In-Box Review
Thor Rocket with Lunar Probe
U.S.A.F. 4-Stage Rocket Lunar Probe with Launching Pad and Servicing Tower
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by: Frederick Boucher [ JPTRR ]

In 1958 Aurora released a Thor rocket into the Famous Fighters series but the model did not sell well. In 1959 Aurora changed the kit around and released the Thor with a galactic instrument payload intended for moon exploration, creating the kit Lunar Probe, kit 385, U.S.A.F. 4-Stage Rocket Lunar Probe with Launching Pad and Servicing Tower . The kit number on the box is KIT NO. 385 – 2.49, “2.49” being the retail price of $2.49, or approximately $25.00 in today’s dollars. Compared to model prices today that was an exceptional value for a multi-stage rocket and payload, with launch facility and figures!

Whether or not my interests made space and missile subjects invisible to me interest at the time, or perhaps Aurora had already discontinued the kits, yet I do not recall Aurora rocket and missile kits vying for shelf space at my town model outlets: City Cycle Hobby Shop, Bell or Davis Drug Stores, Value Village; nor at Kresge, Woolworths, Sears, or JC Pennys.

Thanks to we have this complete kit to examine on nostalgia pad 1.

Lunar Probe
Lunar Probe was packaged in an Aurora standard “long box” carton, a sturdy cardboard conventional lid-tray design. Spectacular box art on a black background shows a Thor blasting off from its pad in front of dramatic billowing flames, the white-hot exhaust plume almost blinding even on the box! While the box sides are black, the ends show a daylight scene of the vehicle in company of lights, buildings and antennas. The sprues were loose in the box which means that several pieces could be expected to be rolling around loose. Instructions and decals were included, and occasionally a promotional insert.

Fifty-four pieces build up this subject. As this kit was essentially two distinct model subjects (launch vehicle and launch facility), the two kits were injection molded in different colors. The Thor and payload was white, the pad and tower and support components gray, and the launch foundation a glossy dark gray;

    Twenty-five parts create Thor (15 pieces) and the payload - a Vanguard and a Pioneer rocket, and their satellite payload (10 parts).

    Launch base (20 parts).

    Service tower (16 parts).

    Service crew (3 figures).

    Fuel and command lines (3 wires).

    Mounting base.

Molding quality
It is good in that most parts are well defined, with no flash, only slight mold seams, and few obvious sink holes. What defaces the pieces, especially on the service tower, are numerous raised and recessed ejector marks. (Some of those may actually be for expansion during the injection process but it doesn’t matter in terms of authenticity/accuracy/aesthetics.) I test-fitted Thor together and found the seams joined tight with no light visible through them. The glossy white styrene seems a bit brittle, though. All three figures display the worst molding, and one has an obvious sink in his lower abdomen.

I did not bother to measure the rocket or other parts but the figures are approximately 1/72 scale.
Aurora tooled raised textured areas on the models where markings and insignia would be. That was typical of many model makers of the era. They should be easy enough to remove from the rocket if you want to put the time and effort into sanding them away.

There are few raised and recessed panels and other items, otherwise surface detail is spares. Detail consists mainly of the satellite and basic girder shapes for the tower. The launch pad has slight expansion joints carved into it.

The rocket was made with separate parts for the fuel receptacles and a few other items. The launch pad has several separate “U” clamps, stand pipes, and toggle braces. Electrical wire is included to represent the fuel and command conduits.

Instructions, decals, painting
Aurora printed up a large multifold paper sheet with text, line art and half-tone illustrations. One side is the assembly instructions and the other side advertises all of their models, with emphasis on their series of “Whirlybirds” and tanks. Aurora hawked their brand of paint and glue in the instructions, too.

Assembly is guided via the “exploded” style of illustration. Assembly of each major kit is shown and then fitting those assemblies together is shown. There are 18 steps for sequence A, Four Stage Rocket, and 19 steps for sequence B, the Service Tower. A concise history of the vehicle is included in a sidebar.

Minimal painting guidance is provided.

You can see the decals offer markings for a single SM-75 rocket: No. 130. Decals have thicker carrier film that extends farther from the printed graphics than is acceptable today. I would like to tape the sheet to a south facing window to determine how much yellowing will bleach out, and then try soaking a decal; would it disintegrate? Aside from the national insignia, rocket livery was pretty bland. All of those markings were intended to be applied over the textured areas. If I recall correctly, Aurora issued a Thor IRBM (intermediate range ballistic missile) but it did not sell well, so they revamped the kit into this issue with the Pioneer payload. The decal sheet is so named but there was a need for more markings, which Aurora duly included. Hence the kit was upgraded with the two small sheets of black rectangles.

A vintage kit historian told me that the PGM-19 Thor IRBM kit did not sell well 56 years ago and this revision of the model was not a best seller, either. I don’t know why as judging from Aurora’s promotional image of the assembled kit, I think the entire kit builds up into an interesting scene. Perhaps it is not a complete diorama yet it is an eye-catching vignette. The model is acceptably molded. Service tower structural members may not be razor-sharp yet neither are they soft in molding. Lots of parts build the tower and base. The four stage rocket can be made to pull apart to admire each component.

Foibles are out-of-scale parts such as the SM-75 stabilizer fins, ejector circles on the tower, and softly molded figures. The molded insignia areas – glad those aren’t used anymore! They appear to be relatively easy to sand away.

I do not know why this model was not more popular “back in the day”. I would like to build one now! Certainly, the quality of molding is not up to today’s standards compared to some of the main model manufacturers, but then again some of their latest-greatest aren’t up to their hype, either! If you have one of these kits, treat yourself and build it. I think you will be doing yourself a solid!

We thank for kindly providing this kit for review!

The single-stage Thor intermediate range ballistic missile, originally designated as the SM-75, entered active military service in September 1958, thus becoming the free world's first operational IRBM. The first Thor missile was delivered to Cape Canaveral, Fla., for testing less than a year after the development contract was signed. The Thor was launched from a combination transporter-erector vehicle and was directed to its target by a self-contained inertial guidance system.

Thor missiles were assigned to the Strategic Air Command and were also deployed to England early in 1959 where they were maintained in a state of combat-readiness by the Royal Air Force. With the development of more advanced missiles, the Thor was retired from its military role in 1963; however, some Thor missiles were modified and used extensively for space research, either as a single-stage booster or in combination with various types of upper stages for such projects as the Tiros, Telstar, Pioneer and Discoverer programs.

* Factsheets : Douglas SM-75 Thor. Factsheets : Douglas SM-75 Thor. National Museum of the USAF, 8 July 2009. Web. 25 Oct. 2014.
Highs: Lots of parts build the tower and base. The four stage rocket can be made to pull apart to admire each component.
Lows: Out-of-scale parts such as the SM-75 stabilizer fins; ejector circles on the tower, softly molded figures. The molded insignia areas.
Verdict: I would like to build one now! If you have one of these kits, treat yourself and build it.
  Scale: 1:72
  Mfg. ID: 385
  Suggested Retail: $2.49 (in 1958) - Now???
  PUBLISHED: Nov 09, 2014
  NATIONALITY: United States

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About Frederick Boucher (JPTRR)

I'm a professional pilot with a degree in art. My first model was an AMT semi dump truck. Then Monogram's Lunar Lander right after the lunar landing. Next, Revell's 1/32 Bf-109G...cried havoc and released the dogs of modeling! My interests--if built before 1900, or after 1955, then I proba...

Copyright ©2021 text by Frederick Boucher [ JPTRR ]. Images also by copyright holder unless otherwise noted. Opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of AeroScale. All rights reserved.


Fred, Wow!! This very old Aurora kit came out when I 1st started building plastic kits. I was 11 years old in 1958, so the local toy store must have had it, I just can't remember it. $2,49 was a fortune for a kid who got a big 25 cents allowance. Thanks for the trip down memory lane. Joel
NOV 10, 2014 - 06:59 PM
Yes, $2.49 WAS a fortune to a kid who got a big 25 cents allowance. I am the same vintage as Joel but never saw one of these back in the day.
NOV 13, 2014 - 07:16 AM
Nice one Fred! Pocket money wasn't an issue for me on this one, because I don't think I ever even saw the likes of this at all over here in Blighty! I got 1s 6d pocket money (about 7.5p in today's money) and, later, a whole 2 shillings (10p) each week in the mid '60s - which meant I could just about buy a Series 1 Airfix or the cheapest Revell or Frog kit every weekend. Aurora models never made it to my local model shops (yes - we had several nearby - those were the days!...) until years later. I remember my friend's Dad worked for Interpol and came back once from a trip to the States with a multi-set of Monogram rockets, and we were all in awe! All the best Rowan
NOV 15, 2014 - 01:58 AM

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