Kids "Spaceship Control Panel" Prop




Introduction: Kids "Spaceship Control Panel" Prop

This instructable will show you how to build a spaceship control panel prop for young kids from inexpensive, readily-available materials.  The interactive light-up panel adds a little excitement to those cardboard "spaceships" that seem to appear after you buy some large appliance.

Qty-2    8x10 Plexi Sheet (0.093" thick) (Available at HW stores for <$2
Qty-3ft   1x2 Pine (preferrably the higher grade that has square edges, this makes the frame look
                 better than if you use the more common rounded-edge 1x2's)
Qty-9  Single-pole (SPST) toggle switches
Qty-16  Red/Green flashing LEDs
Qty-4    Automotive (12v) paddle switches
               (mine were lighted, but that's not really necessary)
Qty-8    12V LED Panel lights
Qty-1    LM7805 voltage regulator
Qty-8   390ohm 1/4watt resistors
Qty-1    9V battery clip

Aluminum Duct Sealing Tape
18-20gauge wire
solder + Soldering iron (15-30w)

Step 1: Build the Frame

The supporting frame is built out of 1x2s and 1 1/2" screws.  (Yes, the carpenters among you can cringe and wish I'd built a better-looking  frame.  Not to worry, this all gets covered up with aluminum tape, so these corners won't show).  Note that frame is size just a tiny bit larger than the 8x10 plexi sheet itself.

Step 2: Lay Out the Panel

I just used Powerpoint to lay out the switch locations and provide a more high-tech background for the light.  Suitable function labels for the switches on our intrepid explorer's spaceship were also added.  The alien text used below the NASA logo is "Vorlon" in case you don't have a Klingon font handy...

I measured each switch and light to ensure that I had the right diameter circle for each one, and sized the circles in powerpoint accordingly.   Don't forget to include the crosshairs on each circle.  These are a lifesaver when you're trying to align your drill bit properly, and it makes the resulting display look a lot nicer.  REMEMBER to do a test-placement on the plexi while it is ON THE FRAME.  You don't want the switches to bump up against the frame when you go to mount it.

Once you have the overlay done the way you like, print this out on some translucent adhesive-backed paper.  On my panel I printed it out and attached the sheet on the "front" side of the Plexi.  If I had to do it over again I would reverse the layout and text and attach the sheet on the BACK of the Plexi.  This would make the panel shinier, and prevent little fingers (and big ones) from tearing the sheet while you're drilling the holes and installing the switches.  Its also hardier in regular use.

Now is also a good time to pre-drill the mounting holes in the 4 corners.

Step 3: Install Switches and LEDs/Lights

Once you have the holes drilled, insert the switches and Lights into their respective holes.  The 12V switches and lights are threaded and come with a collar that allows you to screw them onto the panel easily and firmly.  Same goes for the switches on the LED array (the 8 red switches in the picture below). 

I bought LED panel mounts to keep the LEDs in place.  An LED panel mount is a 2-part ring that you insert into the hole from the front side before inserting the LED in the back.  A retaining ring then slides onto the assembly from the back, locking the whole thing in place.   (Sounds good, eh?)  In practice, it was very hard to get the retaining rings on because the Plexi is thicker than most (metal) panels.

Step 4: Wiring It Up

Once you have the Panel lights and switches physically installed, it's time to start wiring things up.
One trick that can save you a LOT of time (and wire) is to bend the leads on the LEDs so that they
connect  to their neighbor (to the right for the positive terminal, and to the neighbor below for the negative terminal).  Be VERY careful not to let these vertical and horizontal wires touching, or you'll short out the LEDs.  This probably won't kill the LED, but it will keep them from working. 

Similar to the LED grid, you can save some wiring time on the top "control/status lights"
(top section) by threading a single wire (stripped) through the holes in the lamps' leads, and THEN soldering each lead to the 9V or Gnd wires all at once.  (See the pictures of the back of the unit)

Step 5: Attach the Panel to the Frame

(Sorry - no pictures for this step, but its pretty straightforward if you've pre-drilled the holes
in the 4 corners).

After you've wired (and tested) the panel, it can be simply screwed on to the wooden frame.

EXTRA- For a more high-tech look, you can cover the wooden frame with Aluminum duct tape.  The material is pretty forgiving (you can always add another layer to cover up mistakes) and it dramatically improves the appearance.

I've also added another sheet of plexi to the back to protect the wiring from little hands while leaving the inner workings visible.  In fact it looks just as good from the back as from the front!

Step 6: Finished Panel

The finished panel and the action video!



  • Creative Misuse Contest

    Creative Misuse Contest
  • Fix It! Contest

    Fix It! Contest
  • Metalworking Contest

    Metalworking Contest

31 Discussions

Thank you very much! I am building this control panel but am not sure where the 8 resistors go. I am not sure I understand correctly from the diagram and the pictures. Could you please guide me on that?


1 more answer

There is a picture (labelled "spaceship control panel schematic") in Step 4 that shows where the resistors go, but there are only 4 of them. The schematic shows 8 SWITCHES- 4 switches for the columns and 4 for the rows. The column switches provide a path to Gnd (the - (negative) side of the battery) from the LEDs. The row switches provide a path to the +5V supply from the LEDs. The 5V supply comes from a LM7805 device (available from, radioshack (if you still have one), or maybe, or other electronic suppliers like adafruit or sparkfun). The LM7805 converts the 9V battery voltage to a lower 5V supply that the LEDs can handle (otherwise, you'll destroy the LEDs). Note also that the LEDs are the special 2-color (usually red/blue or red/green) blinking variety.

Hello! I started researching how to build one of these when I saw my 6 year old son have a great time playing with panels in a mock submarine in Shedd Aquarium. I understand you built an interactive one later. Do you have instructables for that project? I am sure my son will be super excited if I can build an interactive one for him. Thank you!

1 more answer

Sai, Sorry, I never wrote up an instructable for the other ones I built & gave away. I'd be happy to guide you to some other projects that would show what the possibilities are. My favorite is the "Mission Control Desk" on YouTube at: (not sure Instructables will let me put links here, but you can google for this). Another approach would be to build a modest control panel to use with the "Kerbal Space Program" Game. With this, people build a control panel with a microcontroller that can interface to the PC and mimic certain button presses. Just google "KSP control panels" and look at the various images. Hope this helps.


8 months ago

Hi there! This is so awesome! My 5 year old son is desperate for something like this and I've searched high and low for a pre-built/off the shelf type system...all to no avail. I saw that another viewer inquired about the possibility of purchasing a complete unit from you? Is that a possibility? My husband and I are 2 of the most unhandy people around so I'd be very interested! Please let me know if this is an option...thanks so much!

Hi! I'm researching this project and am new to wiring, and I was wondering why you went with the 390 ohm resistor an not something smaller since the voltage going in is 5V? The flashing LEDs i've found are 3mm (3V/20mA).

1 reply

This was set by trial and error- I knew approximately the value I was going for, then adjusted the value until I got the brightness I wanted. In this case, 5mA worked nicely (5v-3v) / 390=5mA. No reason to drain the battery any faster, since it's sortof a pain to replace (have to unscrew the back- this was an intentional design decision to keep little fingers away from the sometimes-sharp wiring on the back).

I am trying to print the pdf for spaceship control panel and have upgraded to premium but still can not able to print PDF

1 reply

It's not a PDF- it's a microsoft Powerpoint file. They offer a separate Powerpoint viewer here:

Nice work:) i will make something similar to my nephew. Thanks for the idea.

1 reply

Thanks! Good luck. Would love to see pictures of anything you build.

You should be able to google for "red/green flashing led" and find numerous places to purchase.

The following places may or may not have them right now, but worth trying:,,

Hard to find! can see why you had problems finding this.
Anything that operates on 9-12v and is roughly 12mm round will work and "look right". You would just have to adjust the sizes of holes you drill, and adjust them in the powerpoint template i provided also. The ones I bought were ~$4 each.
Search EBAY for "round "indicator light" 12v led to find more.

Here's one that's very similar, but you have to buy 15 to get good price:

Here are some examples- 1 is very similar but more $$$, the others would also work.
Also look cool:


Let me have a look. I got them from a local store. The search term would be "12v LED panel light". I'll respond in a little while when I find an equivalent online supplier.

Is there any way I could purchase one of these from you - I am not very handy and LOVE this for my son's space room?

ok so for the panel .we buy the the plexi and then send it through a printer with that layout pdf? is that how you got the picture on the plexi?

1 reply

You don't print directly on the plexi. At office supply stores you can find clear sheets with sticky back to print on. You can then peel off the back and stick it on to the plexi.