The Space Shuttle

1996 EU Technic catalog

10 new sets, the most ever for the theme, were released. These included several small sets, such as the 8207 Dune Duster, as well as several rather large sets, including the 8283 3-in-1 Car, the 1300 piece Space Shuttle.

As was typical in the mid 90's a number of new elements were released, including several fiber optic elements, transmission elements, and perhaps most importantly the studless beam.

The Modul system

The Modul System:
In an effort to increase the playability of Technic sets Lego introduced the Modul system. This allowed children to build simple modules that snapped together using 2 x 4 blocks with connectors and technic beams to create the finished model. For example the 8244 Convertibles included instructions for 9 different modules that could then be combined into a series of vehicles and aircraft. Over the next several years this construction method would become increasingly common. It was one of the first attempts to change the focus of the theme from construction to play.

US patent D374,465

The rounded beam:
The rounded, studless beam, was designed as an alternative to the traditional Technic beam. It consisted of a square body with connector holes and cross axle holes at either end. In many ways this was a radical departure from existing Lego elements. It had no studs, so other elements had to be attached with connectors or cross axles. It also had a different aspect ratio, 1:1 rather than the standard 6:5.

Initially it was used with traditional Technic beams in Technic models, but over the next several years it would become increasingly used on it own, resulting in a completely new system, and the next generation of model construction.

US patent 5,733,167

Fiber Optics:
The fiber optic system, an addition to the 9V electrics, was designed to simulate the flow of energy, such as the wires of an engine. The patent shows a light unit consisting of a housing with slits, containing a rotatable disc with an LED on one side and metallic conductor segments on the other. When the disc was spun, collector shoes would contact the conductors and alternately light the LED when it passed by the slits. Transparent fiber optic cables could be connected to the slits and would light up in sequence. Although mostly decorative, the fiber optic system was nevertheless an interesting idea and even found use in several non-Technic sets of the late 90's.

8480 Space Shuttle

8480 Space Shuttle:
The 8480 Space Shuttle is perhaps the only set as complicated as the 8880 Super Car and may be even more difficult to construct. The set consisted of 4 different motorized functions all controlled through an ingenious application of the Technic transmission. A single motor could open the cargo bay doors, allow 2-axis control of the Canadian arm and light the fiber optics of the rear engine. Additionally a small satellite had panels that retract/expand by use of a micromotor. Additionally the ailerons were controlled via a gear mechanism and the landing gear was controlled through a novel mechanism using a shock absorber to lock the wheels in place. In addition to the use of hinges the model used quite a few sloped bricks to model the nose, creating a highly realistic set.

This model had as much playability as any Technic set to date, but. like the Super Car, it was probably too difficult for children to assemble. It would be the last Technic set of this complexity, and, along with the 8880 Super Car, stands as the high point of Technic set design.

1996 sets:

8207 Dune Duster
8223 Hydrofoil 7
8230 Coastal Cop Buggy
8244 Convert-ables
8286 3-in-1 Car
8408 Desert Ranger
8425 Black Hawk
8443 Pneumatic Log Loader
8456 Fiber Optic Multi Set
8480 Space Shuttle

By Isodomus