Category Archives: Tools

Colors & materials for Apollo 11 CM, SM & LM. What the hardware looked like. For the Dragon kit.

Thanks to my beloved wife Jean, I got a Dragon Apollo 11 on the Moon kit, for Christmas! 1/72 scale, new tooling (same as their die-cast metal collectable?)

The short form on real, as-flown-in-1969, surfaces and finishes:

Command Module.

The actual Apollo Command module was covered with strips of mirror finish aluminized plastic micrometeoroid shield and thermal insulation, on the visible surfaces. The ablative heat shield, not visible until the CM and SM are separated, is said to have been painted a light gray color. During re-entry to Earth’s atmosphere, the mylar was mostly burned off and a light-gray painted structure under it became visible. Below that paint appears to have been a composite honeycomb material. I think it is unlikely that the actual pressure vessel that the crew lived in touched the outside surface except at the hatch edges.

In pictures of the remaining, unused, Apollo CSM (the emergency rescue vehicle for Skylab), you can see the stripe pattern of the plastic tape on the CM exterior, but in contemporary photographs, it looks like one piece of mirror polished aluminum. Like an American Airline’s jet airliner.

The fold-flat handles on the outside of the CSM, for astronaut Extra-Vehicular Activities (EVAs) were painted a glossy yellow, like the similar hand-rails on the the Hubble Space Telescope.

The docking capture and latch mechanism mounted on the outside of the tunnel, above the front hatch of the CM, is primarily titanium-looking metal, with a chromed, presumably retractable or spring loaded or damped, shaft.  There are darkened metal handles in the mechanism, probably painted or anodized a dark blue dark gray or black.

The inside of the tunnel itself, behind the docking capture mechanism, is light gray with 12 blue-anodized cylinder-topped arms at the top, some black and some other colors of boxes, and wires,

Service module:

The Service module exterior was  painted with an aluminum paint, except for radiator areas fore and aft which were white, two “ram’s horn” antennas that were white or light gray, and 24 narrow stripes (about 25%) on panels under the RCS thrusters. The area under “United States” may or may not have been light gray, and many labels on the exterior appear to be black text on light gray background.

The main engine exhaust bell is complex, but a bluish gray for the biggest, lower, part, outside, and reddish gray for the upper part, outside, is a good start. The top of the bell joins the reddish part at a flange, with bright bare metal fasteners by the dozen. The top of the bell, the last part visible beyond (below) the Inconel heat shield, is wrapped in the mylar and-or “H-film” ( aka “Kapton”) insulation and micrometeoroid shield. The back of the CM is mostly covered by 4 stamped quadrants what looks like thin Inconel nickel-copper high temp metal. The furthest outer edge of the end of the Service Module is painted with aluminum paint just like the sides.

Lunar Module:

The Lunar Module has two very different areas of finish: The descent (lower) stage is primarily wrapped in thermal insulation / micromedeoroid protection, a multilayer collection of  Kapton (“H film”) and Mylar, and other, exotic, things, with metal evaporated/ plated on them for protection. A lot of what looks ‘black’ is actually a black-finished foil or mylar.

The descent engine has a medium gray exterior and nestles in an Inconel-lined cavity in the descent stage.

The ascent (upper) stage of the Lunar Module is about half black-finished and half anodized Aluminum. Yes, the Aluminum looks like its dark, like Titanium, or has a distinct gray-beige-green tone. All true, many have remarked on the hard-to-describe colors. Grumman’s construction documents for the whole thing, facet by facet, are on line, and they specify Phosphoric acid and Sulfuric Acid anodizing of the various aluminum alloy pieces.  Some Mylar or “H film” wrapping is on the the outside of the ascent module. The ascent engine has a semi-gloss white exterior, with a textile-like “wrapped” texture. This may be thermal insulation, similar to the thick batts of insulation wrapped around the F1 engines of the Saturn V first stage.

There are two dish antennae on the ascent stage, Both have white-painted dishes and are generally black otherwise. The antenna directly above the lunar egress hatch and the front windows has black foil everywhere except the inside of the dish. The signal radiator in the center of the dish is white.

The antenna off on the starboard side of the ascent stage has a semi-gloss black mechanism and flat black on the back on the dish. Black, also, on the 4 legs and the forward reflector in front of the dish.

In more detail:

Command Module.

The Reaction Control System (RCS) engine nozzles on the CM have an oxidized copper color in their throats, and a slightly corrugated texture. Photos of post-re-entry CMs show a ring of the same oxidized copper color outside the nozzles, but the aluminized mylar covers these rings up to the edges of the RCS engine bells.

The forward and side windows for the two outside crew stations have black anti-glare finish around the windows, and red-orange silicone seals at every layer of the windows.

Below or behind the port side windows and the crossed RCS nozzles are a pair of drain valves, white 5/8 spheres with gold-toned dots at the outside. A very similar purge valve is installed on the starboard side of the side hatch.

On both sides, below windows, RCS nozzles, etc and the edge of the ablative re-entry shield, there are translucent white dots. Under the Mylar there are black partial circles around these two translucent circles,. On the Service Module, there are matching white partial circles painted on the fairing at the top edge of the SM

A minor (very minor) mystery is what kind of plastic the reflective stuff on the CM is. The expected temperature range in the space environment was wider than NASA was comfortable using Mylar, generally, uncovered, in the thermal insulation blankets covering the LM Descent Stage. Therefore, the outer layer of those blankets is always Kapton (“H film”), which is usable over the expected temperature range.  Of course, a blanket of up to 25 layers of plastic, using microthicknesses of vacuum deposited metal for insulation, is fundamentally different from a pressurized honeycomb structure wrapped with a layer of glued-on plastic tape. Maybe the thermal mass and inertia of the CM (and the slow-rolling passive thermal control regime) kept conditions on the outside of the CM suitable for Mylar, Maybe the CM plastic has the metal side “out”, unlike the majority of LM applications which are generally plastic side out (hence the gold-amber color: its not gold foil, its aluminized Kapton with the metal in and the plastic out.

Service module:

Inside the main engine exhaust bell is complex. At the bottom, inside the bluish gray outside, are 16 dark metal petals with strong textures. Inside the reddish-gray part of the bell are a set of 6 petals and then a solid ring- all a glossy dark color.  Above the dark, solid, ring, is a white metal ring, something like aluminum colored. Above that is an orangey brown and then at the peak of the engine is a light, metallic-finished plate with 5 stamped spokes and a central cap.

Lunar Module:

How I plan to reproduce these colors:

Command Module:

The glued-flat aluminized mylar on the real thing doesn’t look like any paint, even mirror polished aluminum. It looks like mylar, darker than polished aluminum. I have seen photos on-line of Apollo CMs finished in Bare Metal Foil, in the correct striped pattern. But I don’t see the stripes unless I look very closely in the 1960s photos- they’re easy to see in flash photos taken today, on the leftover CSM lifeboat for Skylab that never flew. But not in pictures of Apollo 11, or 15, or any of the other hardware that was flown.

Sooooo: Bare Metal Foil remains possible, or very thin aluminum foil, polished and clear-coated. “Chrome” spray paint would not be a bad choice. Having the kit part polished and then vacuum coated with aluminum would be very close to the real thing. Brush-painting Testor’s Chrome Silver oil-based paint or another similar non-water-based product is also a thought – the occasional brushmark could be said to represent the stripes of the Mylar…

“Chrome” spray paint or Metalizer Buffable Aluminum rattle can are the top two contenders at the moment. I’m going to do a study with each and see which I like more  watch this space.

Service Module:

Polly-scale Reefer White (that’s as in Refrigerator White, the rail-road color) is my call for the white paint on the lower and upper ring radiators, the two ‘tabs’ containing the ram’s horn antennas, and the white areas near the RCS boxes. My own mix for Boeing Aircraft Company #707 Gray is my first choice for the Light Gray RCS boxes, unless they’re white too, have to check again before I commit myself. The Inconel heat shield could be Polly Scale Stainless Steel, maybe with a bit of yellow added to bring out the nickel ‘color’… Inconel is a copper-nickel alloy and its attraction is that it holds its strength at high temperatures, not that its intrinsically tough stuff like titanium. It actually cuts and polishes pretty readily, but the important thing is that its clearly NOT aluminum. Completely different color. Not unlike stainless steel, which is, itself, not like steel OR aluminum.

Lunar Module:

How to set up work space (directories) for software development:

How to lay out a work space for software development:

Q: Why not use
/Users/yourNameHere/blah.blah – everything in the login directory?

A:Its messy, impractical hard to export.

Requirements for a software development workspace:

  1. Makes it easiest to do things the ‘right’ (you choose ‘right’) way.
  2. Source files and support stuff can easily be version-controlled: using a third party tool (Perforce, etc) or informal methods (numbered revisions in a “History” or “Rathole” or per-file subdirectory below the working directory, etc.
  3. Environment neutral: Easily exported to someone else’s environment (Some people don’t value this- I like to send out examples that arrive workable and sometimes I ask others for help. If you don’t need that, by all means have a big alias file and a bunch of stuff in /bash_profile… But do consider packaging all of that stuff so you, yourself, can move from system to system, OS to OS…)
  4. Scalability: One file, 100 files, 100,000 files (i.e, no bottom)

I’ve seen a bunch of somewhat thoughtlessly assembled setups at a variety of work environments. Back in the mists of time, at Lomac, in 1979, we didn’t have password protection on our 8 inch floppy environments (RT-11 for PDP-11/03, and CP/M for S-100 Z-80s). Easy stuff. Boot up and, on a build disk, there it all was. (WERE there subdirectories in RT-11 and CP/M?, Google knows…)

At Perforce, the Performance Lab used a nice organization of:

/Users/yourNameHere/- anything and everything, but no production stuff here.

Installed stuff, supported by two additions to PATH

export PATH=$PATH:/Release/namedRelease_*:/Work/yourNameHere/namedRelease_*:.

This then became:

Database location:

Leading with a named release allows Path to mix and match generically named 3rd party tools. Like Source Control Management…

Project work:

and if you absolutely, positively, have to work in /Users…

What NOT to do:

The “namedRelease_*” paths looks unnecessary, up to the time you need to maintain two parallel developments. You can keep one in /Releases/usualTopLevel/… and one in /Users/yourNameHere/usualTopLevel but its all too easy to get to:

and having to hand edit these irregular paths here, there and everywhere. Ask me how I know. 🙂

And what I plan to do here at home:

to start with. Its pretty light weight. just took a few minutes to set up.

One of my info posts was read in translation!

Someone looked at my “how to build a plastic model” info, translated into Slovenian. A little international flare there. Pretty cool!
Here’s what they clicked, you can see for yourself: 1

Well, I DO think its pretty cool and yes, I ought to be working on more career-work-related stuff. Next.


(T)F-104G paint colors: is a great discussion about Luftwaffe (post 1956…) (T)F-104G (and other air-to-mud strike aircraft) colors.

I was privileged to see and photograph the Marineflieger F-104 flight demo team in the 1980s, at Moffett Field, and there is no question in my mind that the underside color on their F-104s was a metallic tinged light gray. NOT bare metal, NOT aluminum lacquer, mostly light gray, but unmistakably containing aluminum powder too. This was when they had uniform dark gray on top, and the customary day-glo bands on the wingtip tanks.
I ought to scan those pix…

A nice guy named “Peepeing Bear” and a Jennings (OUR Jennings H from various airliner groups? Probably.) have a discussion at the arcforums site, and here’s what I take-away:

(T)F-104G, Luftwaffe:
pre “Norm ’72” RAL 7001 Silbergrau (a light gray paint)
“Norm ’72” RAL 9006, a metalic + white + gray mix. Revell Germany give a formula of 10% Aluminum, 40% White and 50% light gray, in their 1/72 TF-104G kit.
RAL 9006 Weißaluminium (white aluminium) paint.

Later, “Norm ’83”. a green / green /grey wrap-around scheme replaced Norm ’72

The polygonal camouflage (RAL 6014/7012/9006) was only used for Marineflieger F-104s for a short time.

If you desire a rara avis. German Starfighter memorial photo website is a good place to look for specific photos.

A good and well-informed source on (Bundesluftwaffe) camouflage colours is the website of JPS Modell “Don Color”

A terrific place to compare RAL and BSC381C colors, on line:
Standard disclaimers apply- its on line, not printed, so your monitory and ambient conditions will affect what you see, etc etc.

For Canadian colors (for Canadian F-104s… aka CF-104…), try:

which seems to cover all Canadian military, before unification and after.
Looking at my FS 595A, I can take 26152 for 7012 and 24064 for 6014. I have some thoughts on which bluish gray off the shelf best matches 26152, and I’ll post results when I have them.

Jennings sez:
RAL 7012 Basaltgrau (FS 26152), RAL 6014 Gelbolive (FS 24064), RAL 7001 Silbergrau (FS 26320), and RAL 2005 Leuchtorange (FS 38903).

Fun with string comparisons in BASH/Bourne Shell. Unix/Linux/Mac OS X/Cygwin

Short form:
Compare two strings, in BASH shell script. “$?” is 0 (true) if they are equivalent:
$ t3=a; o3=a; test “$t3” = “$o3” ; echo $?

Capture the true/false (0/non-zero) result in a variable:
$ t3=a; o3=; test “$t3” != “$o3” ; z=`echo “$?”`; echo $z

Remember $? is updated after every operation, so capture its value DIRECTLY after the test!

Long form::
As used as I’m getting to the generally low quality of software help/tutorial/manuals, this one is really a new low.
Here on page 133, in chapter 5 of the Fourth Edition of Unix Shell Programming by Lowell Jay Arthur & Ted Burns, in table 5.7, states:

s1 = s2 True if strings s1 and s2 are identical


babbott$ tF3=a; oF3=b; test tF3 = oF3 ; echo $?
babbott$ tF3=a; oF3=a; test tF3 = oF3 ; echo $?

What this “1” means is that “tF3” and “oF3” are DIFFERENT strings. The comparison fails, and the 1 indicates “false”. “true” is 0.

But I’m getting wise to this stuff, So I put dollar signs ahead of them to mark them for substitution and double quotes around them specifying only $, \ and ` (back quote or back tick or graves have special meanings, AND allowing the reference to be processed even if the variable doesn’t exist and has never bveen assigned a value: Anyway:

babbott$ tF3=a; oF3=a; test “$tF3” = “$oF3” ; echo $?
babbott$ tF3=a; oF3=b; test “$tF3” = “$oF3” ; echo $?

NICE! FINALLY. I’ve been trying for 2 1/2 working days to figure out how to do a string variable to string variable comparison.

The really slick thing, which is their justification, is that the double quotes protect the code from uninitialized variables:

babbott$ tF3=a; oF3=; test “$tF3” = “$oF3” ; echo $?
babbott$ tF3=a; oF3=a; test “$tF3” = “$oF3” ; echo $?
babbott$ tF3=a; oF3=a; test “$tF3” != “$oF3” ; echo $?
babbott$ tF3=a; oF3=; test “$tF3” != “$oF3” ; echo $?

Gee. Well at least I know what to expect for a while.

Oh yes, if you want that pass/fail value to use for something further, here’s the only way I”ve come up with so far- I HAVE to believe this is sillier than it needs to be, and I’ll improve it when I get smarter about this stuff. But it works, its bullet-proof and I don’t have to think about it for the moment:

babbott$ tF3=a; oF3=; test “$tF3” != “$oF3” ; z=`echo “$?”`; echo $z
babbott$ tF3=a; oF3=a; test “$tF3” != “$oF3” ; z=`echo “$?”`; echo $z

And if you wonder why I just don’t use a compound statement with -a and -o switches for AND and OR logic, its because I’m comparing four pairs of strings. If all the pairs match, then do “A” else “B” Pardon me if I don’t really want to present an 8 argument test with two levels of parenthesis, 4 equals operators for the string pairs and 3 -a operators for the booleans, to future maintainers.


Masking Tape, over a glossy finish, a sticky question.

My experience has been fairly good, using old-school beige masking tape, Scotch “Magic” (flat) transparent tape, 3M blue tape, or the light green 3M high stick tape. I prefer the 3M blue product. Scotch “Magic” tape can do really sharp lines on flat, smooth, surfaces, but it has no ‘stretch’. It won’t go around complex curves, stretch to fill engraved lines, etc. It can be hard to remove too, if you don’t leave an edge up somewhere.

First you need the base glossy paint to be well attached. Clean all the parts on their trees with Luke warm water and dish detergent, hand soap, light scrubbing with a green dish scrubber, light sanding with 600 or finer wet-dry sand paper, your choice. Do what’s worked for you in the past. Lay the paint down lightly and evenly. Keep the model parts warm enough before and after applying paint. Keep the paint warm too.

Having a gloss finish doesn’t require glossy paint. Future floor wax, gloss finish lacquers, gloss acrylic, gloss enamel, what ever’s right, after all the paint colors are in place, gives the thinnest finish.

If you’ve already got the glossy paint down and you’re wondering how to mask over it, there’s still plenty of little details to attend to.

Roughing the area the second color will go on doesn’t hurt- my problem masking is as much about the second coat not sticking on up to the masking line as it is about the first coat pulling off or separating.

Having a clean, fresh, edge with effective adhesive is VERY important. You can get along with the edges of the roll of tape as it comes from the maker IF its fresh and you just unwrapped or opened it. If the roll is a long term resident on your workbench, or the sides/edges are scruffy, its not going to make a clean, tight, line.

I keep my masking tape in a small zip-log bag now, stand it on its ‘tread’ instead of laying it on its ‘sidewall’, in or out of the bag. When I want a really crisp edge, I take a nice length of tape and my sharpest Fiskar scissors and cut the tape, straight, down the middle- this gives two, straight, sharp, edges. If I need a line longer than the length the Fiskar’s blades, I piece it from several pieces of tape, to make the edge, and fill with a second layer. I don’t overlap the joints, I trim the edges to slightly less than 90 degrees and lay the pieces down point-to-point, starting like:

1st color layer…
area for 2nd color.

Smallish filler pieces to cover the little triangular gaps are good. In general I find that small, narrow, pieces of tape are easier to use over curves (or to make curves!) than wide tape. I usually buy 1″ (25mm) and often cut it in half or thirds or quarters before I apply it. Getting a crisp edge is NOT the same as covering a large area- mark out the edges with narrow strips, then use full-width strips (or paper or plastic) to cover bulk areas. Yes, its hard to get long, straight, lines with narrower strips. Its hard to get long straight lines with big, wide, pieces too. Once its stretched out of shape, you’re better off throwing it away, or cutting it to the straight edge you need. Piecing out a long line in scissors-length pieces against a metal straight edge is possibly easier than applying a 2 foot (60cm) piece of tape…

Once the tape is down, burnish the edge, and any seams. Something smooth. slightly soft and gently curved like a Bic pen cap, orangewood stick, etc, is good. Fingertips work.

If you’re worried about stuff running under the tape (via deeply engraved panel lines, rough surface, whatever) dust a light coat of the base color or a clear to seal the edge of the tape. EASY does it, no blobs. Just enough to seal.

Now lay the second color down, in light, thin coats. More tape and a third color, etc, can follow. Using flat paint and not having to sand-down gloss finish for subsequent coats to stick to is clearly an advantage….

Some people like to lay a thick, wet, coat down and then lift off the masking as soon as the second color will stay in place… Ummm, that isn’t easy to do in thin, light, coats… Slicing along the tape edge with a brand-new knife blade is good, if you’re making a ‘straight’ line, a straight edge to slice along may help. Slice LIGHTLY, don’t go through the 1st color, or down into the base material of the model.

PEEL the tape, gently, slowly, pull AWAY from the masked edge. Peeling off the tape is a big part of getting a good masked edge. But like all human activities, it isn’t really true that there’s one and only chance, or that it can’t be fixed if there are problems. Personally, if I think any of the paint might still be wet (uncured) I shelve it and come back in a day or two.

But don’t heat something with masking tape on it, or leave it on the dashboard of the car on a summer day… Overheated tape stickum is a complete BEAR to remove. Ask me how I know…. After a year or two, the old, beige tape, stickum would vulcanize or cure or whatever you call it- become stiff and hard and require sandpaper to remove. The new, gentler, “blue” tapes are far more forgiving.

After the tape is off, there may be a ridge where a taped line was. Fine or extra fine fingernail sanding sticks, wet, are good for working down the ridge without losing the sharp edge. The stiff sanding stick is easier to control than a floppy sheet of sandpaper, and you only want to affect the stuff that’s sticking up.

Another reason to paint flat paint and gloss it later.

For natural metal finish with solid colors as well, I cover everything that will be bare metal and do the paint first, completely, including masking-ridge-sanding and the gloss coat, then tape off ALL the paint and spray Testor’s Metalizer (from rattle cans) over the bare plastic. So everything gets masked once, at least. (The airbrush-able Metalizer works just as well, and you can mix it and tint it, but I choose to use my time on other things.)

NEVER try to save materials when masking. Use fresh tape, use more tape, remove the tape and start over if you don’t like what you see. The tape is cheap, your time is expensive.

That said, don’t make your life harder than it needs to be. If you’re painting the tips of wings and rudder, mask the EDGES of the tips off, then cut some slits in a paper bag, and use the bag to cover all the model, except for the little bits you want to paint. Its not saving stuff, just making your life easier. Wrapping something completely in tape isn’t much fun, and risks overspray on gaps that require a lot of inspection to check.

Well, that went on too long, but you’ll have a good time doing multicolor paint and paint + natural metal. You can do the gray wings with polished leading edges, flat aluminum panels, satin finish engine intakes and maybe a titanium bit on the engine pylon.

Take a shot, take some pictures, let us know how it goes for you!

Taped main canopy from aft

Taped main canopy from aft, originally uploaded by wbaiv.

Here’s a thin depth of field photo showing the main canopy from aft, little bits of tape holding the halves while the Testors Non Toxic liquid glue dries.