SciFi Rocket

Finished Rocket
Classic Sci-Fi Rocket

This is a classic, science fiction, bulbous rocket. It was built for the 71st annual Worldcon held in San Antonio, TX over Labor Day Weekend in 2013.

This was ALSO a TexLUG public display. Several members of TexLUG put on a great sci-fi themed display while we build the rocket in an adjacent area. Photos of this display can be found here:

Model Specs and Facts:

Planning: Feb. - Aug. 2013
Construction: Aug. 30 - Sep. 1, 2013
Approx. 45,000 pieces used
Approx. 300 pounds in weight (estimated)
Height of rocket body = 174 bricks (approx. 65.6 inches = 1.67 m)
Total height (w/ spire) = approx. 75.6 inches = 1.92 m
Max. Width (at fins) = 148 studs (approx. 46.6 inches = 1.18 m)
Made of 100% LEGO pieces, and no glue was used


Original idea by: Kurt B.
Concept developed by: Kurt B., Chris M., and TJA (me!)
Detailed design by: TJA (me!)
Built by: members of TexLUG* and the attendees of the 71st annual Worldcon

* namely:
TJA (me!), Kurt B., Chris M., Chris D., John R., and Stefan G.

Inspiration and Concepts

Creating the Model

Development and Design

Our club (TexLUG) was asked to hold an interactive, on-site building event during the 71st annual Worldcon. We discussed the idea early in 2013 and liked it. Kurt B. had the idea to make a large rocket, and we all definitely liked that.

We developed some rough concepts. We picked through various rocket shapes and also did a little 3D modeling to generate basic rocket shapes for consideration and study.

The Hugo Awards are presented at each Worldcon, so we drew a lot of inspiration from the concept of the award trophy. We wanted to pay tribute to the classic, bulbous rocket shapes seen in very early science fiction (think 1920's era, give or take).

Also, one important aspect of this endeavor was that it would be interactive. We would have the Worldcon attendees help us build the rocket.

We followed the process used by LEGO when they celebrate the opening of a new retail store. An event is held where the public is invited to build macro bricks (large bricks built from many smaller bricks), and then a master model builder assembles the macro bricks into a large model.

Detailed Design

The detailed design of the rocket was done ahead of time by myself. I took the agreed-upon shape, and then translated into to a model using cubes to rough-out the required bricks.

We also figured out the source of our parts and our budget. That ultimately drove the size and color of the rocket. The design I developed was scalable, so I performed a set of iterations to match the size with our determined budget and subsequent parts inventory.

I tried various methods of modeling, and I ended up using AutoCAD. It wasn't the most efficient program to use for this project, but I'm very familiar with the program and made it work.

Based on the rough model of the rocket body, I built a small-scale mock-up using various colored LEGO bricks. This model enabled me to finalize the design and figure out how the bricks needed to inter-lock for strength. My small scale brick model was only 1/4 of the top section of the rocket body. However, this section was copied in an array and mirrored to complete the entire rocket body.

Finalizing the Design & Instructions

Based on the pattern established in the previous step, I developed a set of instructions for the rocket. I divided up the model into a fin assembly and a body assembly. From base to tip there were 58 rows (each row consisting of macro bricks that were 3-bricks tall).

The instruction manual took a long time to develop, but it was worth the effort. I spotted several mistakes and was able to correct them prior to Worldcon. During the event, the instructions helped us build the rocket fairly smoothly.

It didn't go perfectly, but we were able to figure things out with limited fuss. I've revised the instructions by correcting a few slight mistakes and adding a page of notes containing lessons learned from our build:

Instruction Manual - Revision 2 (14MB PDF file)

Building the Model

Building took place at the Worldcon event. We initially set up tables for folks to stop by and build macro bricks. We also set up a pair of sturdy 16-inch tall tables to serve as a platform for the rocket model.

We saw pretty good participation. Some folks stopped for just a few minutes. Some folks sat down for hours and built hundreds of macro bricks. Everyone seemed to enjoy it.

We worked on the rocket for three days in a row (Fri-Sat-Sun of the con) roughly 8 hours each day. At any given time, there were at least 3 of us assembling the rocket model and managing the macro brick build.

Animated GIF:

Finished Model

We finished the model sometime around 5 - 6pm on Sunday (Sept. 1). We hung around for about an hour taking photos and sitting back and admiring our work (as well as interacting with the crowds - many folks kept coming back to check on our progress and were keen on seeing the finished model).

I should also mention that my fellow TexLUG'ers put on a awesome science fiction display of sets and mocs near the rocket build area. I'll have photos of that available soon on my Flickr account.

Tear Down

The rocket stayed in place until about 2 - 3pm on Monday (Sept. 2). We then moved it onto the floor and layed it on a tarp. It started breaking apart during the move, and I finished it off by sitting on it :-)

Thomas J. Avery 2013