16 April 2021

LEGO® Designers interview: 10283 NASA Space Shuttle Discovery

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Zachary Hill recently conducted an exclusive interview for New Elementary with not one but two LEGO® designers who worked on 10283 NASA Space Shuttle Discovery: the set designer Milan Madge and element designer Mani Zamani. This transcript has been edited for clarity, readability and narrative flow.

New Elementary: The Discovery Shuttle is an amazing spacecraft and the new LEGO® 10283 NASA Space Shuttle Discovery is a fantastic homage to it. How did you enjoy the opportunity to develop this set, Milan? 

Milan Madge: It was great working with NASA and it really was a childhood dream come true for everyone involved.

© 2021 The LEGO Group

New E: In the LEGO Designer Video, you mentioned a part of that childhood dream: admiring the Discovery which was in the LEGO catalogue when you were young. Which version of the Shuttle was that?

Milan M: That set was the Space Shuttle Discovery from 2003 (7470). I loved the pictures of that set but never owned it myself, so I built my own out of multicoloured bricks.

New E: I think we all have those sets in our childhood! Let's get into new elements. Were the designs of the three new bricks clear from the beginning, or did they evolve as the model progressed through the planning and exploration phases of design? 

Milan M: We explored three scales for the model with the fuselage 8 modules wide, 12 modules wide, and the final version which ended up being 10 modules wide. 8 modules wasn’t enough to fit the details we wanted, and 12 was too big. The most important design consideration was getting people interested in the story of the Discovery shuttle and space exploration - now is such a great time for that. The details that tell the story best fit in the 10-module fuselage.

© 2021 The LEGO Group

New E: Once that scale was determined, it trickled down into the element design?

Mani Zamani: Yes, in early phases we worked with the windscreen introduced with the Speed Racer theme (62360). That piece works really well for open-top cars since it fits two minifigures side-by-side, but it required some different building techniques to attach the Shuttle’s roof. This new version with studs (76796) solves that challenge while keeping room for two figures, for future sets with this part or MOC builders.

© 2021 The LEGO Group

New E: Is there anything that was incorporated in the design to prevent the part from being used in a way it wasn't intended?

Mani Z: No, this part fits into the 3-module radius family so it can fit nicely with existing parts.

© 2021 The LEGO Group

New E: The other new part matching that radius, the 3x3x1 quarter dome (76797), pairs nicely atop the new windscreen. Was this piece sitting in a drawer somewhere just waiting to be used, or was it made specifically because it was needed by the Shuttle?

Milan M: It’s a part several designers have had on their wishlist for a while, but this set justified its production to smoothly connect the windscreen to the curved roof. It’s a nice finishing piece to match the profile of the 3x1 curved slope family (e.g. 50950).

New E: We’ve definitely seen more slope families fleshed out in recent years. I’m glad designers are as excited about it as New Elementary is.

Milan M: I love to build airplanes and curved slopes are great for building the leading edge of wings. At the wingtips though, they tend to turn into a mess of plates… this new finishing piece will definitely help clean that up.

© 2021 The LEGO Group

New E: We've discussed the windscreen and the quarter domes above it, but the curved doors are something we haven't touched yet. They're obviously the biggest new element - how much did the door design evolve over the course of planning and exploration?

Milan M: The biggest consideration was making space for the payload, the Hubble Telescope, hence the part’s thin walls. The curve matches that of the 4x1x2⅔ curved slope (65734), and cross axle holes are included so the part can be powered. The axis of rotation was something we carefully designed to make sure the cargo bay fully opened, as on the real Shuttle, but also so it can be used elsewhere and have a full 180 degrees of rotation.

READ MORE: Our review of set 10283 NASA Space Shuttle Discovery

New E: Sounds like you had your work cut out for you, Mani. How was this new element engineered and tested?

Mani Z: The size of the part meant there were cooling considerations in the moulding process to get the part to separate from the mould correctly. Finished parts were torsion-tested and we ended up with two thin support ribs on the inside. The engineers really worked their magic on this part!

New E: The results speak for themselves - I especially love the room between ribs left for the mirrored stickers on the inside. Were there any elements that were prototyped for this model but didn't make it to the final design?

Milan M: There was one, a piece which formed the nose cone of the Shuttle, but it made the model look too smooth, like it wasn’t LEGO® bricks. It’s also more exciting for builders to learn about the shuttle by building all the small features in that area such as the RCS thrusters.

© 2021 The LEGO Group

New E: There’s been a lot of talk surrounding all the drum lacquered silver pieces - it's stunning to have 108 silver elements in the set. What considerations did you have to meet to include all of those?

Milan M: The Hubble was first built in Light Bluish Gray, but it didn’t carry the gravitas of the real thing. We love drum lacquered pieces because they look great, but the set still has to meet all the quality standards that normal plastic bricks do.

New E: The heart plates as fillers are a fantastic treat, but all the olive green filler plates and bricks are a very welcome inclusion as well. Is there a specific reason you chose olive green?

Milan M: Whenever we make a set, we look at comments around the Internet and so far just one reviewer has figured it out...

Mani Z: It’s a secret!

New E: I'm feeling the suspense now.

Milan: I’ll spill the beans: that’s a nod to the real Shuttle’s insides - they’re olive green! The fan community loves the colour too and there’s not many olive green bricks out there. I expect some builders will swap those for pieces in a common colour like blue and add the green ones to their collection.

© 2021 The LEGO Group

New E: Was there ever a point at which you considered including the boosters and fuel tank?

Milan M: At this scale they’d be massive, but we did build some to try it out. With the history of the Discovery being the main point, including the SRBs and external tank didn’t add much story for how many bricks they require. That being said, I’m sure builders out there will be adding their own boosters, tank, launch tower, and support vehicles. That freedom to build is what’s great about LEGO® play.

© 2021 The LEGO Group

New E: Someone in the LEGO fan community certainly will. I have to wonder if there was a personal challenge you took on to include so many play features like the airbrake and body flap? I see the model fitting somewhere between a play model and a display model. What was it like cramming them all into one model?

Milan M: It does fit the role of both a display set and play set. Designing all the features and making them all fit without interfering was a challenge. It’s important the construction isn’t impossibly difficult so the features are spaced out by simpler areas throughout the build. The landing gear was a particular headache.

New E: The work seems worth it - the landing gear is pretty satisfying to deploy from what I've seen. The “Hand of God” control for the elevons seems like something I kind of want in every airplane now.

Milan M: Uh oh, we’ve set a precedent!

New E: Oh no, don’t worry - I mean you've inspired me to build my own aileron control in MOCs!

Huge thanks to Milan and Mani for sharing their time with me, and to AFOLET for organising this opportunity!

It's 'Double VIP points' at now until 20 April 2021! If you're buying 10283 NASA Space Shuttle Discovery, or anything from, please consider using our affiliate links: UK LEGO Shop | USA LEGO Shop | Australia LEGO Shop, for other countries 'Change Region'. New Elementary may get a commission. 10283 NASA Space Shuttle Discovery has 2354 pieces and retails at 179,99€/ £169.99/ US$199.99/ CA$269.99/ AU$299.99/ NZ$319.99.

READ MORE: More LEGO® Designers interviewed: Nick Vas and Jamie Berard discuss 10281 Bonsai Tree

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  1. Great Interview! It is always nice to read design considerations that went into parts and the model! Thanks!

    1. Thanks, I'm glad you enjoyed it! I love the new shapes, wonder what people will come up with using the doors especially.

  2. Concerning the (outer radius), that does not match the 65734 (which has a three brick radius) , it is rather 4 bricks

  3. The bit about the scale is interesting and confirms my suspicion about the uncanny similarity in scale to the old Technic space shuttle set. Sometimes those kinds of similarities occur by pure coincidence, just because of how standard "Lego units" can restrict the options for scale. So even two builds of the same subject, developed independently, can end up choosing the same scale simply because it was the best option among a select few.

    I've also seen that cited as the reason for the Ghostbusters Firehouse set ended up so similar to an Ideas proposal—in that case, it was the standard 32-wide baseplate that ended up setting the "ideal" scale, with both builds following from that.

    I do hope to see somebody attempt to MOC the SRBs and external tank at some point! The biggest challenge for those would probably be the external fuel tank's gradually tapered nose cone (which would be a challenge to get as streamlined as the shuttle, especially in a moderately uncommon color like dark orange). The rest of those could probably be filled out effectively largely using cylinders or curved slopes.