I’ve never really been into Legos. As a kid we had a couple small buckets that were a mishmash of random kits that me and my brothers had received for our birthdays. They would come out of the closet every once in a while, we’d build a multi-colored abomination that resembled a Tesla Cybertruck, and then someone would inevitably step on one and back in the closet they’d go.
I loved building things as a kid, just not ever with Legos for some reason. Maybe it was the fact we had too few to work with. I was way more into Pipeworks. Those were my jam. Forts, go-karts, slides. They were like giant Legos that you could actually play on when you were done.
But I totally understand now why people get so into Legos. There’s something brilliant about them that never occurred to me as a kid. But as an adult, when I was playing with my kids, it hit me like a small bag of bricks ( heh ). The quality of Legos are so damn high. I can’t think of a single instance where a Lego brick was malformed and didn’t fit properly with another piece. They don’t break. You don’t have to worry about missing pieces when you’re building a kit from a box. The QA that they have is just bananas.
I hadn’t really ever considered Legos as something I might have interest in once I got past a certain age. I remember walking past them in the store when I was a teenager thinking that they would be fun to get into, but I was too old at that point. Teenagers don’t get into Legos. And certainly adults don’t either. It was just gonna be one of those things that I missed out on in life.
Cut to a few years ago…
I’ve always had a passing interest in Space. Nothing worth putting on a top 10 list of passions or anything, but I definitely appreciated how cool rockets and stuff were. But then some really cool shit started happening. We started driving some badass rovers around on Mars, started exploring asteroids and meteors, and flew past the ninth planet, Pluto, and took some mind blowing pictures.
But the thing that really got me hooked, is SpaceX. Rockets that LAND BACK ON EARTH?!? Absolutely incredible that we get to witness this technology advance in our lifetimes. Experiencing the progression from the first flight tests with Grasshopper all the way to Falcon Heavy simultaneously landing two 7-story tall rocket boosters, side by side after putting a freaking car into orbit around Mars? I was able to stream it live when it happened and I think it’ll always be something that gives me goosebumps and teary eyes whenever I re-watch the video.
So I’m now officially a space junkie. I started listening to space podcasts, subscribe to whatever space related YouTube content that I can find, and I picked up Kerbal Space Program so I can brush up on my orbital mechanics.
Alright, get to the point already…
So sometime last year, I happened across the Lego Saturn V rocket on Reddit. It’s a little pricey at around $120 so I didn’t really consider getting one at the time. Also since I’m not all that into A) Legos or B) putting pretty things on shelves to look at and collect dust, it really didn’t appeal to me at the time. Little did I know that was soon going to change.
I mentioned off-handedly to my wife that this rocket model was pretty cool, pointing out the little easter egg that is has 1969 pieces, which is the year that we landed on the moon. I didn’t really think much more about it until I happened across another Reddit post, showing someone’s Saturn V Lego rocket inside of an Ikea glass shelf looking like it’s taking off. I think that was officially when I decided that I needed to build one.
So Christmas time rolls around and I was being asked for gift suggestions from our family. I came up with a handful of the usual items, t-shirts, gift cards, etc. But I also threw a link to the Saturn V rocket on there. Kinda half joking, but half not. I mean it is pretty expensive after all.
What I wasn’t expecting was the fact that my wonderful wife jumped at the opportunity to pick one up for me. On Christmas day, when it came time to open the biggest gift under the tree with my name on it, I gave it a few shakes and heard that all-to-familiar rattle. I felt like a 7 year old kid again.
I really couldn’t wait to dig into it, but I knew that I didn’t really have the space for it yet. I have had a bunch of boxes down in a spare basement bedroom pretty much untouched since we moved in a few years ago. I decided to use this as an opportunity to motivate me to finally get some of that shit cleaned up. So I promised my wife that the boxes would be cleaned up before I built the rocket.
That was a lie. Well, sorta. I did make some progress before I finally broke down and built the rocket. But the boxes were far from cleaned up.
The start of a new project…
So now I have this giant rocket. It’s pretty majestic. I even had a photoshoot done with it. ( Ok, not really… it was a new hire photoshoot with my new job and we were supposed to bring something that represented me. ) It was pretty awkward but #NoRagrets.
But what the heck am I supposed to do with this thing? It doesn’t feel right to just break it down and put it back in the box. If I throw it to the wolves ( my kids ) then pieces will get lost and it’ll be just another addition to their mishmash of random Lego pieces. I don’t really have a good shelf to put it horizontally on, and if I just stand it up somewhere, it’s only a matter of time before it gets knocked over by a flying basement projectile.
Then I remember the Reddit post from earlier. Rocket + Ikea display case + LEDs? I could throw that together pretty quickly and it’ll be something halfway decent to look at.
So I order the case and some LED strips, but that doesn’t feel like it’s gonna be good enough. I need to take it to the next level. What about sound and making the lights flicker along to a launch sequence? That’s getting closer…
Then it dawned on me. I can’t do a countdown without a countdown clock right? What if I were to make a replica of the Kennedy Space Center countdown clock and have it do an actual countdown prior to “launch”?
But then, how would this countdown sequence begin? Would I simply press a button to make it start? That seems pretty boring. What if I hooked it up to my Google calendar so that the countdown sequence started right before each meeting? Now we’re getting somewhere…
So I think the game plan looks like this:
- 3D Printed KSC countdown clock with an LED-based Arduino solution to make it display numbers, handle the actual countdown, etc
- Raspberry Pi to handle the integration with Google calendar, interact with the with the countdown clock and drive the addressable LED strip wrapped around a base that holds the rocket up in the case
At the time of writing this, I’m actually a little further along in the process already but I’ll save that for another post. In the meantime, I’ll offer this little preview of where I’m at…
That’s it for now. 👋