Shortly before this past Christmas, I was contacted by Lauren Oliver, an extremely polite gentleman who had discovered my Buckaroo Banzai Jet Car on The Replica Prop Forum. He reached out to inquire if I would be interested in building a NASA Mercury space capsule for a short film he was writing and directing. I was most definitely interested.
Lauren's short film, "T-Minus", is a fictional account of the 7th manned Mercury mission, which was cancelled in favor of moving on to the Gemini program. His plan was to shoot on 35mm film, using nothing but scale models and practical effects. My background is in film production--almost everything I ever shot was on film and I grew up in the 70's and 80's (the heyday of practical effects). This was my kind of project!
For the film, Lauren intended to build a 1/24 scale Atlas rocket, including the launch gantry (more on this later) but needed the capsule and other parts made. My initial response was, "not to put myself out of a job, but can't you just use an existing model kit?"--I figured there must be a ton to choose from. There are, in fact; that was his original intention, but none were detailed enough and/or at the right scale.
I have to confess, I know more about Star Wars ships than I do about our real-life NASA fleet and there are as many Mercury capsule versions as there are TIE-Fighter models. So, I was very pleased when Lauren presented me tons of reference photos, blueprints and detailed the differences between them all -- he knew his stuff. Interestingly enough, at the time he was not aware of Tested and all the space goodness that goes down here--but I made sure to fill him in. My job was to build the capsule, the escape tower (the red rocket assembly at top), and the adapter, which attached the whole thing to the Atlas rocket.