst with this sub build, and I appreciate her no-nonsense approach to the facility.

The Gantry and Rocket

Finally, with bags five and six, we approach the launch gantry The tower is firmly established on a 16×16 plate, with a built up base incorporating umbilicals to the main rocket, as well as water jets, which I presume are part of a cooling or fire suppression system. The gantry consists of dark blue frames, with yellow spacers, and the overall effect is quite effective. There is a str elevator that can lift the astronauts towards the Orion capsule of the rocket. The walkway at the top rotates to be placed adjacent to the rocket, when it is on the launch pad.

Finally we can put together the rocket – and the dark orange fuselage feels like a good colour match for the real world Artemis’s thermal protection layer.

In the lower section is the full tank, which appears to have been supplied by Octan! In the middle section of the rocket, we carry a small rover, while the forward compartment has seating for the pilots. That said, this does not correspond with the manned Orion capsule, which occupies the upper ‘which’ part of the rocket. while the overall feeling is is of a cut down version of the rocket used in 2019’s Mission to Mars Deep Space Launch centre 60228, I appreciate the way that the SLS resembles the source material, particularly the jet nozzles, which use black bee-hives to great effect and the double layered Fabuland half barrels on the SRBs

Finally, in this bag we also have 2 astronauts wearing their orange protective suits with blue detail – consistent with the real world equivalent, including the dark blue visors. These suits are designed to be able to protect the astronauts during critical parts of the mission, and can potentially protect and support them them for up to six days in the event of a hull breech.

We have a male and female astronaut: the male has a double sided face prints, , including a nauseated expression. The female has a triumphant smile.

While the rocket might appear to be designed on a smaller scale than other elements of the set, it is probably the ideal size for kids to hold and swoosh. The observatory does feel a little small compared to the size of the vehicle that is garaged underneath it, and I find myself reminding myself that scale often varies, depending on as number of aspects, including the available elements, and practical space with in the model.

Over all, this set builds a very functional launch base, albeit without the rail car of the 2019 version. The launch centre, as well as the observatory could have been part of a smaller set, as could the rocket and launch pad. I suspect there were decisions at play with regards to the size of the set, and indeed the number of sets to be produced in the range.

60288 Deep Space Rocket from 2019 (left) compared with the ‘Artemis’ version (2022)

Some final thoughts

In comparing the new rocket and gantry with those present in the 60288 Deep Space Rocket and Launch control, I find the new gantry to be, overall, a more complete and satisfying build. The new rocket feels sleeker, without the overly bulky nose cone of the 2019 model. The newly developed ‘capsule element’ which in this model is incorporated in the main body of the rocket, we have somewhere to put our astronauts, other than the awkwardly oversized capsule.

Overall I quite like the playability in this set: the locations are interesting and all have their unique play features: the keep; the angulation of the telescope, as well as the garage door; the microscale model of the launch vehicle, Big Red Button and tracking screen; the lift in the gantry and the swooshable rocket, seating the crew. As far as the minifigures are concerned, we have 3 male, 3 female coded figures and one more with a fairly generic face. We have astronauts, technicians, and scientists; old faces and young; spiky hair, and thinning out.

Between the minifigures and the playability of the base, I have enjoyed this set for what it is, but feel that the pricing model is a bit extreme

In previous years, the different elements of the theme might have been sold separately – rocket (or shuttle) on a launchpad; medium vehicle; control centre, another base of some description. I am unsure that this ‘all in one’ set is the way to go for the budget conscious. Certainly, when I put them all together, it feels a bit small for a $250AUD set. This might be the New World Order as far as LEGO Pricing is concerned: back in July it had an RRP of 229.99AUD.

That said, LEGO City sets are almost always on sale somewhere, and so I would recommend this set as being one to pick up if you are able to, especially if you have an interest in the Artemis program, or just want to ensure that you a contemporary launch site in you LEGO City Layout. This set certainly meets my idea of a ‘Grandma set’ – the set that parents are unlikely to purchase for their kids, but which Grandma might, especially as a birthday or Christmas present.

I give this set 3.5 out of 5 arbitrary praise units. In short: great locations, minifigures and playability. Spoiled mainly by its price. I suspect the set will be around for a few years, as the Artemis program gets up and going, in preparation for the proposed moon landing in 2024

What do you think of this set? I’d love to hear your thoughts. In the meantime, we wait with baited breath to see if the big red button will be pushed this weekend…

Until next time,

Play Well!

This set was provided by the LEGO Group at my request for review purposes. All opinions are my own.

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