Lego ISS Review: Deceptively Big, and Annoyingly Fiddly

By Tom Pritchard on at

2018 was the tenth anniversary of the Lego Ideas programme, and to help commemorate that fact Lego decided to pull one of the old rejects from the pile and bring it to Lego store shelves. Why they did it late I don't know, but a fan vote was held and the winner (by a long shot) was the International Space Station. Several months after the news was announced, the set is here, for the fairly reasonable price of £65. But in case you can't decide whether to pick one up or not, we put it together to see how it was.

The set is 864 pieces, and comes with a replica version of the ISS, a stand, a miniature space shuttle (similar to the one from the Women of NASA set), a miniature Soyuz capsule, more satellites than you can shake a space-stick at, and three microfigure astronauts. Though officially that number is two, you might as well take advantage of the spare one.

But here's the thing about the ISS: it was designed to only work in space, so nobody bothered to consider how the station's modules might fare on Earth with gravity and the ground getting involved. Because why would they? If this thing ended up on Earth there are much bigger problems to worry about than whether it can sit on the ground without breaking. But that's the key problem with the Lego version of the space station, though it's mainly an issue thanks to the weak connection to the display stand.

Obviously the display stand is an essential piece of the set, because otherwise you have to balance it on a shelf somehow and hope pieces don't get flung off and down the back of the sofa. And the connection between the two is weak, even by Lego standards, to the point where it did come off when I was trying to attach some pieces to the underside during the fifth bag. Before that point it wasn't such a huge issue, but the fifth bag is mostly comprised of smaller details that need to be added to the main body of the station, and you really need something sturdier to keep things together. Because it does fall off, and pieces do fly away in the way you only really see when you break Lego sets and coffee mugs.

Thankfully all the modules that extend out of the station's main body have a bit of extra support. There are long '+' shaped axles on each side, which the different components slide onto, and means there's a bit more support keeping everything together.

Aside from the fifth bag, which is a royal pain to deal with, the build wasn't so problematic. An experienced builder could do it in 3-4 hours, depending on how long it takes them to get everything to fit in place. Because there are a lot of small components, and you have to make sure everything comes together perfectly for the rest to work. You also need to be careful not to miss little bits, because you may have to add something to that section later on and find it doesn't quite work the way the instructions says it should. It's never the end of the world, but I'm just saying builders need to be careful.

What we should definitely give Lego credit for is the fact that this set is completely sticker-free. Unlike some of the Lego City sets which use stickers on the solar panels, every single one in the ISS is a printed piece. Halle-fucking-lujah, because with the amount of solar panels pieces this thing has (each 'wing' has 24 solar panel pieces on it, and then you have to consider all the satellites) having to apply the design to every single one would be an absolute nightmare. More so than if you had to apply stickers to all the printed pieces on the Saturn V rocket.

And the final result is, well, huge. It's 31cm long, 7 cm high, and 49cm wide, and you don't really get a taste of how much space it takes up until you finish bag 5. The fiddly bits don't add much, but then you add the two end pieces on the station's body right at the end. Then take into account the eight sets of solar panels and you wind up with a set that needs a fairly large amount of display space. Not as much as a lot of other Lego sets, but it's going to be a struggle to find room if you're already short on shelf space.

One final thing to note about the design is that almost the whole thing is poseable. Well, almost the whole thing; the middle section is completely rigid. The two wings on each side can be rotated, however, as can the four solar panel arrays. In other words, despite the set's awkward dimensions, it can be moved around to a position that can both look how you want it to, and fit into different-shaped spaces.

If you're big into Lego space sets, the International Space Station is an absolute must-have. Whether you're going to display this solo, or next to other themed sets like the Apollo 11 lunar lander or the Saturn V, it is a fantastic-looking set. I would say 'little set', but really it's not so little. The thing to remember is that this definitely isn't a playset. It's too awkwardly shaped and fragile to be flying around making "woosh" sounds, so keep it out of reach of your kids.

Inexperienced builders will have trouble keeping everything together during the build, because I know I did. But if you can power through, you'll have a fantastic set to show off on whatever shelves you have left.

The Lego International Space Station is available to order from the Lego website, for the not-unreasonable price of £65. Which is perfect to keep yourself occupied during lockdown when the internet breaks. It will also be in stock at Lego stores, once this pandemic eases up and they reopen for business.