Feature

Engineer Models Hobby After NASA's Space Programs
08.12.09
 
A hand-built model of a space shuttle. United Space Alliance systems engineer Louis Achee built this 1:42 scale model of space shuttle Columbia with Balsa wood just in time for the launch of STS-1 in 1981. Achee has built small scale models of the Apollo/Saturn V launch vehicle, the Vehicle Assembly Building and Launch Complex 39. His next project will be an 8-foot-tall model of the Ares I-X flight test vehicle made of maple wood. Photo credit: For NASA


A hand-built model of a space shuttle. The shuttle model was built based on drawings produced in 1976 and 1978. The solid rocket boosters include parachutes tucked into the nose cones. Photo credit: For NASA
Louis Achee has a passion for space shuttles -- those that sit on Kennedy Space Center's launch pads and a much smaller version displayed in a special glass case in his Titusville, Fla., home.

Fulfilling a lifelong hobby, the United Space Alliance, or USA, systems engineer began to build a scale model of NASA's space shuttle Columbia back in the late 1970s. Achee used Balsa wood to create the 1:42 scale model, which comes very close to the real thing, complete with main engines, solid rocket boosters and an external tank.

"It's a passion of mine," Achee said. "Some people climb Mount Everest, I like to build scale models."

Using only a Dremel rotary tool for some of the intricate cut work, Achee hand cut and sanded every component. He put the final touches, including paint, on the model just in time for Columbia's liftoff on the STS-1 mission, April 12, 1981.

"The design is mostly accurate, except for some parts that are painted specifically so they stand out for explanation purposes," Achee said.

He most recently displayed and explained the model to local Girl Scouts pursuing their aerospace badge during a program at his home.

Achee relied on 2-D drawings provided by NASA in 1976 and 1978 to create the model. The orbiter features interior detail, including a crew cabin along with midbody frame structure, forward and aft reaction control system, retractable landing gear, aft compartment and main engines. The stack model features solid rocket booster main parachutes and drogue chutes. The external tank includes liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen tanks and an intertank structure.

Achee's shuttle model was featured in the September 1997 issue of the FineScale Modeler magazine. It also has appeared in Brevard publications throughout the years, and was an attention-getter at Space Congress events.

Originally from White Castle, La., Achee came to Kennedy in 1972 to work as a technician for Honeywell Information Systems. He worked on technical ground data systems in the Central Instrumentation Facility for the Apollo 16 and 17 missions.

In his off-time, he constructed small scale models of the Apollo/Saturn V launch vehicle, the Vehicle Assembly Building and Launch Complex 39.

Achee moved to the Launch Control Center in 1976 to work on the space shuttle launch processing system. He left Honeywell in 1997 to work for USA's Integrated Data Systems Directorate in the Process Control Center. He created digital modeling and console prototypes for Firing Room 4 renovations, and most recently for the Constellation Program's Firing Room 1 design.

As Kennedy and the agency moves forward with the Ares I-X flight test, Achee has begun work on scale models of the Ares I-X and Ares V rockets in his workshop. He'll use maple wood this time though, which is much stronger than Balsa. The Ares I-X will be about 8 feet tall. He also is contemplating the Orion capsule.

"We can't stay with the technology we have forever," Achee said. "We have to move forward. The country needs the will to move forward."

 
 
Linda Herridge
NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center