Review: 21309 LEGO NASA Apollo Saturn V

On July 21st 1969 millions of people watched Neil Armstrong take a giant leap for mankind, but you may not know that Australians saw it before the rest of the world.

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The combination of a decision by Neil Armstrong and the time it took to put on the spacesuits meant that two Australian locations were in the perfect position to receive the signal from the moon – The Parkes Radio Telescope and the Honeysuckle Creek Tracking Station outside Canberra. As Neil took the first steps the signal was received by Honeysuckle Creek, sent to Sydney and split – one feed going to the ABC and the other to Houston. The international transmission introduced a 3 millisecond delay to the broadcast, which means that Australian audiences saw man walk on the moon before anybody else on Earth. After switching to the Parkes feed NASA felt it was so good that they stayed with that for the remainder of the 2.5 hour broadcast.

The Apollo program is one of the most fascinating achievements of the human race, and that crazy dream of going to the moon has now been immortalised in one of the most impressive LEGO sets I have built in a long time.

This is my review of 21309 NASA Apollo Saturn V.

Be sure to read on for my exclusive photos of 21309 at the Sir Thomas Brisbane Planetarium, and a huge gallery of photos at the end of the article.


The box for the Saturn V is huge, at least on par with a modular for size. This is a standard box rather than the thicker cardboard used for other ideas sets. For the part count it’s not a surprise that they went with a standard box.

As we’ve all come to expect from Ideas sets the instructions include a heap of additional information. There is a great blurb about the Apollo program with some fantastic black and white photos; information about the Saturn V itself including a breakdown of the various stages and again some real-world photos; a timeline of the journey to the moon, and interviews with the fan designers and LEGO designers. Even if you never get the set I suggest downloading a PDF copy of the instructions and having a read.

The set features 1969 pieces (a deliberate reference to the year Apollo 11 launched) across twelve numbered bags. The build follows the bags sequentially so you don’t need to sort out all of the pieces at once.

From pictures the set may look like a boring build, with it’s essentially monochromatic colour scheme, but it is actually satisfying and complex. By step 3 of the build you are already using brackets and SNOT techniques. The inner build is also surprisingly colourful.

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The early build features curved panels and I naively assumed that they were going to set the scale – only to discover that they simply form an inner core. The set itself is, for lack of a better word, thicker than I thought it would be.

There is a certain amount of repetition in the build. For example bag 2 has you building 4 identical outer panels. If you aren’t paying attention you may miss the “x 4″ part at first. If you are building this set yourself my tip would be to keep an eye out for those sections where you are building multiples of the same thing and do them all at once. That may sound like the build would be repetitive, but it’s more to do with the generally symmetrical design. I was never bored while building this set. I built this over a few nights and I was excited every time I sat down to build.

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There were a lot of parts in the build where I would do something and think “Why is that there?” only for it to come together 10 steps later. A perfect example of this is the middle section of the rocket. The interior is a crazy collection of brackets and clips. It looks insane, but then later several outer panels clip in perfectly and it all makes sense.

For something that looks fairly simple on the outside I actually found this to be a build where I had to concentrate a bit more than usual. There were times where I had to double check that I’d got things around the right way. In one step I accidentally put two 1×2 brick with technic hole elements around the wrong way so the hole was covered. I made the mistake on step 179 (page 120 of the instructions), and didn’t realise until step 242 (page 151) when I had to put something in the hole. Luckily it was a fairly easy fix.

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The build wraps up with the smaller, separate builds – the lunar module and the command module with it’s water recovery system.

The Lunar Module (known as the Eagle) is a simple build due to it’s size. The fact that the designers have created something recognisable at the scale is commendable.

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The command module itself is a printed element. I don’t think it would be possible to brick-build something at the right scale to match the rest. Interestingly the orange floatation devices around the outside are not attached.

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The Finished Set

This set has instantly become one of my all-time favourites. Images do not do the scale of this set justice. It looks bigger and more impressive in person. Every person that I have shown the completed model to has been shocked that it’s an off-the-shelf LEGO model. It’s a fair point – this looks like the sort of creation you’d see at a fan expo. Something that a dedicated AFOL had spent months creating. The fact that you can buy this for $170 astounds me.

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I love the fact that this set aims to be as accurate as possible, and to be in some way educational. 48 years on from the moon landing and I worry that LEGO’s target demographic may not appreciate just how amazing the Apollo program was. This set celebrates that achievement wonderfully.

One thing I never enjoy doing is applying stickers to a set. This model has a variety of decorated elements, and none of them are stickers. The printed piece line-up includes tiles with UNITED and STATES on them, slopes with U, S and A as well as American flag slopes. There are also printed elements on the Lunar and Command modules.

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I was quite impressed with how solid the finished model is. Models that are designed for an older audience don’t necessarily have to be as play-friendly as others, but 21309 is solid. You can easily pick this up and pass it around to show off how awesome it is. The various stages clip together with enough strength that it won’t fall apart with normal handling. Those clips may wear out if you are constantly pulling apart the set, but should hold up to years of general use.

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Included in the build are some stands to display the model horizontally. I personally prefer to keep it upright. There is just something majestic about this towering behemoth. Here it’s pictured with a red 2×2 brick…

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Optionally you can fold the legs of the lunar module and tuck it away as it was on its way to the moon. The fact that the designers managed to fit this inside the rocket is fantastic. I personally like having it out on display but I like the option.

The set also includes tiny versions of Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins. A spare tiny astronaut is also included in case one gets lost; which wouldn’t be surprising considering how small they are. While Neil and Buzz happily hang out on the lunar surface there really isn’t anywhere to place Michael Collins in the set as the command module is a single element.

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The American flag printed on a clear tile is a nice addition. It really helps set the scene of the moon landing. The lunar module part of the build could be a small set by itself.

Saturn V at Planetarium

The Sir Thomas Brisbane Planetarium is a place that celebrates all things space, and when I found out that they have a section dedicated to the Apollo program I thought it would be great to take along the completed set. The staff were fantastic and managed to organise after hours access.

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The LEGO Saturn V did not look out of place at all among the museum quality replicas. Even the planetarium staff seemed impressed with the set. When the experts are looking at the set like any other replica or model rather than a toy I think it’s a testament to the work of the designers (both fan designers and LEGO designers).

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Final Thoughts

Often I will get to the end of the review and worry that I have been too positive. I re-think the set and try and think of negatives that I may have overlooked because I love building. I’ve gone over the notes I took while building this several times and thought about the experience. I’ve looked over the completed model multiple times with a critical eye. There really isn’t anything that I didn’t enjoy about this build, and I love the finished model.

I had the finished model on the desk in my home office for almost a week while I was trying to organise a few things for this review. Every time I opened the door to that room I was impressed.

Full Image Gallery

Special Thanks -
Thanks to the staff at the Sir Thomas Brisbane Planetarium for being so accommodating. If you are in Brisbane and have any interest in space check it out.

Thanks also to LEGO for providing the set for review. All opinions above are my own and not influenced by The LEGO Group.

7 Responses to Review: 21309 LEGO NASA Apollo Saturn V

  1. Adam says:

    Would be nice to be able to purchase one

    • Michael says:

      The smaller stores (Shopforme, Cheeky Toys, Outer Rim Trading Co to name a few) all got stock this week, but it seems that they are sold out everywhere. I’ll try and get a response from LEGO about stock situation.

      If you are near Chadstone or Dreamworld that may be an option

  2. Matt says:

    I have to say, for such a high profile set and one which has been the subject of a lot of online discussion these past couple of months you have found a unique and interesting manner in which to add your opinion. The Brisbane Planetarium angle was a terrific way in which to contextualise the quality of the build and I particularly liked your comment about smiling every time you walked into the room housing your set, as I have the same reaction. Great job :-)

  3. Al says:

    Great review. Nice mix of historic and set details. Your final thoughts reinforce why I want this set.

  4. Gavin says:

    This set has been on my wishlist ever since it got the green light through the Ideas process and your detailed review with all the interior shots makes me want it even more. Nice work having it alongside official display pieces at the planetarium, it really does look the part. Fingers crossed they are making a massive amount to flood the market so everyone who wants one can get one and not just be snaffled up by all the people buying up for eBay resells. Regardless, it’s a great set that you’ve showcased in a very fitting manner.

  5. Brian says:

    There are a few ways to get one. Keep your eyes peeled on online Lego forums for news of their appearance in stores. Myer should get some this month. But they won’t last long. My local Toyworld got a shipment 10 days ago, and stocked 20 stores that all sold out in a week. If you live near the Gold Coast or Melbourne, visit the Lego store and put your name down. The list is getting longer. I don’t think they accept phone orders.

    Otherwise just use eBay. Current value is $230-$250 to win an auction.

    This set is a blockbuster across all generations. It’s nostalgia in a box for parents and grandparents. They won’t be making enough for everyone.

  6. Ricky says:

    Apollo Saturn V is available on Lego Shop website again. Back order accepted.

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