The LEGO Group has a long history of producing space-themed sets — one of the minifigure’s first adventures in 1978 was up in the stars and there’s no sign of space exploration stopping any time soon in the LEGO galaxy. Most LEGO sets centred on space lean towards sci-fi, with themes like Mars Mission, Space Police and Ice Planet 2002, but that doesn’t mean more realistic space sets are neglected.
NASA and the LEGO Group have had a partnership since the 1990s, which has allowed for some incredible real-world spacecraft to have a chance to shine in the brick. There have been plenty of amazing models of real-world spacecraft over the years, from rockets to space stations, and Blocks, the monthly LEGO magazine, is taking a spacewalk to find the very best real-world LEGO space sets.
21321 International Space Station
21321 International Space Station is far from minifigure scale but still makes for an impressive model in the brick. Its unique shape is supported by a black stand with a nameplate, microfigures, and a few side builds, although the mini space shuttle doesn’t get a spot on the stand. The International Space Station itself uses some interesting pieces and techniques, including dozens of decorated solar panel elements and a few golden minifigure skis. 21321 is retired but is worth the purchase on the aftermarket for fans of the real-life station.
42158 NASA Mars Rover Perseverance
42158 NASA Mars Rover Perseverance is modelled after the real-life Perseverance rover that launched in 2020 and landed on Mars in 2021. The LEGO version makes use of the Technic system to replicate the rover, doing so with great success. The six wheels have articulated suspension, allowing 42158 to travel across even the rockiest of Martian terrain. The arm in the front is fully posable and excellent for both play and display. Technic might not be every fan’s favourite part of building, but 42158 is well worth the purchase for any fan of space.
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10266 NASA Apollo 11 Lunar Lander
10266 NASA Apollo 11 Lunar Lander holds the distinction of being the only set on this list to include minifigures — two astronauts come alongside the landing craft, ready to be the first to set foot on the moon’s surface. A 32×32 baseplate forms the base of the moon, which is then built up with a mixture of dark bluish grey plates, tiles and slopes. There are even a few footprints left in the dust. The set does a good job of capturing the look of the lunar lander, making use of plenty of gold elements. The top of the lander is detachable and has room for the two astronaut minifigures for when they’re ready to begin their journey back to Earth.
10283 NASA Space Shuttle Discovery
10283 NASA Space Shuttle Discovery launched onto shelves in 2021, a full decade after the real Discovery was retired. Over 2,300 pieces went into making the shuttle in the brick, resulting in a model that’s 54cm (22in) long and 34cm (14in) wide. The model beautifully captures the look of the space shuttle while also integrating some of its functionality, as the body of the shuttle can open to store the Hubble Telescope on its journey into orbit. A display stand and plaque accompany the shuttle and make it an even better display piece.
21039 NASA Apollo Saturn V
Massive does not begin to describe the size of 21039 NASA Apollo Saturn V, which replicates the famous rocket at 1:110 scale. The rocket itself is an impressive model, both in construction and sheer size. It’s a functional model as well, being able to split into five sections to recreate the launch into space. Two side builds are included — mini versions of the lunar lander on the moon’s surface and the return capsule floating in the ocean—and astronaut microfigures complete the mini recreation of the monumental journey. 21039 can be displayed standing upright or laying down with the help of three brick-built stands. The set also includes exactly 1,969 pieces — a fun easter egg for space enthusiasts.