A Sound of Thunder: The Rise of the Soviet Superbooster

Shuttle to Station orbits are a good safety net, but if cargo's require other orbits (Probes, military payloads, Hubble) this would negate the rule,

Also, without the Space Station being in a Soviet friendly orbit, it makes its use as a lifeboat far more practical.

Governments in Western Europe and much of the non-aligned and US-aligned world protested the use of nuclear power in space, and there were spontaneous protests outside Soviet embassies and at other locations.

Why is there so much pushback against the nuclear reactor? Many nations previously flew RTGs powered crafts to orbit and beyond?

Still, there's finally a space station that uses nuclear energy to power itself, not like OTL were for all the funding and research going into them, they all ended stillborn/axed.

Because the Soviet Union has already dropped a radioactive satellite onto someone's head in 1978 and this is a "reactor" rather than an RTG. You can bet the anti-nuclear crowd is going to be screaming that it's a "Three Mile Island" in the sky and going to kill everyone it passes over.

Randy

Would there be mass public protests? Sure.
Would most Western GOVERNMENTS complain? I doubt it. (Maybe a pro forma complaint for public consumption. )

Edit. Aside from Canada. We'd protest loudly, after Kosmos 954.
 
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Ry01tank

Banned
H bomb would have been made at some point, either by soviets or brits first, Teller Ulam secret was literally independently discovered 4+ times, no analysis of fallout of american tests would have delayed the process quite a bit, but it would have happened.
Teller-Ulam design was the simplest to develop witht he power it had, they had other designs that were less powerful, the soviets used a layer cake design for a while before they cracked the Teller-Ulam design, Teller had thought of the layer cake but thought it was too small. Had Oppenheimer got his way with arms treaties the soviets would have ignored it and been the first to an Hydrogen bomb, which would make Oppy look like a traitor
Its better to be the first then the second when it comes to nuclear bombs
Current war convinced me that the isolationist, hardliner option was somewhat viable, and that the USSR could have *survived* another great purge or even a civil war, wouldn't be the best option for SPACE, tho, or a lot of other things.
Cut huge space funding, cancel privatization, DO NOT HAVE FREE SPEECH, kill every corrupt official
aka North Korea every ten years or so when they wipe the top guys
Politics and Military.
I'm convinced that if the moon program was military, then a moon base would have happened and we would be alot further in space
Khrushchev was better than JFK by early 60s.
JFK was an idiot, he routinely payed false narratives like how the US was behind when it was ahead by a huge margin (he used this to embarrass Nixon), his domestic and global relations were fucked. Nixon had issues but he was a smart dude, he was kept around till he died and acted as an elder statesman to presidents on foriegn policy (Nixions comments on Russia needing to be helped NOW in the 90s wern't followed as much), Carter was a super nice guy, Reagan was hardliner, Ford was given a bad rap but i thought he did fine
Clinton is where presidents started being bad, he had the reagan and bush economy to keep him in office and his policy of cutting bit nasa hard with Freedom and faster better cheaper

A Lee Iacocca presidency in 92-00 would have been insane with his views on russia and the world, basically more help for russia and not supporting china, plus he believed in more fuel efficent cars. In the 80s Chrysler wanted to expand into china, China said only if Jeeps were made domestically, which would mean that the Chinese could make their own knockoff Jeep Iacocca told them to fuck off. other companies built in china, allowing them to reverse engineer alot of tech and factories, which is why they became number 1
He thought of running in 88 as a republican but a politician friend talked him down, Bush/Iacocca would be a good mix
 
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I'm convinced that if the moon program was military, then a moon base would have happened and we would be alot further in space
Sorry if it wasn't clear, moon program wasn't too directly military (although it was indirectly, in supporting a lot of aerospace and military IT industries in the 60s ), space program definitely depended on the military, this is true in US, in USSR, in France, China, the same pattern was everywhere, civilian space program could only exist because the army initially spent the big bucks... only exception to it is Japan, who quite frankly benefited from susbtantial space-related technology transfer and had a trememdous amount of money to spend in the 80s, when their space program took of.
 
Some interesting discussions! Here is my feedback on a few of the points raised.

On the anti-nuclear protests, these are largely growing out of (and sometimes conflated with) the anti-nuclear weapons protests, which were common in this period. I understand that various groups in this movement received funds from the USSR, usually very indirectly, but I do not believe all (or even most) of the protestors were merely paid stooges, parroting a line from a Moscow script. Rather they were people with genuine concerns over nuclear technology, especially in a military context. There was a definate left-lean in these groups, so they're unlikely to be quite as vociferous protesting a Soviet space station vs. US missiles stationed in their back yard, but I do see significant numbers seeing it as all part of the same arms race, and so something to be protested.

On the specific topic of nuclear power in space, ITTL there has been no Kosmos-954 incident. There have been issues with other US-A nucelar powered satellites, but nothing resulting in the sort of widespread contamination on the ground that would have gained widespread publicity. The use of nuclear reactors in space (note: not RTGs, we're talking actual fission reactors) is not something that most people would have been aware of until the high-profile launch of Zarya 3, which is framed in Western media as a primarily military station (accurately, although this isn't always believed). Hence public perception is that this is a major escalation in the use of nuclear materials in space.

On the government protests, these would be pretty pro-forma for Western allies, along the lines of voting against or abstaining in Soviet-sponsored UN votes. For the neutral governments that protest, it would be mainly for domestic public consumption to show anti-nuclear credentials or independence from the Superpowers. In a couple of cases, it's possible there's even a genuine concern there.

On how the USSR might survive, I've got one idea. :) On what will happen with it ITTL... Read on :D
 
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Interlude: High Flight (Guest post by BowOfOrion)

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Interlude: High Flight​


Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth

To say the least. Columbia didn’t just slip those bonds, it fought them like an angry junkyard dog. He sat in the left-hand seat and remembered the kick that he’d felt when the SRB’s lit up. He wondered if that was what death would feel like. Ascension, forced and without mercy. Anything attached to a shuttle solid rocket booster would leave the area as if commanded by the Almighty. Did worthy souls feel this in their last moments?


And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;


Laughter might have been a bit much to ask. The marines tended to frown upon unnecessary chatter and NASA likewise, would not have been agreeable with an astronaut “Wahoo-ing!” all the way to orbit. But, in his heart of hearts, he’d been tempted. What a ride! What a beautiful bird she was!


Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
of sun-split clouds, — and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of – wheeled and soared and swung



He left the chair and pocketed the card. Pushing off the chair, he headed aft, looking out at the cargo bay. It was dark outside, but he could see enough detail. Overhead, he could see the lights of cities, spilling photons into the universe. What a privilege it was to catch a few before they headed into the beyond.

He bent and twisted himself, heading down to the middeck. One day soon, it’d be common to come back home with astronauts sitting down here. He didn’t envy them. It was a shame to miss the lightshow of reentry.

Through the narrow tunnels that had given them such fits today and into the vast hold of Skylab. Even more than the flightdeck, this felt like home. It took him a moment not to look for Al and Owen. He knew this room, even if it wasn’t the same. Good memories.

Henry threw him a wave. He was treadmilling around one of the unoccupied areas, doing a fine impression of Dave Bowman from 2001. Jack smiled and headed for the window.


High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,


It was just the right moment. As he came to a stop over the window, the sunrise pierced the thin wisp of atmosphere. That dazzling and brief flash of the dawn of a new day. Skylab was coming over the terminator and he had to squint at the beauty of the moment. The sun burst through the horizon as though the Earth itself was spawning a beacon of light. He’d seen it too many times to gasp, but it would never fail to be moving.


I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air....



The day’s work was done. Houston was leaving them alone for a bit of downtime before bed. Dinner was over and he and Henry unspokenly agreed that the expansive space of Skylab was where they’d prefer to float. Columbia was a palace compared to the old Apollo CSM, but Skylab made her look positively cramped.


Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue


He watched as the ocean whipped past, hundreds of miles down the gravity well. A mural of deep blues and crisp whites that slipped by at a soothing speed. Over dry land, it became easy to tell where you were. Italy was always Italy. America was always big. But the oceans were a fluttering tapestry. You could get lost if you let yourself lose track of time. The Atlantic blurred into the Indian blurred into the Pacific. Each cloud pattern would be gone when you came back around. To look at the ocean from on high was to see a work of art that no eye would ever enjoy again. It was nature’s rebuke to the cruelties of time.


I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace.


His pulse slowed. No vista on Earth was quite so soothing as Earth itself.

They should have a feed for this in hospital rooms, prison wards, dog pounds, legislative houses, any place where tension might develop. He knew why God chose this view.


Where never lark, or even eagle flew —


Ahead he saw the Moon, low and coming over the hill. Just a crescent cut-out against the dawn. An Eagle had flown there. And now the Russians. Soon enough the eagles would return. He felt sure of it.


And, while with silent, lifting mind I've trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
– Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.



There was only one cause for Jack Lousma to close his eyes as he looked down on the Earth. He did, just for a moment, and gave thanks to the Creator for allowing him this divine perspective yet again.

A moment later Henry joined him at the window. Jack had removed the page from the pocket of his flightsuit. He used a bit of tape and sealed the laminated cardstock to the space just beside the window. Henry took notice.

“High Flight?” he asked.

“It was always my favorite. Thought it’d be a nice thing to leave behind,” Jack said.

Henry nodded silently and took up a spot next to Jack. They watched the world slip by far below.

++++++++++++++++++++​

Huge thanks to BowOfOrion for this amazing guest post.
 
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"They should have a feed for this in hospital rooms, prison wards, dog pounds, legislative houses, any place where tension might develop." - so, so true.

Lovely chapter there.
 
On Astronautix it is written that the NK-35 was supposed to be a LOX/H2 engine, and in the post that it was supposed to be on the first stage? Have I misunderstood something?
 
TMI was seen as a "god send" by the Western Anti-Nuclear movement and as Ry01tank noted the western governmental and scientific response did not help but despite the hype over Fukushima, one thing it and TMI showed was the superiority of Western safety design as compared to the USSR. That's allowed some more recent work to get done and nuclear power might actually revive in the near future.
In fact, it is debatable - the shortcomings of the equipment and design were serious, with insufficient training of personnel. In addition, the liquidator failed to prevent the most serious consequences (for example, radioactive waste ended up in the ocean, while the second release at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant was still prevented).
 
On Astronautix it is written that the NK-35 was supposed to be a LOX/H2 engine, and in the post that it was supposed to be on the first stage? Have I misunderstood something?
ITTL NK-35 is an uprated kerolox engine. It's basically down to me forgetting to Google 'NK-35' to check for conflicts before publishing :)
 
ITTL NK-35 is an uprated kerolox engine. It's basically down to me forgetting to Google 'NK-35' to check for conflicts before publishing :)
good to know.


If the 6 central engines were removed, wouldn't this make it possible to reduce the diameter of the Stage-A?
 
ITTL NK-35 is an uprated kerolox engine. It's basically down to me forgetting to Google 'NK-35' to check for conflicts before publishing :)
Is NK-35 the planned 200t thrust upgrade to NK-33 that was studied in the 70s IRL (and occasionaly reappeared in the 90s/2000s)?
 
good to know.

If the 6 central engines were removed, wouldn't this make it possible to reduce the diameter of the Stage-A?
Given the shape of the vehicle's lowest stage is set mostly by the spherical lowest tank, not much change in diameter would be feasible, and such a major alteration to an operational and critical vehicle probably isn't worth the minor aerodynamics benefits.

1703092021413.png
 
One suggestion might instead be to increase the spacing of the outer engines into separate rings, to potentially allow the introduction of gimbal hardware on at least some engines - it would potentially eliminate the need to shut down opposing engines after a failure, which could mitigate performance losses that result from it.
 
One suggestion might instead be to increase the spacing of the outer engines into separate rings, to potentially allow the introduction of gimbal hardware on at least some engines - it would potentially eliminate the need to shut down opposing engines after a failure, which could mitigate performance losses that result from it.
The main advantage I see here, is a greater engine-out capability.

While the 30-engine N1 Black-A could lose up to 4 of its 30 engines before even clearing the launch tower without affecting the mission. In reality, due to the need to shut down the opposing engine to maintain thrust symmetry, they could only afford to lose two engines at that point.
 
If the 6 central engines were removed, wouldn't this make it possible to reduce the diameter of the Stage-A?

Given the shape of the vehicle's lowest stage is set mostly by the spherical lowest tank, not much change in diameter would be feasible, and such a major alteration to an operational and critical vehicle probably isn't worth the minor aerodynamics benefits.

Yeah, they won't want to mess with the aerodynamics too much (well, not any more than is already being imposed by sticking a new 3rd stage with a spaceplane on the top...). Although on this topic, I recently discovered via Nick Stevens that there were plans for significant changes to Blok-A after N1-7L. Another thing to add to the growing list of jobs for a future ret-con of this timeline...

bloka1.jpg

bloka2.jpg



Is NK-35 the planned 200t thrust upgrade to NK-33 that was studied in the 70s IRL (and occasionaly reappeared in the 90s/2000s)?

Not specifically, it's an incremental upgrade based on the 10+ years of operational experience that Kuznetsov has gained with these engines. So probably a bit less performant but more realistic, simpler to build, and more reliable than upgrade studies from OTL.

One suggestion might instead be to increase the spacing of the outer engines into separate rings, to potentially allow the introduction of gimbal hardware on at least some engines - it would potentially eliminate the need to shut down opposing engines after a failure, which could mitigate performance losses that result from it.

Again, this is probably a complication too far, when they've got lots of other issues demanding attention. The KORD software is now working fine, and reliability has improved a lot, so there's not a strong driver for the added weight and complexity of gimbals.

The main advantage I see here, is a greater engine-out capability.

While the 30-engine N1 Black-A could lose up to 4 of its 30 engines before even clearing the launch tower without affecting the mission. In reality, due to the need to shut down the opposing engine to maintain thrust symmetry, they could only afford to lose two engines at that point.
The main driver from Mishin's point of view is to improve mass to orbit in order to counter weight growth on the payloads he's being asked to carry (Baikal and the lunar base). An iron rule of space engineering is it's always heavier, more expensive, and takes longer than you think. (You might have noticed this as a recurring motif in my writing - and probably applies to the writing itself, come to that, at least the 'takes longer' part...).
 
I just found--or refound--this. WOW! I'm on page two, and ran into something confusing:
Other changes included the addition of a fire suppression system in the N-1 Blok-A, contained within large external sleeves added to the outside of the first stage in the most visible change to the rocket’s appearance. Additionally, more robust partitions were added between the engines, with the aim of minimising the damage should one of the NK-15s explode, as had happened on the previous launch. The NK-15s themselves were subjected to more rigorous testing and extra precautions to avoid contamination that might cause “foreign object ingestion” - Kuznetsov’s go-to explanation whenever one of his engines failed.
How would any "Foreign Object Damage" be possible on a ROCKET!?

Keep it up--will be reading as time allows
 
How would any "Foreign Object Damage" be possible on a ROCKET!?
Oh, you know. Somebody leaves a rag in the tank while cleaning/assembling them. Or somebody messes up their Boca Chica infrastructure design and pumps two different boosters full of sand. Stuff like that. Just because you don't have an air intake doesn't mean you don't have people involved to bring foreign objects where they shouldn't be.
 
Oh, you know. Somebody leaves a rag in the tank while cleaning/assembling them. Or somebody messes up their Boca Chica infrastructure design and pumps two different boosters full of sand. Stuff like that. Just because you don't have an air intake doesn't mean you don't have people involved to bring foreign objects where they shouldn't be.
It could be worse. In the early days, when they were testing rockets fueled by alcohol, a lot of the propellant would go missing.
How far we’ve come! These days, it’s whole propellant tanks that disappear.
 
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Part 2 Post 4: Skylab

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Post 4: Skylab​


“I wanted to stay up there longer. When you’re up there the thing you have the least time to do is what you like to do the most – look out the window at the earth going by at five miles per second.”
- Astronaut Jack Lousma, Commander, Skylab 5


++++++++++++++++++++​

As the Soviets lauded the success of Zarya 3, the US response was already in advanced preparation. Following the landing of the Space Shuttle Columbia on its third Orbital Flight Test mission in May 1982, attention at the Cape turned to the fourth mission of the Space Transportation System: STS-4C, the first flight of the Shuttle-C heavy lifter, and its payload, Skylab-B.

NASA had initially intended to launch the first Shuttle-C mission with a dummy payload, rather than risk their one-and-only Skylab module on the first flight. However, a combination of growing confidence in the STS stack from the first three Orbiter missions, political pressure to respond to the Soviet achievements as quickly as possible, and budget pressure from the divergence of funds to the initial phases of the Moonbase Freedom Program, led to a decision to go directly to an operational launch. This gamble paid off, and STS-4C lifted from Pad 39A on 8th July.

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The payload module’s oversized fairing generated some dramatic shock clouds as the stack passed through Max-Q, but the structure held up, protecting the station from a repeat of the problems of Skylab-A’s launch. Eight minutes after launch, the three main engines shut down, completing their first and last mission, and the orange External Tank separated for destruction. The Propulsion Module and Payload Module continued together with the station (which was now exposed to space after the jettisoning of the Payload Module’s upper fairing) for another half-orbit, after which the Orbital Manovering System engines circularised their orbit. Following separation of the station, the OMS was fired again, putting the husk of STS-4C on course for a burial at sea in the western Pacific. Meanwhile, 400km above the surface, Skylab-B deployed its solar wings and meteoroid shield to await its crew.

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That crew was carried aloft by the orbiter Columbia on what was planned to be the fourth Orbital Flight Test mission. Like the three OFTs before it, this mission would carry a crew of two, both seated in ejection seats should there be any problems with their brand new spaceship. Commanding the mission was Jack Lousma, who in addition to his involvement in the Space Shuttle test programme had spent 59 days aboard Skylab-A as part of the 1973 Skylab 3 mission. He was backed up in the pilot’s seat by Henry Hartsfield, a rookie astronaut who had been involved in the Air Force’s Manned Orbital Laboratory space station project before its cancellation. Their primary objective was to test the Shuttle’s rendezvous and docking capabilities, with a secondary objective to start the activation of Skylab-B, with both Lousma’s and Hartsfield’s experience with earlier stations expected to prove valuable in this aspect of the mission[1]. At Lousma’s insistence, NASA agreed to continue the station mission naming sequence begun with Skylab-A, and so the mission would finally have three separate designations: STS-5, OFT-4 and Skylab-5.

Columbia launched on 10th September 1982, maintaining the four month turnaround time between missions seen with the orbiter’s first three flights. After climbing to orbit, Lousma and Hartsfield spent a day in low orbit, starting up a number of experiments in the orbiter’s mid-deck and activating and checking the External Airlock and Docking System. With everything showing green, flight day 2 saw Columbia phase orbits with Skylab and begin a slow approach to bring the orbiter within 1000 feet of the station. A flyaround of the station showed it to be in good shape, with Lousma expressing particular satisfaction that the meteoroid shield had apparently deployed with no problems and both solar arrays were fully extended and undamaged. He also noted that the absence of an Apollo Telescope Mount with its windmill-like solar arrays made the station appear more compact and less cluttered than the original Skylab.

With the flyaround complete, Lousma piloted the ship on a slow approach to the station’s Docking Module. At just over 90 tonnes, Columbia actually massed more than Skylab-B, and the crew were taking no chances on this, only the fourth flight of the shuttle orbiter. The final approach speed was less than a foot per second, as Lousma eased the docking rings together, the joined spacecraft flexing slightly under the loads of contact. The docking mechanism then cranked into action, locking the two into a single entity, the heaviest structure America had ever assembled in orbit.

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Columbia spent the next three days docked with Skylab, as Lousma and Hartsfield worked to activate the station. This included a transfer of 500kg of consumables and almost 200kg of experiments from the Shuttle’s mid deck to Skylab’s interior, where they would be left running for retrieval by the next mission. This task was made challenging by the tight spaces of the EADS and Skylab’s Docking Module, but once through to the main Orbital Workshop, the two astronauts found themselves presented with an abundance of room. With Skylab operating in a crew-tended mode, at least for the first few missions, the station had been launched without crew quarters or support equipment beyond the basic life support requirements. Visiting crews would live on the Shuttle orbiter, with the Workshop prioritised for experiments, similar to the way the Soviets operated Zarya with crews living out of their Slava FGBs. On this first mission, before much experiment hardware had been installed, this meant a huge volume for the two astronauts to stretch out in, a fact that they eagerly showed off during rest periods by bouncing off the Workshop walls for the cameras.

With the station activated and the first experiments installed, Columbia undocked from the station on 15th September, gliding down to a landing at Edwards Air Force Base. Officially, this marked the end of the Orbital Flight Test programme, and there was considerable pressure from both within NASA and the White House to start quickly ramping up operational missions to justify the lofty claims that had been made for the economics of the spaceplane. Administrator Borman and his Director of Shuttle Operations, Chester M. Lee, were resistant to this push, with Borman in particular remaining uncomfortable at the way the OFT programme had been cut from six flights identified in 1979 to just four. NASA Public Affairs removed the term “Operational” from their descriptions of the next few missions, using instead the nebulous term “Pre-Operational”. Although this made little practical difference - Shuttle was still declared ready to support commercial and national security customers - it had the desired effect of focusing minds within the agency on the fact that this remained an experimental vehicle, and that complacency should not be allowed to creep in.

Columbia flew again in December on STS-6, this time with a crew of four supporting the launch of two commercial communications satellites and demonstrating the first spacewalk from the Shuttle. This was followed in April 1983 by Columbia returning to Skylab on STS-7/Skylab-6, supported for the first time by the European Space Agency’s Spacelab module and an Extended Duration Orbiter pallet. Authorised for development at the start of the Skylab-B project, the EDO carried additional hydrogen and oxygen for the orbiter’s fuel cells to extend the time Columbia could remain aloft, a capability considered vital to get the most value out of station visits. The crew for this mission was expanded to six, including ESA astronaut Ulf Merbold, and America’s first woman in space, Sally Ride. The crew spent ten days docked with Skylab, performing joint experiments in the Spacelab and Orbital Workshop modules, retrieving data samples from the Skylab-5 experiments, and setting up equipment for the next period of uncrewed operations. Even with the larger crew, the workload was punishing, and many items ended up being dropped from the checklist as delays to early tasks had knock-on effects throughout the schedule.

June 1983 saw the debut of the orbiter Challenger on STS-8, delivering another two commercial satellites and an experimental Department of Defense payload. The introduction of Challenger provided a welcome breather for Columbia to undergo a more extensive maintenance period, while Challenger returned to space in September, launching a NASA data relay satellite before continuing on to Skylab-B for a stay of twelve days, with Columbia returning to flight in November.

1984 saw another five Shuttle missions, with OV-103 Discovery joining the fleet at the end of the year. However, this was still not enough to meet the commitments that had been made to the Shuttle’s various customers and stakeholders. With the final two orbiters, Atlantis and Enterprise, expected to enter service in 1985, the White House was pressuring NASA to launch at least once a month. With a long list of anomalies still occurring on every mission, Borman continued to push back on these demands, leading to frequent clashes with his political masters.

In an attempt to ease the pressure, Borman backed a DoD proposal to maintain the existing stable of expendable launch vehicles as a supplement to the Shuttle, enabling high priority national security payloads to be launched without having to wait for a slot on the Shuttle. To make the business case close with the contractors, Borman went further and agreed with a White House proposal to formally end Shuttle’s monopoly on US commercial launchers, enabling Atlas and Titan rockets to carry commercial satellites. This marked a reversal of the longstanding policy of relying solely on Shuttle, and was hugely controversial within NASA and Congress.

The ranks of Borman’s enemies grew, and he faced growing attacks in the press for a perceived sluggishness in NASA’s response to continued Soviet success. Project Freedom, NASA’s plan to return to the Moon, was moving forward, but while NASA was signing contracts and conducting reviews, the Soviets were continuing with ever-more-impressive Zvezda missions. As NASA made brief sorties to Skylab-B every few months, the Soviets had kept Zarya 3 permanently crewed for almost three years. At a time of ballooning US deficits, what the hell was NASA doing with all that money, anyway?

By the time Reagan began campaigning in earnest for re-election in the summer of 1984, Borman had already privately decided to leave NASA. The constant political battles, both internal and external, had taken their toll, and the prospect of another four years of the same was not appealing. With the Shuttle now launching regularly (even if not as frequently as some liked), with Borman’s safety-first culture bedded in, and with the Freedom lunar programme off to a good start, the Administrator felt that he had done all he could to put the agency back on track. Following Reagan’s re-election in November, Borman informed the President of his decision, and in January 1985 he formally left his role as NASA Administrator.

++++++++++++++++++++​

[1] IOTL Lousma commanded STS-3 while Hartfield was the pilot on STS-4. Lousma was also in the frame to pilot the shuttle on the Skylab rescue mission STS-2A.
 
1984 saw another five Shuttle missions, with OV-103 Discovery joining the fleet at the end of the year. However, this was still not enough to meet the commitments that had been made to the Shuttle’s various customers and stakeholders. With the final two orbiters, Atlantis and Enterprise, expected to enter service in 1985, the White House was pressuring NASA to launch at least once a month. With a long list of anomalies still occurring on every mission, Borman continued to push back on these demands, leading to frequent clashes with his political masters.

OTL 1984 also saw five shuttle missions, STS-41-B, STS-41-C, STS-41-D, STS-41-G and STS-51-A so they are at the same flight rate despite the extra caution coming from Borman. Also I hope in this tl with a different Administrator they never use that stupid mission numbering system and just accept that there will be a STS-13.

By the time Reagan began campaigning in earnest for re-election in the summer of 1984, Borman had already privately decided to leave NASA. The constant political battles, both internal and external, had taken their toll, and the prospect of another four years of the same was not appealing. With the Shuttle now launching regularly (even if not as frequently as some liked), with Borman’s safety-first culture bedded in, and with the Freedom lunar programme off to a good start, the Administrator felt that he had done all he could to put the agency back on track. Following Reagan’s re-election in November, Borman informed the President of his decision, and in January 1985 he formally left his role as NASA Administrator.

He probably won't get the credit he deserves in the ATL history books but the bolded bit alone puts him up there with the great NASA Administrators, assuming it stays bedded in and isn't sacrificed on the altar of the flight rate by the best Administrator.
 
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