An astronaut who helped assemble the sprawling International Space Station is now behind a new series of space building projects that are on a very different scale.
Naoko Yamazaki, who as a JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) astronaut flew on the penultimate mission of space shuttle Discovery, has worked with the Japanese toy and hobby company Kawada to launch a new collection of Nanoblock kits themed around space exploration. The Nanoblock "Space" series is set to go on sale in Japan on July 31, followed by a worldwide release.
"I advised on Nanoblock's new space series with the Young Astronauts Club of Japan. There is even an astronaut model [of me]!" Yamazaki posted on Twitter on Wednesday (June 7).
Indeed, one of the 12 newly announced models is of Yamazaki herself, wearing the NASA advanced crew escape system pressure suit that she wore to launch and land in 2011. The figure is made up of 190 tiny toy blocks — hence the "nano" in the brand's name — and stands just 2.8 inches (7.1 centimeters) tall when built.
Even at that small size, the model includes a representation of her name tag, the STS-131 mission patch (as a single blue dot) and her helmet, complete with a tinted but still translucent visor. A limited edition release, the Nanoblock Astronaut Naoko Yamazaki model has a list price of 935 yen (or about $7 US).
Other new models in the 2023 space series include:
- Rocket & Launch Pad — Build a miniature of the Space Launch System (SLS), which NASA plans to use to launch international crews to circle and land on the moon. The 610-piece kit assembles to form the rocket with its twin side-mounted boosters and an upper stage that can separate, along with a mobile launcher, umbilical tower and crawler transporter. The set, which when built is 6.5 inches (16.4 cm) tall, lists for $25 (2,750 yen).
- Lunar Module — Reproduce the historic Apollo lunar lander, two spacesuited astronauts and a lunar roving vehicle (or "moon buggy"). The lunar module can separate into its descent and ascent stages, but when stacked together, measures 4 inches tall (10.2 cm). The 1,360-piece kit will sell for $50 (4,400 yen).
- Astronaut Pressure Suit — Not to be confused with the suit worn by the Yamazaki model, this kit replicates the Orion Crew Survival System (OCCS) pressure suit that will be worn by Artemis program astronauts when traveling to and from the moon. The 7-inch (18 cm), 130-piece figure features movable arms. It will retail for $9 (935 yen).
- Planet Earth & The Moon — An update to a 2022 model that featured just our home planet and the space shuttle in orbit around it, this 1,030-piece set features some of the same buildings spread across the planet (miniature versions of previous Nanoblock kits) but expands on the look of the space station, adds the Artemis SLS rocket and the moon as its target. The 5.9-inch (15-cm) globe will sell for $30 (3,520 yen).
- Space Center — Another upgrade to a previously released set, this 740-piece kit lets users pick between building the now-retired space shuttle or a rocket resembling SpaceX's Falcon Heavy to place on the launch pad (only one vehicle can be built at a time). The fixed service structure tops out at 5.9 inches tall (15 cm). The Space Center retails for $28 (1,848 yen).
Other kits that are part of the series are two scale models of backyard telescopes (including a co-branded kit with Vixen) and re-releases and re-packagings of the earlier produced Saturn V moon rocket (2016); Space Center Deluxe Edition (2013); and Astronaut (2021). There is also a new "blind box" assortment, called the Mini Nano Space Collection, which includes six different, randomly assorted models, each built up from about 60 pieces. These tiny (2.7 inches or 7 cm) kits feature the SLS, two different astronauts, International Space Station and two sci-fi theme builds.
In addition to revealing the new kits, Kawada also announced two promotions to go along with the sets' release. Beginning on July 22, fans can retweet the official Nanoblock account on Twitter to enter to win one of five new space models.
A week later, on July 28, a month-long contest will invite those who purchase 5,000 yen ($35 US) of Nanoblock products to submit their receipts for a chance to win one of 30 prizes, ranging from more of the new space sets to other space goods or an astronomical telescope.