A Thousand Small Steps. How NASA may have been after the Apollo 1 fire.

Prelude: Apollo 1

January 27, 1967, 6:24PM: Cape Kennedy Launch Complex 34

"Damn. Repeat Capcom?"

A garbled, "We are p...on hol..." from Capcom came in reply. A third repetition finally revealed the message of, " We are putting the countdown on hold."

"How are we going to get to the moon if we can't talk between three buildings?" Gus Grissom muttered.

He, Rodger Chaffee, and Ed White had been sitting in the Apollo 1 capsule conducting the plugs out test for hours at this point and his nerves were beginning to get the best of him. His microphone wasn't working, the test had its fair share of technical problems, and the capsule was filled up with nylon and Velcro even though he had specifically instructed for it to be removed.

All in all he was having a bad day. He turned to his right to ask Rodger about a gauge reading but when he did so he saw that Rodger looked quite pale and was sweating in his suit.

The commander asked him, "Rodge you okay man?"

A bit startled by being unexpectedly called Chaffee turned his head to Gus and felt the world spin but soldiered past it to say, "Yeah, just feeling a bit odd. I think it was the shrimp I had last night."

Grissom had flown enough aircraft to know when someone next to you is faking being fine and was quite aware of what usually followed after a sharp turn by the person who was 'fine.'

Trying to muster up his authority voice Gus said, "Listen here Chaffee if you aren't up to it I don't want you trying to save face with me. Do you need us to stop this simulation?"

Looking a bit green around the gills the rookie replied, "No I just want to get this over with so we don't have to come back and do it later."

Gus was about to protest but decided it wasn't worth the fight. He was a big boy and could make his own choices.

"Hey there any update on the countdown?" Ed asked keying his mic.

"We are working on it. Continue holding," came the brief reply from mission control.

Annoyed but having nothing else to do he began looking at his flight plan and as he was taking a look at his he felt a quick jolt to his left and turned in time to see Rodger swing up the visor on his helmet and begin vomiting onto his side which unfortunately happened to include Ed's left arm at the time.

With a mortified but relieved look on his face Rodger said, "Oh Ed! I'm so sorry..." but before he could finish another short burst of bile was expelled from his mouth.

Seeing this occur Gus finally had enough for one day and shouted into his mic, "Capcom we are ending this test for the day. I am about to vent the cabin to allow egress."

The Capcom communicator began to reply with, "Gus you haven't been cleared to..." but was cut short by him, "Capcom this is Grissom, I repeat we are ENDING THIS TEST."

With that he flipped the cabin vent valve and pushed back Ed's headrest so he could open the capsule when the pressure normalized. There was a slight hissing as the oxygen departed the capsule. After a short period he saw a light pop up near his feet. Looking towards the glow he saw the licking of orange flames as they caught the nylon netting near his feet.

Instinct and training quickly took over as he shouted out the warning, "FIRE! Fire in the capsule!"

Both of his crewmates sprung into action instantaneously as Ed began prying at the door and Chaffee talked to Capcom about the threat. Gus rushed over to the plug door where Ed was and put his hands around the latch to help him release it. Even though the atmosphere was mostly vented there was still a significant difference in pressure that took both of their combined mights to overcome.

As they swung open the internal hatch Gus felt a burning sensation on his legs and quickly realized that the fire had spread to his suit. He ignored this as he and Ed began wrenching at the second hatch. On the other side of the window they could see the workers rip open the boost protective cover that was against their outer hatch.

As Ed was egressing through the hatch being hauled out by one of the men on the other side Gus heard a scream. Turning he saw Chaffee fall from his couch onto the floor as the flames took over his suit. Rushing back he grabbed the man underneath his armpits and dragged him back to the hatch where they were both wrenched out from the inferno inside.

For the next few seconds all that Gus felt was extreme cold as he and the others were sprayed with fire extinguishers. As soon as this was finished he was hauled to his feet by one of the technicians and rushed with his crewmates to the elevator where they quickly descended with each bump causing Chaffee to whimper in pain. As soon as they got to the bottom they saw an ambulance tearing its way to them. It screeched to a halt and the back doors were flung open before the three men were piled inside. From the back window Gus could see the orange glow and white smoke rising into the evening sky from the top of launch complex 34.

~~~~​
This is my first attempt at writing alternate history so feedback is welcome. I will try to update on a regular basis but anything might happen with college. If you notice something technically inaccurate feel free to point it out as even though I do as much research as I can I'm under no notion that I know everything. I hope you all enjoy.
 
Interesting. Probably would not make that much of a diffrence though. Would think they would still have to redo the capsule.
 

Archibald

Banned
Oh great, Grissom and his crewmate surviving the fire. In his biography Deke Slayton tell the story he wanted a Mercury astronaut as first man on the Moon, and life taking its toll, Grissom would have been his choice.
Hopefully William Proxmire will catch deadly hemorroids and NASA won't be griled before Congress :p
Good luck with your TL and welcome to the board !
 
Gus Grissom being alive and involved (who in NASA or the US GOV is going to stop him!) in the investigation and the fixes will have significant impact internally to NASA (I can see ALOT MORE ASTRONAUT control (and in leadership positions), even more VETO/ GO-NO GO power for mission commanders) and PUBLICALLY, Gus (Apollo 1 survivor!, saved his crew!) the face/voice of NASA's manned program comeback, "I am going to find out what went wrong, why it went wrong, fix it right, and STILL get to the Moon....." Proxmire and Mondale will likely have to hold their tongues till at least the 4-5th Moon landing and 1st AAP flight.
 
I'm glad to see that there is some interest in this TL. I know that you are rearing to find out what will happen with NASA but I need to do a bit more research and sketch out my ideas a bit further before the next US update. However I do have something for you to take a gander at. NASA isn't the only player in the space race remember.

Prelude Part 2: Sergei Korolev
January 30, 1967, 4:34PM: Sergei Korolev' s office.

The chief designer was busy at work on his N1-L3 complex. While the plan had been for the Soviets to beat the Americans to the moon, Korolev was beginning to have his reservations. He watched the publicly accessible videos on the capitalist moon machines and had even gotten a hold of a few classified documents. They were pulling ahead.

They had the industry to pump out these massive rocket engines and enormous vehicles. And they had seemingly unlimited funding, unlike Sergei. At the breakneck pace they were going there was no doubt that they would land on the moon first unless something major happened to stall their program. That something had happened a mere few days before when they almost lost three astronauts in a launch pad accident. That would delay them. But would it be enough of a delay?

Korolev was going over every iteration of a moon landing plan that had come by his office in the last six years trying to find some way to quickly regain the lost ground. His program had already been heavily delayed by his temporary replacements as he was treated for his cancer and when he finally came back to the design bureau he found them nearly half a year behind the schedule he laid out before his departure. The most delayed part of the whole program was the massive N1 rocket designed to carry up the lunar expedition complex in one glorious launch.

Now he had to figure out what needed to be done so they could once again compete with and surpass the US program. In a leather bound notebook he was writing out an altered plan to capture several more spaceflight firsts before they were able to put the soviet flag on the moon. He harkened back to his first ever plan of a lunar landing by which he would use his R-7 rocket to assemble a lunar expedition spacecraft in Low Earth Orbit. While so many launches of a rocket with as low of a payload mass as the R-7 was clearly impractical the basic idea was solid, especially for testing purposes before his behemoth N1 was ready.

Vladimir Chelomei's Proton rocket had an impressive payload mass if poor launch record. It was quite capable of transporting the bigger components into LEO for tests, assuming they made it in one piece. As much as he hated using a rocket with such a record and such toxic propellants Korolev had to admit that he was running out of time and to develop a completely new booster of the same payload mass would take years.

The manned vehicle would still be launched with his new Soyuz launch vehicle. He was willing to take the risk on the Proton for the equipment but not the men. The first manned test of his new space Soyuz capsule was slated to take place on April 23. While he had been wishing for more time to iron out the kinks of the new craft he was continuously told that the launch date was certain and nothing was to be done to change it. Even when the spacecraft review board began reporting of dozens of technical problems he was still told to launch by April 23. Then the Apollo 1 fire happened, reporting how close the American program came to loosing 3 men and not even in space at the time.

Suddenly his superiors were willing to give him a little wiggle room to ensure a reliable craft. It seemed that they wanted to at all costs have a flawless first flight to upstage the near disaster of the Americans. Even then at first they were still firm on the original launch date until the chief designer had a little chat with each of them. That was one thing that Korolev came to rely on in his endeavors, the respect that he was given, even by his superior officers.

Sergei had bought himself a little time but not much. The Soyuz that was scheduled to launch would still be up in space by the end of the July as he had not been able to talk them into agreeing to any date further along. No matter he could do it, he was the chief designer after all.

However his focus wasn't on the Soyuz at this moment. There was little he could do with the craft since the design for that particular capsule was finalized and it was already mostly built. What he was looking at was the landing craft. No flight ready craft had been built yet though the components were being assembled. The craft had been designed with the intent to land as quickly as possible ideally by 1968. However due to the delays with the N1 pushing the first manned launch out to 1969 or 1970 they had a bit more time to refine the lander. The first thing Korolev intended to add was a docking port. It was ridiculous to expect the pilot to spacewalk into and out of the lander from the LOK command module.

But more than that Korolev was planning for after the initial landings. The LK was simply put disappointing. It was a tiny craft which could only land one cosmonaut on the moon and bring back barely 40 kilograms of samples back. Thus he was designing the LK-2 lander. It would be considerably larger than the LK and even a bit larger than the American LEM. While the first few soviet lunar expeditions would use an LK in a single launch profile the next ones would use an LK-2 and a dual launch system. With the new mission profile a larger LK-2 lander would be launched into LEO followed by a second N1 launch with the crew who would link up with the LK-2 before heading over to the moon.

Once in lunar orbit the two man crew would transfer into the LK-2 and descend to the surface while their LOK command module would stay in orbit on autopilot mode controlled by the ground. The LK-2 would be able to keep the 2 cosmonauts on the surface for up to 8 days and to return with over 230 kilograms of lunar samples.

In the middle of his musing he was interrupted by a notice from his assistant. It seemed that the day before the fire the US held a press conference stating their plan to make use of the hardware they developed with Apollo to launch a space station in the early 1970s. Since Chelomei had been lagging behind in his development of the Almaz military surveillance outpost Korolev had been given the command to develop and launch a space station before the decade was out. As if he didn't already have enough to worry about.

Frustrated he flipped to a new sheet and began the process of designing the station. Despite the rush of projects Sergei was confident in his abilities and those of his workers, he was the chief designer after all.
 
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A living Grissom? That's going to change things. A lot. (Try and challenge Grissom, Proxmire and Mondale. Just try.)

Waiting for more!!!
 
Part 1: Rising From the Ashes
January 28,1967, 11:12AM. Cape Kennedy Medical facility.

Gus was laying in a seated position in his hospital bed with heavy bandages over his hands and legs. Despite his denial of needing it the doctors forced him to have a breathing tube pump pure oxygen into his nostrils to help expedite the healing process. Most of his shortness of breath was gone although he still had coughing fits here and there. The smoke inhalation really did a number on them.

Gus still counted himself lucky especially considering how Rodger fared. Gus got to walk away with some second degree burns on his arms and barely third degree on his legs with some smoke inhalation. Rodger was in surgery getting skin grafts while doctors were trying to figure out if he had gotten nerve damage and whether he would walk again.

He still couldn't believe just how quickly it all happened. Barely 10 seconds from when he first saw the fire to when he was wrenched out of the capsule with Chaffee in his arms. 10 seconds for the nylon in their suits to catch and melt onto their skin. what would have happened if it took them 12 seconds to get out?

Shit the only reason they were even alive was because Rodge ate some bad seafood. That wasn't just idle thoughts either, he played back the events leading up to the fire a few dozen times already and found no other way for them to have survived. By his guess he started venting the atmosphere fifteen to twenty seconds before the fire started and even then the pressure on the hatch took both he and Ed to open. Any later and they would have been incinerated. If it weren't for Rodger's food poisoning and his being pissed off all three of them would be dead right now.

Gus had faced death before in flight but never like this, and never on the ground. At the moment he was holding the morning paper. On the front page was the article about the fire and spanning the entire top half of the paper was a black and white picture of Gus, Ed, and Rodger exiting the ambulance after it took them from the pad. Gus had never even noticed the camera at the time. Looking at the picture was difficult for him.

Rodger was being carried by two paramedics in a stretcher as he yelled in pain from the extensive burns over his body. Ed usually so composed and ready was disheveled and confused looking. His suit once white was now streaked with grays and blacks with holes burned throughout. And then there was Gus just stepping out of the back and looking on at his two crewmates. He looked like no person had ever seen him, scared.

February 9,1967,1:45PM. Outside Rodger Chaffee's hospital room.

The doctors had finally cleared Rodger to have visitors so long as they came in one at a time. Currently Ed White was chatting with the rookie trying to bring up his spirits inside the room. Standing outside the room looking in was Gus Grissom. He was leaning on his cane, doctors orders for at least a month since his left ankle was pretty badly injured in the fire.

He heard someone walking up to him and turned to his left and to see Martha Chaffee. She had been by her husband's side from the moment that she got the call about the accident. Her eyes were red and puffy and her hair was messy but had obviously been hastily put up. As she got to within a few feet of Gus she opened her mouth to speak but then closed it after a few seconds of trying to form words. She tried for a second time as tears welled up in her eyes but once again could not bring herself to make any sound.

At that moment she simply collapsed onto Grissom hugging him fiercely as she quietly sobbed. He held her reassuringly as she was able to compose herself a bit more.

With a strained voice she said, "Thank you Gus. They told me about what you did. They told me how if you hadn't picked him up he would probably be..." but before she could finish she began to cry again.

After a few moments she let go and wiped away the tears from her eyes. She looked upon the five foot five inch tall man in front of her with great admiration. For one of the few times in his life Gus was speechless. All he could do was simply nod his head to her. Before he knew it the time for him to go in was there.

He walked into the room as Ed left and saw Chaffee covered nearly completely by bandages. Pretty much the only part of him not covered was his face and even then there was a large red line across his jaw line. Upon seeing Gus he gave a weak smile through the clear agony he was in.

"Hey Rodger it's not Halloween yet buddy. You can take off your mummy costume," Gus said with his trademarked levity.

Chaffee gave a slight chuckle then a wince before saying, "Oh Gus that's you! I thought one of the old timers had wandered in from the nursing home down the street," with a grin and a bandaged arm pointing to the cane Gus had walked in on.

"How you holding up there Rodge?"

Replying Chaffee quipped, "Honestly I'm feeling pretty shitty there Gus but considering the other option is death I think I'll stick with feeling shitty."

After a brief laugh from his commander Rodger's eyes shifted into a different light showing a very concentrated idea pop up in his mind. He voiced this with Gus, "I heard that you and Ed are being disposed by congress to testify about the accident?"

Reminded of what lay ahead of him the smile on his face faded slightly but Gus was quick to replace it for Chaffee's sake as he said, "Yeah. Whenever they finish with the initial review they are going to have a hearing on the accident and the nature of NASA in general"

"I want you to tell them something for me..."

February 27, 1967, 5:44PM. Apollo 1 investigations hearing.

Gus Grissom was seated in front of the investigation committee, the only one at the large wooden table in the center of the room flanked by senators, NASA administrators, reporters, and pretty much everyone that could be crammed into that room. His cane was nowhere to be seen as even though his ankle was still quite painful to walk with he decided against using it. He didn't want to look weak or pitiful for the hearing, so he walked in of his own volition without the slightest hint of a limp even though his ankle felt on fire with each step.

He was sitting as straight as possible without a drop of sweat on him. He was ready for the questions and as they began coming at him he was unphased. Gus was the last interview that they would be conducting before reaching a decision on appropriate actions to be taken in response to the fire. Ed had gone right before him and towards the end of his nearly two hour disposition had started getting defensive and combative towards Mondale and Proxmire who were the clear ringleaders of the committee. If they got to Ed after that time then Gus knew they would likely get under his skin too if he let them get any footing.

That's why he wasn't getting emotional when answering the questions just stating the facts. It had already been nearly forty minutes at this point and it was clear that they were trying to get a rise out of him so they could blame someone for the accident, someone to punish. But Gus wasn't going to let them slip the blame onto one person or one group, it wasn't right and it wasn't true.

The younger Mondale asked Grissom another question, "Lieutenant Colonel Grissom, was there negligence on the part of NASA or North American Aviation in the design and testing of the Apollo module?"

After a brief moment he simply replied, "I wouldn't classify any of their actions as negligent no. To me negligence means that there was intentional ignorance of design flaws, and there is no person working on the Apollo program who would intentionally put the lives of the crew at risk."

Unsatisfied Mondale spoke again, " I see, well then let me ask you this, were there any unintentional design flaws or errors made in testing that logically should not have been allowed to happen? For instance, the careless action of leaving a socket wrench inside of one of the panels of the capsule."

Gus took a moment to compose himself and then rebutted with, "You are trying to get me to say that the people working on Apollo were not one hundred percent perfect and that they should be punished for that. The simple fact is that no, they were not perfect. But no program in history in any area of industry has had a one hundred percent success rate. It is an unobtainable goal, what is obtainable is the reduction of risks to a point where it is judged safe for use. What you are interpreting as flaws are only so in hindsight, which unduly burdens the thousands of men who have been working for the past six years on the goal of landing us on the moon.

Take the plug hatch that almost trapped us inside, you know who's fault that is? Its mine. When the explosive bolts went off after my first flight and I nearly drowned they decided to change the hatch to prevent that occurrence. What about the pure oxygen atmosphere? I don't know if you have ever been scuba diving Mr. Mondale but if you have then you would know about the bends. It occurs when the nitrogen gases in your blood expands due to changes in pressure that can lead to death. By using oxygen we simplify the process of feeding air into the capsule and reduce the risk of decompression sickness in astronauts.

In hindsight these features seem dangerous but when they were implemented they were intended to save us from unnecessary danger."

It took Walter Mondale a few seconds to collect his thoughts and to continue with his barrage, "That was a nice speech Mr. Grissom but it still doesn't answer the question, was there undue danger present in the capsule or the testing of the capsule that should have been spotted before you stepped into it?"

With his deep baritone Gus began, "Yes. But it wasn't just NASA's fault or North Americans fault. It was nobody's fault and everybody's fault. The fact of the matter was that we were doing a systems check on a spacecraft on the ground on top of an unfueled rocket. It was considered a formality more than anything to ensure that the computers checked out. We didn't consider it dangerous because we had done it a few dozen times before with no problems. Like I said we had no reason to be worried because if anything was going to happen it would be during launch, or in orbit, or on the moon.

Every man, woman, and child in America is so caught up in going to the moon that we forget that we are human and that we make mistakes. We have been too successful and too lucky. We became complacent and expecting for everything to go according to plan.

Here is the fact of the matter, my business is not a safe one and it is not an easy one. I am a test pilot. Every day that I am in the air I take a risk, every time I drive down the highway I take a risk, every time I walk down the street I take a risk. But this risk, this risk is worth it. Humanity is coming together in this decade to do what was unthinkable and impossible twenty years ago. "

Pausing a moment Gus pulled out a sheet of paper from his jacket pocket and continued, "I have here the words of Rodger Chaffee. He asked me to say them here today since he is unable to attend.

I may never walk again. I may never be able to drive, or to pick my children up onto my shoulders. If this is my fate I accept it with honor and dignity because I know that it occurred in pursuit of a lofty and worthy aspiration, for man to step foot on the moon. No matter what happens in the future I will be satisfied with my performance and with my service to my country. But I will be especially proud of my service to my commander and copilot Gus Grissom and Ed White, for they are not only honorable and distinguished men, but also my friends. If our destiny had been to perish in that fire then I would have gone down with two of the best men I know doing the thing that I had been put on this Earth to do.

I think that he sums up my sentiment quite well. We are in pursuit of a worthy goal. We are attempting to complete the most momentous and awe inspiring achievement in human history. So let us do it. Let us go to the moon. This accident has been a wakeup call to us. We are aware of our own hubris and will actively avoid it. We will complete this goal and we will do it safely. We know where we went wrong now give us a chance to do right and finish what we started. We are on the cusp of changing our world and to stop us so close to the finish line would be an insult, not only to the men who have lost their lives for this program or to the technicians working on these craft, but to every single human being on this planet who would benefit from man reaching out and coming into contact with another celestial body."

Finally having spoken his mind Gus leaned back into his chair and watched as Mondale and every other person in the room tried to come up with something to follow him with.
 
Hey there I was wondering if you guys could help me out. I plan on getting America out of Vietnam by early 1968. I'm wondering what the most plausible way for the US to do that would be. Preferably with the US 'losing.' The easiest way I could think of would be for the North Vietnamese to take over Saigon during the Tet Offensive. I'm not a Vietnam buff so I don't know if that would be practical or not?
 
Here's my humble opinion:

1. In this timeline, the man-rated Apollo spacecraft will still have to be redesigned extensively anyway. It will require flying two unmanned missions with the redesigned capsule before a manned flight is attempted.

2. With Korolev still around, The N-1 will fly for the first time probably middle 1968. Soyuz 1 and 2 will likely fly early fall 1967, after Korolev talks the Russian officials into launching unmanned test vehicles in the spring of 1967.
 
Hey there I was wondering if you guys could help me out. I plan on getting America out of Vietnam by early 1968. I'm wondering what the most plausible way for the US to do that would be. Preferably with the US 'losing.' The easiest way I could think of would be for the North Vietnamese to take over Saigon during the Tet Offensive. I'm not a Vietnam buff so I don't know if that would be practical or not?
I would say not to dwell on it too much within the work here itself. The VC were more or less wiped out, as an organization, after Tet - it was the perception of what happened that was the problem - the public image of the war had been that the enemy was on their last legs, that they'd been smashed up at every turn, and they weren't supposed to have anywhere near the capacity necessary to mount an operation of that size and scope. Losing Saigon wasn't really in the cards.

Depending on why you want to take things in this direction, you could just brush past the question, even the question of who won or lost - refer to 'America's declining involvement in Southeast Asia' or something of that nature.
 

Archibald

Banned
This is a great reading so far. I really enjoyed Grissom answer to Fritz Mondale.As said above Apollo will need extensive rework, although it may come a little sooner with Apollo 1 direct testimony. IOTL they never found the exact place were the fire started.

As for getting out of vietnam sooner rather than later, how about Nixon and Kissinger not sabotaging the peace talks before the 1968 election (just to piss off Johnson, who didn't fought that battle since he wasn't to be re-elected) ?
 
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Part 2: Rebuilding
June 9, 1967, 2:33PM. Deke Slayton's office.

"Hey thanks for coming in Gus," Deke said shaking his hand over the desk.

Once he was sitting down Grissom asked, "Any news on the Block II yet?"

Leaning back into his chair Deke pulled a manila folder off of his desk and opened it as he said, "Well North American is still in the early phases of development but that expect it to be ready to fly in about a year. Until then we will just use the time to test unmanned. In fact the first flight ready Saturn V is scheduled to launch at the end of October. Man that's going to be something ain't it."

"It sure will Deke," Pausing for a few seconds Gus then asked, "Who are you going to pick to fly the first manned Apollo mission?"

Giving a sigh Deke opened his mouth, "Listen Gus, the bigwigs upstairs don't want you or Ed near that launch. They say that it's too much of a risk if anything goes wrong two flights in a row with the same crew..."

"Which is exactly why I'm going up there Deke! If they don't want a PR nightmare then they better be certain that the capsule is perfect." Gus exclaimed.

Throwing up his hands at him Deke retorted, "Listen Gus I know why you are saying that but the fact is it's not going to happen. I've already been ordered to make an alternate crew and I've picked Wally, Cernan, and Young."

"They won't go up before me Deke."

"They will if they are ordered Gus, it's their job," Deke replied.

Looking at his friend with an unusual certainty Gus came back, "No they won't. I've talked to them already. In fact I've also talked to Conrad, Scott, Borman, Lovell, Stafford, and pretty much every other astronaut in the corps that has been in space. They all stand by me in my decision and won't go up unless I go first. I'm going up but I won't just hop in Deke. I will inspect every rivet and every bit of solder in that damn thing and if anything isn't up to snuff I will not only not fly in it, I will quit on the spot and publicly denounce NASA for caring more about deadlines than the crew."

Deke was stunned by what Gus had just said, "Shit Gus do I have any say in what the fuck my astronauts do anymore?"

He simply replied, "Not this time Deke. I'm sorry that it had to come to this but I'm not letting another fire happen. For fucks sake Deke they left a damn wrench in the door!"

"You know I can fire you for coming in here and threatening the program like that right?"

"I do."

"What's to stop me from letting you go up on the next flight then taking you off of the rotation so you never go up again Gus?"

A bit somberly he answered, "Nothing Deke. In fact I won't even blame you if you do."

Angry at what just transpired Deke simply stated, "Get the fuck out of my office."

Silently Gus stepped out closing the door behind him. Deke was shaking with anger but he had to put that out of his mind for the moment. He needed to make some calls and explain to his bosses why Gus Grissom would be on the next flight. Despite how pissed he was at how Gus handled it Deke had to admit that there was some merit in what he said. If Gus was on the next launch then they would have to make sure it was perfect especially considering Gus's speech to congress about learning from their hubris. Deke just hoped that this thing didn't cost the two of them their friendship.


July 23, 1967, 4:54 AM. Baikonur Cosmodrome.

Vladimir Komarov was strapped into the middle seat of the brand new Soyuz launch vehicle. This new capsule was much roomier than the Voskhod he had previously flown in especially considering the additional space afforded by the orbital module Despite the additional three months of work done on the Soyuz Komarov was still unsure of the vehicle. While the laundry list of technical errors was substantially reduced he was still unsure of the complete reliability of the vehicle since it still had issues with bugs on certain subsystems.

At least his flight would be a bit less taxing than originally planned. He was supposed to rendezvous and take on a crew member from Soyuz 2 launched the next day but the RCS fuel line on that capsule had ruptured during a preflight test the week before and it was undergoing what could be up to three months of repairs.

Before he knew it, it was time for him to launch. The Soyuz booster was a step up from the one he had previously flown in, punching him into his seat more. He had to admit that it was a smoother and less bumpy ride if a bit more G inducing. A few short minutes later and he was in space ready to begin his flight.

~~~~

Vladimir cursed as he flipped switch after switch on the control panel attempting to deploy his second solar array. While he could still do some experiments with just one working, his ship was starved of power. Further complicating matters was the automatic stabilization and orientation system intended to keep his craft pointed at the sun was malfunctioning.

After his 31st orbit the automatic system completely failed causing him to rely on the manual system. Due to this and other technical problems with the Soyuz his mission was cut short and on his 36th orbit he ignited his retrorockets and reentered the atmosphere.

The descent was much less forceful in the Soyuz than the ballistic reentry of the Voskhod. When it came time for his parachute to open it got tangled up in the drogue chute rendering it useless. He then cut the main and activated the backup chute. Unfortunately when the drogue that deployed his backup was released it slightly tore his parachute making his descent faster than planned. Luckily the retrorockets would slow him down enough to have a rough but safe landing.

Unfortunately for Komarov the retrorockets fired 200 feet above the ground instead of just a few feet as planned. As a result his descent capsule impacted the ground at nearly 30 miles per hour. Upon checkout at the hospital he was found to have broken over a half dozen bones and have some internal bleeding. Although not fatal injuries he would be taken off the flight roster indefinitely.

This blow was felt by the soviet space program with the knowledge that this incident would slow down the pace they were going at. With the hiatus needed to check out and redesign the Soyuz to ensure that the problems Komarov experienced would not resurface having the potential to take almost a year, the dream of beating the Americans to the moon was slipping further away.

However Sergei Korolev was not going to just sit down and give up. He was finalizing the design of a massive 27 ton space station to be completed by the end of 1969. It was to be launched on the N2, a launch vehicle composed of the upper 2 stages of the N1 capable of lofting nearly 29 tons into orbit. Best of all it would be ready for flight a year before the whole N1 due to the complicated and massive first stage allowing the only untested component of the N1 be the first stage. The Americans may run about in the dust of the moon first but the Soviets would be the first to colonize Earth Orbit. The Chief Designer would make sure of that.




Thanks to those that replied to my question about Vietnam. It's certainly given me some ideas on what to do with that debacle. Anyways I wanted to get this update up before the weekend was out since my updates will likely take more time to complete next week.
 
Part 3: What Comes Next

January 25, 1968, 10:49AM. Apollo CSM training mockup.

Gus Grissom was seated in his crew couch as they went through a simulated flight in the Apollo Block II simulator . Sitting next to him in khakis and a stripped polo shirt was Donn Eisele in place of Rodger Chaffee. Chaffee's burns were healing well but he was far from flight status. Although he was walking fine there were still many tests that he needed to go through in order to recertify him for spaceflight in addition to making sure he had made a full recovery. Gus didn't think that Rodger would have a problem coming back to the corps, he was a determined and excellent man.

From what Gus could tell Donn seemed to be a stand up guy if a bit cold. Some of that he suspected was from him feeling out of place. Donn had been training in the backup crew with Wally before the fire happened and was used to that group. Since Gus had forced Deke into keeping him and Ed on the first Apollo flight Donn had been bumped up to fill in for Rodger. As much as he tried to welcome him in Grissom knew that he would be comparing him to Rodger who was always such a warm and charming person. It was nothing against Eisele, Chaffee was just a difficult man to replace.

In addition to safety changes made to the block II capsule there were also a few cosmetic changes like the new layout of the control panels that the astronauts had to get used to. While sitting inside the capsule on Earth it was quite cramped Gus knew that in space it would be much roomier. They were certainly thankful for that since the previous US capsules had been pretty much just a seat with walls around it. Now they could move around and float about unencumbered by a spacesuit for the first time.

Since they were losing over a year to redesign the Apollo capsule the schedules were going to be quite tight for the foreseeable future. Apollo 3 was the first test of the Saturn V and had performed excellently when it was launched on October 29, 1967. Likewise Apollo 4 which tested out the Lunar Module unmanned in Earth orbit had a few hitches but overall was a resounding success when it occurred, just a little over two weeks ago. The second test of the Saturn V moon rocket was scheduled for March 1 and Grissom, White, and Eisele would blast off on June 12, assuming the block II CSM was ready in time.

~~~~

Charles Mathews' Office.

The fire had pushed the agency to focus on safety and efficiency while at the same time pursuing its main goal of reaching the moon by the end of the decade. As a result all programs not directly correlated to putting a man on the moon were labeled as second priority. This was extremely frustrating for Apollo Applications Program Director Charles Mathews. When the press conference was held discussing the program in 1967 NASA was full steam ahead with it. They even said that there was no reason that Apollo flights and AAP flights couldn't occur simultaneously.

But now that the Apollo moon landings were delayed by over a year and how they went over every bulkhead on every rocket with a fine toothed comb they suddenly had the manpower for only one program. Thus Apollo Applications would have to wait until at least the first moon landing to even get off of the ground. Under the original schedule they would be prepping a lunar module derived Apollo Telescope Mount for solar observation and gearing a SIV-B hydrogen tank to support a crew as an impromptu space station in late 1968. This wet workshop design based on using a spent upper stage outfitted in orbit to be America's first space station would be economical and quick.

Congress had slashed the requested funding for AAP in the fiscal year of 1968 from 454.7 million requested to only 250 million which only allowed for modest preparations to begin. The most impactful thing that seemed to be occurring was the production of launch vehicles. While Mathews was attempting to convince NASA to buy more Saturn IBs to facilitate AAP missions during the mid 1970s it was beginning to look like they would complete the planned buy of 16 then shut down the production lines. If this occurred then Mathews would be in charge of a program with a limited and finite number of missions.

By his reasoning there would be only 8 or 9 Saturn IBs left over after the Apollo Program. Each wet-workshop space station required a dedicated Saturn IB to launch it, as did the Apollo Telescope Mount or ATM. Under the best circumstances he would get one space station, one ATM, and seven missions to utilize them. If they were required to launch a second station or ATM in the event of a failure then they would have one less mission with which to explore orbital space and advance scientific progress.

The next generation space vehicle after Apollo had not been chosen yet but there were murmurs of a reusable space plane being pushed around the higher ups of NASA. If that was true then maybe AAP had hope. They could launch as space station and crew it sparingly for a few years to keep the personnel trained and keep a Saturn IB in reserve to launch a second space station in the mid 70's to be visited and crewed with that reusable vehicle. Since he wouldn't have to worry about a limited number of missions as each plane and launcher would be available for dozens of missions then the station could be constantly crewed for years.

While the present was looking tough Charlie just had to get his project through the next few hurdles. Once he made his plea to management and it was clear that the US would land on the moon he would certainly be able to get them to extend the buy of Saturn IBs to facilitate AAP until their space plane came into service. Though it wasn't easy now Charles Mathews had high hopes for the future.

~~~~​

Chief Designer Sergei Korolev's Office.

Looking over the final weights of every component over and over Sergei came to an unwanted realization, they were too heavy. His N1 rocket could loft 80 tons into orbit but even that beast would not be able to carry the L3 expedition complex in one go. They had done everything possible to reduce weight and increase thrust but it was to no avail. Anything short of adding more engines to the first stage would be useless and with 24 engines already there to contend with adding more would overcomplicate an already severely complicated system of piping and turbo pumps.

The Best that they could do was a 1.5 launch scenario which would cost about 2/3 of what a dual launch would. In that scenario an N2 launcher would send the LK lander into lunar orbit to be followed by a crew launched on an N1. While not what the politburo had wanted it would be what they would have to settle for. The N1 simply was not up to the task, as was to be expected seeing that the rocket had been originally designed to launch massive space stations into LEO, not sending men to the moon. When he had taken his leave of absence to treat his cancer a dual launch profile was advocated. When he returned he found that Mishin had made the promise that they could go to the moon with a single rocket like the Americans.

As much as he hated to admit it, it had to be said that while Vasily Mishin was an excellent right hand man he turned out to be an unsatisfactory leader. While he was in good health now Sergei knew that he would not be around forever and needed to leave this Earth with a resilient and visionary protégé to take his place.

He had been looking over the personnel files of several promising young engineers and designers for the last few months trying to find the one that clicked with him as the man to carry on his legacy. So far he had found only one that seemed to have the creativity and the vision to thrive in the difficult climate of the Soviet space Program. He was Artyom Leskov, a 36 year old engineer that had worked on the R-7 rocket and was currently working on Korolev's N2. As a test Sergei had pulled some strings and gotten him placed in charge of the N2's second stage that would also serve as the N1's third.

Artyom did not know it but he was auditioning for the highest position in the soviet space program. It was no simple task to be completed either as the Block V stage not only had to function correctly but it also housed the electronic brains of the entire rocket. He had already shown initiative and made a bold move when he informed the chief designer, a man who was legendary and one that he had never met, that the Block V would be delayed for several months as the guidance system would be reworked. According to him the KORD system was prone to faults and was unable to adapt quickly to rapidly changing circumstances.

Sergei was impressed by this initiative and thankful of it. He had been so busy with making sure that the physical components of the rocket were performing that had had taken no heed to the computerized ones. If the control system wasn't up to snuff then the whole rocket would be of little use. Already Leskov was shaping up to be a competent leader. But the real test would be whether his gamble to delay the N2 to correct its guidance system would pay off. Under the new schedule the first launch was to take place in the beginning of August. If all was successful with that launch then Artyom would have a promising future, if not then Korolev might have to just continue looking for his successor.
 
Part 4: Go for Liftoff

June 12, 1968, 9:45AM. Cape Canaveral Launch Complex 34, Apollo 6 CSM.

Ed White, Donn Eisele, and Gus Grissom were strapped into their seats and prepared for launch. They had been carted over to the daunting Saturn IB rocket a little over two hours before. They had each taken a moment to gaze up at the imposing black and white spire as it vented foggy streams of liquid oxygen before continuing on to the elevator that took them to the top of the Saturn.

They were about to experience a seldom known adventure, the testing of a never before flown vehicle. While the Block II was extensively tested on the ground, and Gus and Ed were able to enter it without trepidation like they had for the Apollo 1 capsule, this would still be the first manned test of the vehicle that would carry men to the moon.

This would be Donn's first spaceflight. Although he acted in a completely professional manner both of his veteran crewmates noticed the tell-tale signs of excitement and nervousness common among rookie astronauts. In fact the only person that they knew who was not nervous their first time going into space was John Young, that man could stay calm if a tornado was whipping him around in the air.

This would be Ed's second flight and the first that he undertook after becoming America's first spacewalker. He was looking forward to the more spacious interior of the Apollo capsule. Even more he was excited to see how much more of a punch that the Saturn IB would give him when compared to the Titan II which was miniscule in comparison.

Gus Grissom would be making spaceflight history by being the first Human to be launched into space three times in addition to being the first astronaut to fly in Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo. He would also hold the distinction of being the only person on the maiden flights of two different space vehicles, Gemini and Apollo. But Gus wasn't concerned with breaking records or making history, he merely wanted to successfully complete the mission and bring his crew home safely. As soon as the capsule that they would be riding in arrived at the Cape Gus got to work inspecting it and going over every system available. They had done extensive ground testing of the capsule and had practiced emergency egress procedures fully suited over a dozen times. Gus would not let another accident endanger his crew again, the scars on his leg reminded him of that every day.

The crew had finished doing their preflight preparations and checklists and were waiting for mission control to finish their own preflight checkout of the vehicle. The astronauts knew to expect delays in launch but as each communication received indicated positive they soon began to realize that for once the launch would occur on time.

"Apollo 6 this is Capcom 15 minutes remaining and we are still go for launch."

"Capcom to Apollo 6, 10 minutes remaining until launch. The weather is favorable and the winds are extremely mild."

"Apollo 6 Capcom, 5 minutes remaining in the countdown."

"Apollo 6 one minute remaining and we are go for launch. Prepare for ignition sequence start."

"30 seconds Apollo 6."

"10... 9... 8... 7... 6... 5... 4..."

At this point an enormous roar came from below the Saturn IB rocket as the 8 H-1 engines came to life and began vibrating the rocket with tremendous force. The three astronauts were shaking in their seats as the engines throttled up to their full power.

"Engine start... 2... 1, and we have liftoff!"

The three men being lifted into the crisp summer sky above tons of fuel and oxidizer were shaking like crazy in their seats as the rocket slowly lumbered into the sky. The massive belching trail of orange flame followed them as they rose higher clearing the tower and rocketing off. Gus had his hand in place and ready to pull the abort handle if anything went amiss during the several minutes that it took them to ascend into the heavens. But as each minute passed and they became closer and closer to their goal his grip loosened a tiny bit more although his hand never left the handle until the second stage J-2 engine cut off and they were in a 225km by 309km low Earth orbit.

Once there they separated the Apollo CSM from the S-IVB upper stage and began the inaugural flight of the Apollo program. For the next 12 days they would test out every major system on the spacecraft and inspect it. The first thing that they did was extricate themselves from their launch suits and get more comfortable with the white flight suits that they would wear for the majority of the trip. This was a welcome change from the previous capsules which had no room to change in and the astronauts were stuck in the stiff and uncomfortable launch suits for days or weeks at a time.

Also new was improved food now having rehydratable food and both hot and cold water to hydrate it with. Unlike the meager space afforded in Mercury and Gemini the new capsule was large enough to not only move around in but also get sick in. Both Gus Grissom and Donn Eisele experienced some space sickness akin to motion sickness that went away over the course of the first few days as they adapted to the space environment.

Despite a rushed schedule and frequent changes to the flight plan the crew went above and beyond the call of duty. They accomplished every major task assigned to them and even finished a few hours early. For the first time in NASA history the astronauts had free time in space. There was talk in mission control of either bringing them home early or sending them a few more experiments to run but in the end Deke Slayton talked to the flight director and convinced him to give those three hours to the astronauts.

While he had been limited to getting a few fleeting glances in between working Donn could now stare amazed at the Earth rolling beneath him. It was a magnificent and unprecedented sight. As he gazed out of the window Ed and Gus chatted by the crew couches as they went over the instruments and gauges ensuring everything was ready for reentry. They had without a word decided among themselves to complete as much of the work as possible before calling on Eisele so that he could savor his first taste of spaceflight.

"Can you believe it's almost over Gus? 12 days gone."

Gus grinned at Ed as he replied, "Never seems long enough does it. My first flight was 15 minutes total and only about 5 minutes of that was space. In a way it was worse than not going at all because it gave me such a slight taste of it then took it away before I even registered what happened. Then on Gemini 3 I was up there with John for close to five hours but we were so busy checking everything out on the capsule since it was brand new that I hardly had any time to enjoy the experience. But now, I've slept in space and woken up in it. I've gazed out into the heavens and below onto the Earth. In a way I've spent a lifetime above the Earth watching over humanity as we pass but in another way I have just taken a stroll into the stars."

Ed nodded in agreement as he said, "I don't know how you did it but somehow you summed up my exact thoughts."

Cheekily Gus replied, "It's because I am Commander, the position lets me get inside your head so I can tell you what to think."

"Sure thing Commander. By the way while you're on your soapbox why don't you tell me what it's like to no longer be a midget," Ed fired back playfully at him.

The time moved by so slowly from moment to moment as they experienced the Earth floating by at over 17,000 miles per hour yet before they knew it their surface observation was over. It was time to suit up and ready the Apollo capsule for reentry. 12 days and 9 hours after liftoff the crew of Apollo 6 was safe and sound on the Navy recovery vessel as they were treated to a hero's welcome.





June 30, 1968, 4:37PM. Deke Slayton's Office.


Gus walked into Deke's office reserved and ready. He knew what was coming and he was prepared for it. When he walked in his boss motioned for him to sit across from him at his desk.

"That was quite a flight there Gus. As successful as it was management is still really pissed about the position that you put them in," Deke said staring at his former Mercury crewmate.

"I get that Deke. I really do. While I'm here I want to thank you for getting Chris to keep us up there for those extra hours. For the first time I got to really take in space and if that was my last flight then you made it end on a high note," Grissom said thankful for his friend, "And know that I don't blame you for what you have to do."

Deke Slayton picked up a piece of paper and said to Gus, "This came in right after you guys splashed down and I've been trying to figure out the best time to talk to you about it..." Taking a moment he looked up from the paper to his friend and continued, "Gus they told me to fire you. They asked that you announce it as your retirement from NASA so it doesn't cause a buzz in the papers."

Grissom nodded his head at his friend understanding.

"But before you do that Gus can I ask you a question?"

"Of course you can Deke."

Leaning forwards and looking him in the eyes Deke asked, "Was it worth it Gus?"

With a slight smile briefly covering the pain Gus replied simply, "Yes. It was, and not because I got to spend an extra few hours staring at the Earth but because I trust that Apollo capsule to carry my friends and my brothers and bring them back safely."

Shaking his head in admiration Slayton asked him one more question, "Gus how would you like to go to the Moon?"

Confused Grissom asked him, "What do you mean Deke? I thought that you were ordered to fire me?"

With a sly smile on his face Deke said, "They did. But I said fuck it and told them that I wanted you as my pick for the first man on the moon and boy are they not happy about that."

With a grin overtaking his face Gus answered his friend, "In that case Deke I would like very much to go to the moon."
 
Sucks for Neil Armstrong that he is no longer going to be first man on the moon
Yes that true, but original plan was that Mercury team got first seat for First Moon landing
but in OTL thing went another way

Deke Slayton grounded in 1962 do irregular heart rhythm, got flight status only in 1972 and flew in Apollo Soyuz Test Program.
Wally Schirra, quit NASA after Problematic mission of Apollo 7 in 1968
Virgil Gus Grissom, died in Apollo one fire in 1967
John Glenn, got flight status removed after Mercury Atlas 6 flight, because to important Hero figure, quit NASA, enter Politic flew later with Space Shuttle in STS-95.
Scott Carpenter, got grounded after Problematic Mercury Atlas 7 flight, quit NASA in 1967.
Gordon Cooper, made flight with Gemini 5 after that end up as Backup crew for Apollo 10 and planned for Commander for Apollo 14 but that got Alan Shepard, Cooper disappointed quit NASA.
Alan Shepard, got the Ménière's disease in 1963, Flight status back in 1970 and flew Apollo 14.

Here in this TL Virgil Gus Grissom survive Apollo AS-204 fire and stay in race while Wally Schirra remains in Backup crew for Grissom
 
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