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LEGO Saturn V and Lunar Module Come to Life

Add some interactivity to the LEGO Apollo sets! Includes exhaust plumes, audio, a countdown timer and warning lights.

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Shortly after receiving the LEGO Saturn V set as an anniversary gift from my awesome wife, I stumbled upon a tutorial by Asa Miller where he details his project to add an LED exhaust plume. I immediately determined that this was a MUST-ADD for me and it ultimately re-ignited my interest in mechatronics projects that had laid dormant since college. Since then I’ve gotten the LEGO Lunar Lander as well as a 3D printer, so I decided to give both the full-treatment and add a number of extra features.

Sources:
(Asa Miller)
https://medium.com/@realasa/making-a-lego-saturn-v-blast-off-af5adc55d6fhttps://github.com/asamiller/blast-off

I replicated Asa Miller’s project pretty closely, however I used materials I had access to (no 3D printer at the time): a glass vase for the clear exterior tube, a scrap of PVC for the interior tube and clear plastic dinnerware for the top and bottom.

The Saturn V Base

Ultimately, I switched to a Particle Photon for the microcontroller (inspired by Asa Miller's note for internet-connected projects) to allow for turning it on/off with my phone. Additionally, I made a launch switch for my neighbor’s kids (their bedroom window faces the window where the Saturn V sits) also using a Photon so that they could ‘launch’ it from their room.

Launch Switch

Lastly, I bought an audio chip to allow for me to play the launch and third-stage shutdown audio from Apollo 11 and have it coordinated with the lights.

Fast-forward to the recent release of the LEGO Apollo 11 Lunar Module (LM) and I decided that I needed to give it a similar treatment as well. I somewhat recently got a 3D printer, so it opened up the opportunities for the entire setup. What you see below is what I ultimately ended up with:

The additions are as follows: a 3D-printed stand to mount the Lunar Module on (it has LEGO attachments on the top and bottom to allow for easy install). It’s printed with clear PLA and has a cavity where a short strip of LEDS can be fed through it. Additionally, I made a small LEGO piece to route the wiring off of the display base while keeping it all hidden and non-permanent. The other addition is a proper enclosure for all of the electronics with a spot for four 7-segment or alphanumeric LEDS (think a clock) and 3D-printed panel lights to indicate fuel status and the 1201/1202 program alarms that occurred during the landing.

I used the same audio chip I already had and added audio for the Apollo 11 lunar landing. Originally, I had intended to use the raw audio same as I did for the Saturn V, however after having watched the recent Apollo 11 documentary (watched multiple times, HIGHLY recommended) I decided to use their audio for the landing. They did a fantastic job of cleaning it up, as well as pulling in audio beyond just what was on the main loops. Additionally, they pulled some significant clips from the full 13-minute landing and blended it perfectly with the last 4 minutes of the landing to make for a very complete picture of the full landing as well as just making it more suspenseful and exciting.

I’ve kept my original Saturn V base, but I’ve considered making a 3D printed base with LEGO connection points to make it consistent and more secure/stable. If there’s interest, I might design a LEGO base for the Saturn V, so let me know!

  • 1 × Particle Photon
  • 1 × 74AHCT125 - Quad Level-Shifter (3V to 5V) Used to allow the 3V Photon to talk to the 5V Neopixels
  • 1 × RGB LED
  • 1 × Wire I’ve begun using 4-wire phone cable for all of my electronics projects due to cost, availability and ease of organization when they’re kept in the insulated sleeve.
  • 1 × 3D-Printed Components These are listed in more detail on the Thingiverse page.

View all 16 components

  • Update to LM Mount Piece

    Ben Brooks07/26/2019 at 00:21 0 comments

    After a month+ of periodic removal and usage, the attachment point between the LEGO LM and the LM Mount printed piece got loose enough that the LEGO easily tipped. I adjusted the dimensions just a tad and it is now quite snug. All files on Thingiverse have been updated accordingly.

View project log

  • 1
    Intro

    These instructions assume that you’ve already built the base for the Saturn V (use Asa Miller’s great tutorial). They cover only the LM base and the electronics enclosure. Also, if you’re not familiar with the Photon, I highly recommend that you play around with one before doing this project so that you can get an understanding of how it works. They’re very similar to an Arduino but with a few minor differences that can catch you off-guard. They have some great tutorials on their website to walk you through the basics of the internet-of-things aspect of it.

    Additionally, I didn’t put together a write-up for the launch switch that I made for the neighbor kids. I put it together pretty quickly and didn’t document it plus it’s no longer in my possession and I didn’t know how many people would want to add that part. If you’re up to doing the rest of this project then creating one from scratch would be pretty trivial for you, however if there’s interest I would be more than happy to write up some instructions and a wiring diagram.

    Once you’ve gathered all the necessary components (including the 3D-printed ones), you’re ready to start.

    The printed components are hosted on Thingiverse here.

  • 2
    The board

    The most time-consuming part of the whole project (besides the print-time) is soldering together the board. I drew it up in Fritzing, and while it’s fairly simple conceptually it does still take a little time (especially for me and my sub-par soldering skills). Obviously you can use a breadboard if you prefer (this is what I started with during the initial design), but it will be quite prone to connections coming loose. Note that you’ll want to route the individual LED bulb wires through the printed back pieces before soldering them.

  • 3
    The enclosure

    Once you have your board constructed, you almost ready to begin mounting it in the enclosure box. But before you do this, I recommend that you upload your audio files to the Audio Board. Be sure NOT to change the names of the files as this tells the board which pin corresponds to which file.

    Now the construction can begin! You will want to mount the Fuel and 1201/1202 alarm light boxes to the enclosure first. Ideally, they will be interference fits, but you might need or want to add a little super-glue to make it sturdier. At this point you’re ready to mount the main board, sound board and 7-Segment Display with the screws. The back pieces of the Fuel and Alarm lights can then be glued in their respective positions.

View all 7 instructions

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Discussions

Tom Nardi wrote 07/17/2019 at 05:59 point

This is a highly irresponsible project. Upon seeing it I, an impressionable youth, am experiencing pressure to buy a LEGO rocket. I hope you're happy, sir.

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Ben Brooks wrote 07/17/2019 at 14:09 point

You know, that's a risk I'm willing to take...

I'm glad you like it!

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Mike Szczys wrote 07/16/2019 at 21:18 point

Super-simple but wow the plumes of smoke and glow of the engines came out perfect. Nice work!

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Ben Brooks wrote 07/17/2019 at 14:08 point

Thanks! I can't really take credit for the idea for the plumes, that was all Asa Miller. I just added all of the interactivity.

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