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Review: Apollo Astronaut "Buck"

by Karl Tate

This is the one we've been waiting for.

For some reason, toy makers seem to have a blind spot when it comes to large-scale "real space" subjects. Sure, over the years we've had such classics as the GI Joe Mercury astronaut and Capsule, spacesuited Buzz Aldrin, the commemorative Apollo 13 astronaut and other 12-inch figures. None were very satisfying in terms of accuracy.

Finally Dragon Models has come to our rescue. The new Apollo Astronaut "Buck" figure is the most detailed, accurate spacesuited astronaut figure ever released as a poseable 12-inch toy.

For the list price of about $70, you get a complete 1/6 scale replica of the lunar exploration suit used on Apollo 11. In the box, Buck wears the pressure garment assembly ("space suit"), liquid cooled "long johns" underwear (or at least a dickie representing same) and boots.

The impressive array of accessories includes Buck's "PLSS" life support backpack and chest pack with hoses, replacement hands with lunar gloves permanently attached, lunar overshoes, "Snoopy Cap", bubble helmet, "LEVA" retractable visor assembly, tiny replica Omega wristwatch, US flag, and two part lunar-surface base.

The detail in the pressure garment is amazing. It seems like every connector, snap, pocket and Velcro strip is replicated. Buck even sports the Apollo 11 mission patch!

One immediate problem I encountered was that there are NO instructions included for attaching the life support equipment to the figure. Ultimately what you have to do is locate four tiny loops on the "inboard" side of the PLSS backpack.

Then you have to put the four straps from the chestpack over the figure's shoulders and under the arms, and attach the tiny clip on the end of each strap to the corresponding loop on the backpack. Tricky but it can be done and it actually works to support the packs.

The backpack itself is simply a hollow gray plastic box. The hoses from the backpack are not attached anywhere, and rattle around loose inside. This is actually helpful after you've connected everything up, and want to stuff the excess length of hose into the backpack to get it out of the way.

The face of the figure does not resemble any Apollo astronaut that I know, but I suppose this is an opportunity for aftermarket resin replacement heads.

I also find the bubble helmet difficult to attach to the neck ring, but it can be done. It is a very tight fit over the face. While attempting to slide the helmet over the head I managed to break off the "headrest" pad at the back of the helmet, but this could be glued back on easily.

The figure comes with no lunar tools or experiments, so perhaps you will want to scratch build some or hope for Dragon to issue them in accessory packs. Dragon's plans for these figures are not clear, but I suggest an astronaut dressed in the suit used on the later J-missions, complete with Lunar Roving Vehicle, would be most welcome.

One disappointment is the large oval base which is very thin and flimsy. It comprises a bare-plastic "lunar surface"-textured disc (which looks more like oatmeal to me) and a black plastic dish which supports it. A hole provided in the base fails to hold up the flag pole.

Following the example of Rick Sternbach on the Yahoo Space Modeler's bulletin board, I filled the base with plaster and repainted it for a much more realistic look.

To duplicate the "very, very fine grained" texture of lunar soil, I sprayed the surface with Plasti-Kote "Fleck Stone" textured paint, sprinkled it with plaster dust, covered it with black primer and dry brushed it with a variety of shades of gray and metallic paints, topping it with an acrylic clear coat to protect it.

As far as the accuracy of Dragon's Apollo figure, I'm satisfied that this is about the best job you're going to see in a mass-produced toy. Sticklers will probably point out small flaws, such as the absence of microphones and ear cups in the "Snoopy hat", or the lack of wrist-mounted suit pressure gauges.

Also because there are no assembly instructions I am not entirely sure I have the life support system attached properly. I see from my photos that I've attached at least one too many hoses.

And to me the worst mistake of all: the name "Buck". Perhaps the name is supposed to evoke Buck Rogers, or (more likely) Buzz Aldrin [Editor's note: Dragon Models has recently announced that a new issue "Buzz" figure is expected to ship soon]. In any case, a poor choice in my opinion. Fortunately his suit has no nametags, so you can call him whatever you like!

Such errors are but tiny details, however, and do not detract from the overall impact of the Dragon figure, which is excellent.

In short: highly recommended for any collector of space toys, models or action figures.

buySPACE has received its final shipment of "Buck" -- according to Dragon Models, the Apollo Astronaut has now been discontinued in expectation of the release of "Buzz." Order "Buck" now while supplies last!

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Karl, 39, is a computer graphic artist and space enthusiast. He lives in Brooklyn with his huge collection of Star Trek memorabilia.

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