Sunday, December 18, 2016

Which Came First?

These two designs shared many of the same design elements.
Both models were short, had solar panel fins and used an existing NASA style capsule.

I always liked the Orbital Transport Laboratory designed by Ted Nomura (Shown at the upper left). It was the June 1971 winner of the Estes Design of the Month contest. The plans were printed up in the Estes Model Rocket News. The model was also seen on the cover of the 1972 Estes catalog. For the JimZ plans: CLICK HERE

On the right is the Apollo Earth Orbital Workshop designed by Ronnie Cramer. It was featured in the August 1971 issue of Model Rocketry Magazine; CLICK HERE

These two designs are enough alike that one probably inspired the other. Which came first?
Both the Estes MRN ad Model Rocket Magazines have dated covers, they didn't always arrive at your mailbox by the posted month. A June issue could arrive in mid July! These two designs were printed within two months of each other.
Magazine submissions rarely go into print the week they arrive at the publishers. Some articles will sit for months before being used.

Here's another Apollo Earth Orbital drawing from a later Ambroid glue ad.
I doubt Ronnie Cramer ever got residuals from Ambroid copying his design.

Centuri had a solar paneled kit, "Available February 1, 1972".
The Sky-Lab fins may have been spurred by these earlier designs.


  1. I hope to see you build a AEOW. This plan caught my attention many years back and I sourced a Apollo Capsule from ebay but never got any farther on the project.

    1. Hi Anonymous,
      I don't have any plans to build the OTL or AEOW now. I'd much rather build the Centuri Skylab, but when they show up on Ebay they are way too high priced for me.

    2. Chris,
      Do a clone! The Skylab nose cone is available in balsa at erockets (Semroc #BC1043) or for a couple of dollars more in plastic in the Moldin Oldies section of Sirius Rocketry (#PNC-102). You can substitute a cardstock engine nozzle for the plastic one. And I used cardboard for the solar panels then painted them with CA. Pretty sturdy. The last page of the plan .pdf has all the dimensions for the small details, like docking ports, etc. ( And decals for home printing. Cheers!

  2. Skylab was one of the Centuri kits that I mooned over as a kid. I have soooo many kits in the queue now! Not sure when a clone would ever get built. Though I AM six months from retirement...

  3. With the Gemini-style nosecone it reminds me of MOL (Manned Orbiting Laboratory) concept fielded by the USAF. In the proposed configuration the Gemini-B capsule was to have a hatch at the rear of the capsule and a tunnel would connect the capsule to the MOL (as for the contortions the astronauts would have to perform is a different story).
    What bugs me about the Apollo capsule version is the configuration depicted wouldn't work unless the docking port was relocated (the docking port on the Apollo capsule was at the nose -- meaning that it would have to detach, turn around and reattach nose-first).
    The space station depicted in the 1969 movie Marooned is close to some of the earlier concepts for Skylab station. Also interesting to note is the shortened service module (which was apparently build that way to reduce cost of the prop -- and was only meant to be shot from angles that would mask its actual length). The funny bit about it is that apparently there were proposed updates to the Apollo that would've used a shortened service module (it was originally designed for lunar missions -- and was much bigger than it needed to be for orbital use only) coupled with a lightened capsule (heat shield could be lighter since Earth orbit missions would mean much lower re-entry speed).