I went through a long dry spell without looking at any LEGO sets here for a while, and that’s probably because I’ve been digging out old sets and rebuilding them to get my LEGO fix. Last year, I checked out one or two Star Wars sets, but that’s been it. Now some of the NASA inspired LEGO City sets that I’ve seen in the toy aisles have caught my interest and even reminded me that I had a couple of these put away, waiting to be built. I also bought some newer ones to build while I was on vacation. I’m starting today by building the Mars Research Shuttle!
This one is actually from a few years back and features a brick count of 273 pieces with three numbered bags and three instruction booklets. It’s not really a big set, but one that seemed to offer a fair amount of extras. The Research Shuttle is the main draw of the set, but it also comes with a Surface Rover, a Mineral Deposit, a Heli-drone, and a second Drone to transport samples, plus two Minifigs! Let’s start with those Minifigs!
You get two astronauts, consisting of a male in an orange space suit and a female in a white EVA suit. The male is a simple build with a set of oxygen tanks on his back and a helmet with a tinted blue visor. The female’s EVA suit has a one piece rig, which includes the helmet and backpack and has a gold painted visor to protect from solar exposure. The printed bodies are nice, but there’s no detail on the packs, which is a bit disappointing. You also only get one printed face on each head and no hair pieces, so you’re going to have to keep this pair’s helmets on.
The Research Shuttle takes up most of the build, and it is a really cool design, borrowing heavily from the traditional NASA Space shuttles. The spacecraft is mostly white and black, with stickers used on the tail fins and the thruster pods at the ends of the wings. The body is smooth, while the wings have studs on top, but it still looks great. You also get a number of tiny wheels on the bottom for it to rest on when it’s waiting for the next mission. The cockpit is one large translucent piece with white paint that doesn’t quite match the white bricks, but it’s close enough for me. All in all, this is a solid and decent sized model that was fun and simple to build and looks great.
The cockpit opens by removing the clear canopy piece and it reveals the one-man operators seat. It’s kind of deceptive, since the canopy piece makes the cockpit look like it’s going to be big and roomy, but there’s just the one seat.
The cargo bay doors open up to reveal another one-person station in the back along with space for the sample drone. Yeah, it’s pretty tight back there too, but considering the size of the shuttle, I think the designers made pretty good use of what space they had. The operating station here is presumably to control the Drones and the Robot Rover on the planet surface. The consoles consist of two printed bricks and one screen and it looks pretty good.
The sample drone is very simple, and really just a box with a clear hatch and four small thrusters to propel it from the shuttle to the planet surface. I kind of dig how simple and utilitarian this little guy is.
One last play feature on the shuttle involves the engines opening to reveal what looks like a power coil or some other inner workings of the drive system. So at least if the engines fail, the EVA suited Minifig can open these up and poke around in there to get it up and running again!
Moving down to the planet surface, we have the Heli-drone and the Rover. The Rover is a fun build and a cool vehicle considering it’s not the main draw of the set. It rolls on six wheels, has a turret that can rotate 360-degrees, an articulated solar panel with a sticker detailing the panels, an articulated claw, and a laser cutter. The claw springs closed thanks to a rubber band, which really should have been orange. The laser is a translucent red rod, which makes for a nice effect. There’s also a hitch on the back to possibly interact with another model from another set. Maybe a dump bin trailer for samples? The Mineral Deposit has two geode pieces, which can be collected by the Rover’s claw and placed into the Sample Drone for transport. There’s also a sticker with some coded images.
That’s where the Heli-Drone comes in! This little guy has a scanner, which is a translucent red screen and when it’s placed over that sticker it reveals the scientific data for the available samples. No, the Mineral Deposit piece isn’t all that convincing because it’s so angular, but I like the play mechanic it adds and the geode pieces are very well done, with translucent blue plastic molded into the shells.
I think this set is from around 2019 and I believe the MSRP was around $35, which feels about right. It’s actually still available at some online retailers, but it’s going for close to twice that these days. There’s a lot of fun to be had in this set and the play pattern is really well thought out. You have the Heli-Drone seeking out samples, the Rover collecting them, the Sample Drone bringing them up to the Shuttle. The Minifigs are a little blah, but they fit in fine with the rest of the set, and I’d definitely recommend it, if you can find it for under $45. Hell, the Rover itself feels like a model that could have turned up in one of those small $9.99 boxes all by itself.