Monogram 1/48 Gus Grissom Memorial Combo
KIT #: 85-4166
DECALS: Two options
NOTES: Two kits in one.  Inaccurate, but the only game in town for 1/48 scale



Commander Virgil “Gus” Grissom

Virgil “Gus” Grissom was the commander of Gemini 3.  He was born in 1926, joined the USAAF as a clerk in 1944, demobilized in 1945 and graduated from Purdue University with a degree in mechanical engineering.  He rejoined the USAF in 1950 as an aviation cadet and eventually found himself flying F-86 Sabres in Korea with the 334th FS.  He flew 100 missions and returned to the States as an instructor pilot.  He was soon found to have the “Right Stuff” and ended up at Edwards as a test pilot.  From there, he applied to be one of the first group of astronauts and endured many rigorous if not odd scientific tests till he was chosen as one of the Mercury Seven (as chronicled in Tom Wolfe’s great book, “The Right Stuff.”)


He flew Liberty Bell 7 in July of 1961 and became the 2nd American in Space.


Pilot John Young

John Young followed the same route as many other astronauts.  He got a degree in engineering (aerospace) and then joined the US Navy where he was later accepted into the flight program as a fighter pilot.  Then it was off to test pilot school at Pax River and eventually applied to NASA where he was accepted into the 2nd group of astronauts known as the New Nine.


Gemini 3 Mission

Gus Grissom had a lot to prove thanks to the Liberty Bell 7 landing where the escape hatch’s explosive bolts accidently exploded, nearly killing him when water unexpectedly flooded the Mercury capsule as he barely managed to escape the sinking Liberty Bell.  Some in NASA blamed him for the mistake whereas Gus insisted that he had nothing to do with it.  In 1999, Liberty Bell 7 was salvaged from the deep and there was no sign of an accidental manual ejection which agreed with Grissom’s account.


Despite this incident Gus was named commander of Gemini 3, the first man rated flight of the two man Gemini capsule.  He and his pilot, John Young, had a very wry black sense of humor and they decided to name their capsule “The Unsinkable Molly Brown” after the Broadway play.  This name was not well received by the PR conscious NASA (the alternative name forwarded by the crew was Titanic) and was not so named in the official press releases.  Thanks to CAPCOM Astronaut Gordon Cooper, the name stuck and ended NASA’s naming of each space capsule until the Apollo missions.


Gemini 3 was launched on March 23, 1965 via a Titan II booster and orbited the earth three times as it tested the Gemini maneuvering systems.  The only major incident was caused by a contraband corned beef sandwich brought by John Young.  NASA was not amused by this as the “weightless” crumbs might have shorted out electronic equipment.  It was probably the first and only time that real food was brought up into space.


After Gemini 3, Gus was named commander of Apollo 1.  He died in the first fatal spacecraft accident in NASA’s history on January 27, 1967 during a test of the Apollo Command module along with crewmen Ed White and Roger Chaffee.  Later, it was discovered post accident that the Apollo capsule was a fire hazard due to the many design shortcuts to get a man on the moon.


John Young went on to fly on Gemini 10, two Apollo Missions (10 and 16), walk on the moon (Apollo 16) and fly the 1st Space Shuttle Mission and one other.  He would end up as NASA’s most experienced astronaut as well as one of it’s most harshest critics during the Challenger Disaster.




See my preview of the dual Mercury/Gemini Kit.


I originally purchased this kit off the MM forums almost two years ago as part of a hobby store clearance sale and intended to build the kit OOB.  An examination of the parts showed that it sort of looked like a Gemini Capsule, but not really as it was based on an early prototype.  I realized that I would not be happy with building OOB and put the kit away till I could do something about it.  Fortunately, Real Space Models sells a correction set for the Gemini capsule that replaces a lot of the parts, but it involves a lot of mods and careful cutting.  I’ve found that when it comes to real space model kits, I’m a Joyless Model Nazi who wants the greatest possible accuracy.  Much of this comes from me being a kid who devoured every book on space exploration I could get my hands on and was almost obsessed with space travel.  Being a Joyless Model Nazi means one needs a lot of expensive correction sets and dealing with the headaches that go with it.


One of the biggest problems was that I would need a lot of Mr Surfacer type filler and Lacquer thinner--I shudder at the thought of building this kit with CA glue as a filler.  There is probably someone who can replace all those lost rivets and surface corrugation but I am not that guy.



If there had to be a theme song for this kit, it would have to be Ringo Starr’s “It Don’t Come Easy.”  Sometimes, accuracy can be it’s own punishment as the amount of work to make it accurate doesn’t seem worth it.


This kit was released in 1964 and it shows (this is from the 2000 re-release.)  There was a lot of clean up of the parts due to flash and they didn’t fit together.  Fortunately, the parts weren’t warped so I consider myself fortunate. 


One of the biggest inaccuracies of the kit is that the back of the equipment module was not open to space and was covered by a shield covered in gold foil.  The Real Space kit comes with a vaccuform insert that is supposed to fit exactly into the rear of the Gemini Equipment Module (EM.)  When I cut it out in the manner you’re supposed to prep vaccuform parts, I discovered that there was a gap of about 1/2 mm between the vaccuform part and the inner portion of the equipment module.  At this point I put everything back in the box and it sat there for a few months.


When I returned to the kit in early April, I realized what I would should have done.  I measured the depth of the EM and the internal depth of the vaccuform part, calculated the length required for a support.   I took some plastic tubing, cut a 1 3/4” length and glued it dead center of the EM and then glued the Vaccuform part dead center.  I let the glue dry and then inserted 20 thou plastic card strips into the gap, glued it and waited for the glue to cure before I cut the strips to shape.  Unfortunately I still had gaps, but I could deal with them by filling and sanding.  I carefully put CA glue into the gaps and made sure I did not get any on the vaccuform part.  This was a lot of tricky work and took several sessions to realize I screwed up the alignment, fix it, remove any gaps without knocking the vaccuform part off the support, but eventually I got it done to my satisfaction.


After that mess, I removed the various resin replacement parts from the pour stubs.  All the parts needed cleanup, but they didn’t have pinholes which was fine with me.  Once washed, certain parts were glued on the EM with CA glue.  I put the EM aside to tackle the bigger headache of the Gemini Capsule itself.


The capsule interior is inaccurate, spartan and lacking in interior detail.  There is no easy resin replacement for this so I did what I could do.  I went to the modeler’s friend, Google, to hunt down interior shots of the capsule especially sidewall details including consoles.  To replicate that, I carefully cut rectangles from scrap 20 thou plastic card, rummaged through my spares box for anything that could remotely looked like a Gemini instrument panel.  These were then glued to the cockpit sidewalls to give a rough approximation of the detail.  I then twisted up some 30 gauge wire to look like exposed cable bundles and glued them into a couple of places.


Next I tackled the inaccurate cockpit window sills.  This involved a lot of swearing and planning.  Mostly swearing as there was a lot of work required to use the Real Space window sills.  I went by the engineer’s motto of “measure twice, cut once” as if I screwed this up I pretty much ruined the model.  No pressure, eh?  I put the resin replacements on the plastic it was to replace and marked it off with a marker.  I next used wood carving tools with a metal ruler to score the plastic and then carefully cutting along the score lines with sprue cutters to remove the old parts.  The resin parts fit in barely.  Success!!!  Well sort of.


The resin sills were secured with CA glue and then the edges were filled with Vallejo Plastic Putty and left alone to allow the Putty to cure.  When I test fit the cockpit console, I realized that the console was 1mm too high so I had to carve about 1mm off the top of the console edge.


I turned to the landing skid doors (the Gemini originally was supposed to land on skids via a hang glider contraption, but that was scrapped for the much simpler parachute system) glued them in and then smeared in putty to fill in all the ugly gaps.  It took several applications to remove the gaps to my satisfaction.  The actual Gemini capsule did not have these doors, but unless someone has a resin replacement or found a miraculous way to reproduce the surface corrugation there is nothing I could do to fix it.  Besides the Capsule is black so it isn’t all that easy to notice.


Next I tackled the nose.  The model’s nose lacks the radar details or any detail for that matter of the actual capsule.  The Real Space Kit has all the various noses for the various Gemini Missions, but I only needed the Gemini 3/4 nose.  The resin nose plug needed a lot of careful clean up as the surface was rougher than it should have been.


I sanded the nose down carefully with 220 grit, removing the bare nose.  The resin nose plug was aligned and then glued in place with CA glue.  The nose mating ring was probably the worst fitting part of the kit as it needed both shims and CA glue to fill in all the gaps.


One noticeable detail skipped over by Monogram was the centerline divider between the two crewmen.  I cut some 40 thou plastic card into shape, trimmed to fit and glued it in.


Next step involved painting the interior parts.  I used Tamiya XF-19 Sky Grey for the interior (the interior looked too light to use Dark Gull Grey.)  The instrument dials and switches were done with a combination of careful brush painting with a 00 brush and dry brushing.  The exterior of the EM was painted Sky Grey at the same time to prime it and ensure that the white resin parts would not look different than the grey plastic under a coat of white.


Finally, I assembled the capsule interior and exterior.  It did not fit very well and I was stuck with gaps between the three exterior pieces as well as the heat shield.  I broke out the putty and Q-Tips to deal with it.  Once the putty was cured, I lightly sanded the seams down so that they would not be so obvious (even under a flat black coat of paint.)


I glued the nose on and discovered that I had over sanded the mounting ring as there was a very obvious step between the capsule and nose.  I masked off the area and added CA glue, layer by layer.  Once it was dried, I sanded it down till the step disappeared.


It was at this point that I discovered that my window sills did not line up with the capsule doors.  I decided that I would leave the capsule doors open so as to hide my mistake.  Shhhhhhh!!!!


Trust me, it was easier to type this out than to actually actually assemble the entire Gemini capsule.





Gemini Capsules are remarkably easy to paint.  The capsule is black and the EM is white.  To break up the monochrome black, I sprayed on a thinned coat of gunmetal (beats dry brushing.)  I masked off the nose and sprayed a portion of it flat white while I had painted the other details using Citadel paints.  The last area of brush painting was the red attachment points and the red door seals.


Once it was dried, I sprayed on a thin coat of Future for the decals.



The Gemini Capsule has two decals.  I used the newer Real Space Decals instead of the Monogram ones, but they still required Microset and Solvaset because of the corrugated surface.



I decided to use a black water color wash in only a few places to show off the detail as the thing left the pad spotless.  The excess wash was removed and the model was sealed in a semigloss final coat of 75% Future and 25% Tamiya Flat Base.




A sheet of gold foil is provided with the Real Space set that is to be used with the back of the EM.  I took a Q-Tip and swabbed the vaccuform piece with Micro Metal Foil adhesive.  Once it was sticky, I gently secured the foil onto the part using a Q-Tip to smooth it out.  I didn’t care about wrinkles as photos show the imperfections which are duplicated on the surface of the part.  It was a rare moment that being sloppy meant being accurate.


The kit comes with a pair of astronauts.  Normally, I wouldn’t add them, but as I mentioned the cockpit is pretty weak so I needed something to add and/or obscure detail.  The suits Grissom and Young wore were copies of the Mercury suit, silver with white helmets and metallic red/blue fittings.  To add some detail, I drilled holes in the left abdomens and inserted 30 gauge wire to represent the air/water/communications hoses.  The figures were sprayed with Tamiya Aluminum and then the details were hand painted.  I’m not a decent figure face painter, but I did the best I could and glued each astronaut to his seat with a dab of CA glue.


I added some details to the doors using 10 and 40 thou plastic card and rummaged through my spares box to find parts that looked like the Gemini hatch actuators (the closest were some Tamiya P-47 Flap actuators.)  The interiors of the hatches were painted XF-19 and once the paint was dry, clear acetate cut to shape and glued in with white glue.  The hatch assemblies were then glued to the Gemini and I was done.



This kit isn’t really for the faint of heart especially if you want a somewhat accurate model.  If you do then  I strongly recommend the Real Space Models Gemini set.


It might not sound like it, but I actually had a lot of fun assembling this kit and brought me back to the days when I daydreamed about being part of NASA’s manned space program.


Dan Lee

July 2009

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