Across the high frontier: a Big Gemini space TL

Discussion in 'Alternate History Discussion: After 1900' started by Archibald, Sep 8, 2015.

  1. Threadmarks: Introduction

    Archibald space jockey ! Banned

    Jan 22, 2008

    Most of you are familiar with the 1969 recommendations of the Space Task Group that the U.S. accept a post-Apollo goal of manned planetary exploration before the end of the century (…) What if, instead of rejecting that report out of hand in the aftermath of Apollo, Nixon said, “Yes, we’ll do that.” What might have happened? There is a fascinating book called by British engineer Stephen Baxter that starts with exactly this premise. The novel describes the first mission to Mars in the 1980s! It’s a very enjoyable piece of counterfactual history.”

    NASA historian John Logsdon, 2001

    Most of NASA’s budget had been sucked into manned spaceflight. Unmanned projects had been subordinated to the needs of the Mars mission or cut altogether. They had lost a gravity-assist flight to Venus and Mercury, asteroid and comet encounters, Grand Tour probes to the outer planets. The Large Space Telescope, a big Earth-orbital eye, had also been axed.
    Sure, humans were on the way to Mars. But humanity knew nothing of the rest of the Solar System it hadn’t known in 1957: the moon of Jupiter and Saturn remained points of light in the sky, the disks and rings of the giant worlds a telescopic blur.”

    Stephen Baxter, Voyage
    Last edited: Aug 1, 2017
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  2. Archibald space jockey ! Banned

    Jan 22, 2008
    Explorers: ad astra

    What is it ?
    A huge space TL - an utopia rather than a dystopia. I hate dystopias)

    It fill 1400 pages of a WORD file and truth be told, I'm still adding things (!). It is a never-ending project, so there might be retcon or reboots along the way.

    My models
    - Eyes Turned Skywards, obviously. The premises are very similar, but the overall tone is markedly different.
    - Astrodragon The Whale has wings
    - Pdf27 A blunted sickle,
    - Drew masterpiece: Fear, Loathing and Gumbo / Rumselfeldia.

    I've been working on that TL since February 2008 - seven years and a half. Coincidentally, I started it at the very moment I joined this forum. There remain a early, raw variant of that TL, buried deep in the depths of the post-1900 section.

    Since then it has matured a lot.

    I did an immense amount of research, cramming my HD with all kind of space Pdfs from NASA NTRS and elsewhere.

    I hesitated for a very long time before publishing it on this board. Today I feel the day has come.

    Eyes Turned Skywards was notable by Nixonhead wonderful artwork, but also by the mission patches. That, and they even got an Orbiter addon.

    I really, really wish to have similar things happening for my TL someday. It would be a wonderful accomplishment.

    Michel Van, Nixonhead, I need your superb skills !! I want mission patches !!
    Last edited: Feb 13, 2017
  3. Threadmarks: martian fantasy

    Archibald space jockey ! Banned

    Jan 22, 2008
    martian fantasy

    (note: the concept of living martians is obviously ASB. It was only a trick for toying with Mars perihelic oppositions across the 20th century)

    "Mars had rendezvous with Earth. The blind game of celestial mechanics carried the planets in orbit around the Sun. A long time before, Kepler had demonstrated that planets orbited their mother stars at different speeds; the farther the slower.

    Mars orbited the Sun in 687 days, twice as much as the most immediate inner planet, a blue marble. From times to times, the red globe and the blue planet got very close – 55 million kilometres at best. That was called perihelic oppositions, and happened on a regular cycle of fifteen (sometimes seventeen) years.

    As astronomy progressed in the eighteen and nineteen centuries, Mars perihelic oppositions grew in importance. Ground based telescopes were pushed to their limits; photographs showed a pale, ocher disk with some discernible features such as a black, triangular scar: Syrtis Major.

    Had an advanced Martian civilization ever existed, understood human calendars, and observed Earth during perihelic oppositions, that civilization would have had mixed feelings. For centuries it looked like nothing moved; humans were focused on Earth-bound worries – plagues, wars, political struggles, revolutions.

    Then, at the end of the nineteenth century, Earth inhabitants slowly progressed toward the sky.
    There was a good reason for that.
    The Earth was a pretty massive planet, and in turn this meant a deep gravity well. The deep gravity well made orbit from the surface, and escape, damn difficult.
    Very ironically, Mars being much less massive its gravity well was much less deeper, and reaching from the red planet surface was easier.

    The amount of energy to reach space was called the delta-V, expressed in kilometer per second. To put things into perspective, top speed of the fastest aircraft ever build on planet Earth, the SR-71 Blackbird, was a single kilometer per second - three thousand and six hundred kilometer per hour.
    Orbital speed however was seven kilometer per second - seven time more., or worse, because the rocket equation featured a logarithm that made things even harder.

    That was, in itself, a daring challenge. On top of that was a thick atmosphere entailing a lot of drag and two more kilometer per second, up to nine time the SR-71 speed ! Only rockets achieved the feat, but they paid a high cost to it. The expense of energy to climb at the edge of Earth gravity well was so large that the mass of propellant to burn was just overwhelming.

    Early in the history of spaceflight it had been calculated that a rocket build as a single, monolithic vehicle would have to be 92% of propellants by itself. The 8% that remain would have to be, well, the rocket itself - the tanks around the propellants, and the rocket around the tanks - including the engines, guidance system, structure and, obviously, the payload to be sent to orbit ! That in itself explained why rockets staged.

    The optimal number of stages had been found to be three, so three stages would be crammed with propellants, stacked one above each other, and fired in sequence. Its propellant exhausted the stage would be casted off, falling back to Earth. The higher and the fastest the stage separated, the harder it hit Earth thick atmosphere.
    Needless to say, destruction usually followed; bringing the stages back to Earth surface for reuse would have been theorically feasible, but it added immense costs and complexity.
    So the big rockets usually destroyed themselves to place a tiny payload into orbit. The only way for stage reuse to make sense, cost wise, was to launch a lot, and there was hardly enough satellites to justify higher flight rates...

    The August 4, 1892 perihelic opposition showed the Martians humans vain efforts to left the ground - Lilienthal gliders, Ader and Maxim steam-powered unworkable machines.

    Seventeen years passed, then September 24, 1909 brought another opposition. Humans had not progressed much, still flying in small hops.

    Fifteen years later, in 1924 the Martians found the blue marble in a state of distress. There had been some god awful war, killing millions.

    Next opposition, August 24 1939, was no better. It looked as if the humans were on the bring of another, even more deadly war. More advanced aircrafts were flying, but humans had yet to make their first leap into space.

    Mars came close again on September 10, 1956 and the Martians were startled. This time there were rockets, plenty of them, although primitive. Scanning of Earth near-space showed nothing, but ten day later the observers were given an interesting show. They saw a rocket climbing to near orbital speed, and caught a name they would be familiar with in the next future: Wernher von Braun.

    That night at the Cape Mars glowed bright orange-red in Florida sky. Ten days before the faster Earth had overtaken Mars and now raced ahead. Wernher Von Braun looked at Mars with mixed feelings.
    Today had been a baby step in the direction of new worlds. But the fourth stage of the rocket had been filled with sand, not propellant, because the Navy Project Vanguard had priority over the Army for which von Braun teams worked.

    Nothing could have prepared the Martians to what happened before the next perihelic opposition. The Martians did not expected any news from Earth before that date, but the terrans were apparently progressing faster and faster.

    Soon robots started to rain, most of them dead – humans still had to learn building durable electronics. In 1965, however, an Earth robot reached Mars in working state, and snapped some photos. Other robots overflew the planet on regular occasions, bigger and better ones. And in the late 60’s Mars yet again closed from Earth, closer and closer until August 10, 1971.

    For a long time now the Martians had learned about Earth rocket launches, counting successes and failures, the proportion between the two rapidly inverting as humans progressed.
    The Martians first scanned Earth orbit, and found it populated by hundred of robots, a marking contrast with 1956. They watched humans timid steps in outer space, to Earth huge satellite they called the Moon.
    The Martians caught again the name of von Braun, and were excited by what they found.
    By contrast with 1956 and its near-orbital attempts the man was now building the immense rockets that carried men to Earth satellite. Going back to 1969, they found that plans had been discussed to send men farther – to their planet !
    So they prepared for the invasion, and calculated the next oppositions. There would be two close-up, in 1986 and 1988. And the next one, in 2003, would be the closest ever since 60 000 years. So from 1971 onwards the Martians patiently waited for the invasion. Because they were so much advanced than humans they had nothing to fear, no anger nor resent. They were just waiting…"
    Last edited: Feb 13, 2017
  4. Insider 9/11 wasn't mine job Banned

    May 23, 2014
    I must say...

  5. Archibald space jockey ! Banned

    Jan 22, 2008
    I'm haunted by Stephen Baxter Voyage novel. To me it repair an historical injustice - that NASA didn't go to Mars after Apollo. Someone had to tell that story, and Baxter did it brilliantly. I have the novel on my desk near my computer; I read it like a bible, one page chosen randomly.
    Last edited: Sep 8, 2015
  6. Mr.E The Man that Time Forgot

    Aug 2, 2012
    The Mountainous Democratic Republic of Colorado
    Yeah, I love that book too. In fact, I did a review of it once.

    Anyway, very interesting TL. Is the premise the same as Voyage, or is it closer to Eyes turned Skywards in terms of POD?
  7. Dathi THorfinnsson Daði Þorfinnsson

    Apr 13, 2007
    Syracuse, Haudenosaunee, Vinland
    Just ordered that book from my local library system.

    Let's see where this TL goes!
  8. RanulfC Well-Known Member

    Mar 11, 2014
    You all DID notice that "Voyage" pretty much showed that Mars was going to be the end and if we were VERY lucky we might still have something to do in orbit. Unfortunately the architecture that would be "left over" was pretty much useless for such efforts. Far to expensive and wasteful to be continued.

    The thing was it was the architecture as ONLY capable of being used to get to Mars and was NOT capable of being used to forward the STG plan. Overall the more I read Voyage the more depressed I got.

    I'm hoping Archibald can managed to make this plausible in the way "Voyage" was not.

  9. Bahamut-255 Space Lover

    Jul 28, 2010
    In some ways, Voyage showed the similarity between Apollo-Saturn and Ares.

    Both used LVs and Craft dedicated to their mission, and were in fact exceptionally well-suited to the task - at the penalty of being ill-suited to other operations, which in turn left NASA (IMHO) with a lot of issues with working out not only where to go next, but just how they were going to do it.

    One reason why I don't like Voyage as much as I used to.
  10. Michel Van Well-Known Member

    Jul 11, 2007
    Liege Belgium Europe
    I'm excited about Archibald new TL

    with 1400 pages, it's a Magnus Opus even for this forum !
    for moment i busy with SpaceGeek 2001: A Space-Time Odyssey. on it 1970s hardware, budget question and mission architecture for 1980s
  11. TFSmith121 War is the remedy that our enemies have chosen ... Banned

    Nov 11, 2013
    21st Century AD
    To the author:

    Where'd you find the cover art?

    Nice start, by the way.

  12. Archibald space jockey ! Banned

    Jan 22, 2008
    The covert art is an illustration of an OTL, 1975 space station project, one of the first NASA studied after starting the shuttle. The very first project in a line that resulted in the ISS two decades later.

    Here it is

    I've just "cleaned up" the shuttle, just like Staline did of his opponents :D

    Unfortunately my drawing skills are none existing. It's a great frustration, because I have lot of ITTL colored pictures in my mind, but I'm unable to draw them. When I saw Nixonhead renderings for ETS three years ago I was just stunned. I really, really want something similar for this TL.
    Last edited: Sep 9, 2015
  13. Archibald space jockey ! Banned

    Jan 22, 2008
    January 27, 1967 : the Apollo fire
    January 5, 1972: Nixon decision to start the space shuttle.
    That's exactly five years.

    All my space TLs are bounded by these two dates. I don't like changing Apollo, and after 1972 the shuttle was a train wreck no one managed to stop. Even Mondale as Vice President couldn't do it.

    Well, those five years are fascinating. Within the span of these years it looked as if everything could happen.
    NASA future was being decided.
    OTL result was the flawed shuttle
    Eyes Turned Skywards picked up a space station
    Voyage chose Mars

    Baxter is quite the pessimist, even in Voyage.

    My feeling about the post-Voyage universe is that NASA managed to recycle MEMs as lunar landers, eventually building a lunar base by the end of the century.
    This lunar base is to Mars what Apollo is to the ISS: a leap backward everybody dislike.

    Voyage-TL people mourn Mars and hate the lunar base just like OTL people mourn Apollo and hate the ISS. :p
    Last edited: Sep 9, 2015
  14. Michel Van Well-Known Member

    Jul 11, 2007
    Liege Belgium Europe
    That is the "Manned Orbiting Facility" a McDonnell Douglas/NASA Study 1974

    SpaceGeek and I play also with this in 2001: A Space-Time Odyssey
    but here the soviets manage to land First on moon with Vladimir Komarov, 16 day before Apollo 11 lands.
    and that was series of "US is Second in space race" so this time Nixon goes full throttle for NASA, in hope to beat the Soviets in space...
    Last edited: Sep 9, 2015
  15. Threadmarks: Apollo 8 - part 1

    Archibald space jockey ! Banned

    Jan 22, 2008
    The Apollo 8 decision, August 1968

    Friday August 9, 1968


    The truth hit Judy Wyatt like an evidence. She already knew. She knew it all the time. She had been a silent witness of history.

    That day the clock marked 8:45 in the morning when George Low, head of the Apollo program office left his suite, a large paneled office with space for a conference table and windows looking out over Clear Lake to the east of the Manned Spacecraft Center, Houston, Texas.

    Houston was at the heart of NASA and the Apollo program; and between flights, Houston center of gravity was there, Building 2, the nine-story headquarters building at the south end of the complex. The higher the floor, the higher the position.

    Thus when George Low had became top manager of the Apollo Office, taking a demotion from his old position as deputy director of the center, his office shifted from the top floor, the ninth, down to the seventh. And he had the best team of secretaries with him – Marylin Bockting and Judy Wyatt and many others. It was the same as with any large business - the bosses came and went, but the good executive secretaries lasted forever.

    Marylin Bockting had held her secretarial job at the Manned Spaceflight Center for many years, had served plenty of NASA managers, and if the truth were known she probably had as good a feel for what was going on within the Apollo program as did engineers in the adjacent office.
    "There had been a lot of 007s over the last weeks," Wyatt said. "so I knew that something important was bound to happen. But you knew the exact details all the time !"
    Marylin Bockting just smiled. The so-called 007s were internal memos shrouded in secrecy. Only George Low and his secretary would know the contains.

    Perhaps one day I will reveal the exact process by what the first men went around the Moon. I could add that my boss George Low was a James Bond fan. I felt like Monneypenny, destroying classified memos that shall never leak to the outside world.

    "Yes, they want to go the Moon as soon as possible, Judy. Perhaps you already know that from the 007s Low and Kraft and Slayton exchanged over the last three months. What's new is that the mission will happen earlier, before the end of this year, and without any lunar module, since the thing's not ready."

    Meanwhile George Low walked from his office up the two flights of stairs to Bob Gilruth' s office. This is probably the most important day of my life Low thought as he shook hand of Gilruth. They briefly spoke behind closed doors. Low and Robert Gilruth then met with director of flight operations Chris Kraft. And Low dropped the bombshell.
    "Gentleman, we should turn Apollo 8 into a lunar orbit mission. It’s now or never." To this point Apollo 8 had been an Earth orbit mission. NASA was still recovering from the fire that had killed astronauts White, Chaffee and Grissom a day of January 1967.
    Gilruth was highly enthusiastic. So was Kraft.
    At 9:30 a.m. Low, Gilruth and Kraft met astronaut boss Donald “Deke” Slayton, and they unanimously decided to seek support from legendary Wernher von Braun and Apollo Program Director Samuel Phillips. From there the news spread; all across the United States phones were ringing, with secretaries handling the communications.
    Gilruth called von Braun and, after briefly outlining the plan, asked if they could meet in Huntsville, Alabama, that afternoon.
    Low called Phillips, who was at the Kennedy Spaceflight Center, Florida, and asked whether he and KSC Director Kurt Debus could participate in the meeting.
    And on, and on, all across the American nation.

    The meeting was set up for 2:30.

    Five hours later, Low entered Marshall Spaceflight Center auditorium. Key people in the Apollo program were all there. They were Werner Von Braun, Eberhard Rees, Lee James, Ludie Richard, Sam Phillips and George Hage, Kurt Debus and Rocco Petrone, Gilruth, Kraft, Slayton - for seven years these men had devoted their lives to Kennedy great endeavour, landing a man on the Moon before the decade was out.

    George Low opened the meeting.
    "Yes, we can fly a lunar orbit mission within six months. The hardware is ready. This is technically feasible if Apollo 7 proves successful. If not, well, Apollo 8 will simply orbit Earth as planned. Chris ?"
    Kraft said "I'm with George. Let me insist on the fact that we have to orbit the moon, not simply flyby it. This way we strengthen the case for a lunar Apollo 8; the crew will snap pictures of future landing sites for a day. Sam, a word about Kennedy Space Center ?"
    Sam Phillips "I'm go. I can't see any obstacle to launch before December 1"
    Neither Marshall engineers found any difficulties.
    Then Bob Gilruth just said " I'm go, to. We only need to look at the differences between spacecraft 103 and 106 and find a substitute for the Lunar Module. A big ballast heavy enough to reassure the Saturn guidance system."
    A ballast ?” George Low asked
    Yeah, we need a mass close enough from a Lunar Module. The lunar module weights 15 tons and stands at the tip of the 300 feet long Saturn. With the pogo that happened with AS-502, we have to be careful with the rocket weight balance. So we need some ballast to be placed below the 30 tons, fully-fueled Apollo CSM.”
    Ok.” All of suden George Low had an idea. An idea that was straight out of a James Bond movie he was fan of. Surely, there were all kind of uninteresting ballasts and dummy Lunar Modules to be carried by AS-503. But...
    Low focused his attention back on the meeting and concluded it
    "So technically we are go. Next step is to convince top management. Unfortunately, at this crucial moment our top management is on leave. Indeed you all know that George Mueller and Jim Webb are on their way to the UNISPACE conference in Vienna, with a stopover in London. They are out for the next two weeks !"

    Mueller was head of NASA manned spaceflight office, while Webb was the agency top Administrator. Present this day was Thomas Paine, the second highest ranking manager or Deputy Administrator.

    And Paine was enthusiast.
    "Today Mueller and Webb attend a meeting of the British Interplanetary Society in London. After that they will go to the UNISPACE 1 conference in Vienna, staying there for a week or so. We can't wait for them to return; the agenda is too tight. I suggest we ask them straight, then that we meet a second time in Washington next week to discuss the result. August 14 would then be decision day. Sam ?"
    Sam Philips answered "Well, if we agree I will then go to Vienna and discuss the plan with them."
    Low day was not over. He had another meeting later in the evening - to find a ballast to be substituted to the Lunar Module and ensure North American Apollo moonship was ready. A ballast ? – he was haunted with a truly outlandish idea - but he had to check first whether that was feasible or not.

    As far as he knew, the vehicle Low had in mind had been tantalizingly close to flight capability when it was canceled the year before. At that time, two of the planned five flight units were close to completion. In fact, the first unit was to begin vibration/acoustic testing at the Manned Spaceflight Center in Houston on September 15, 1967. Low knew they were in storage – they had not been destroyed, not yet.

    George M. Low
    Last edited: Feb 13, 2017
  16. Bahamut-255 Space Lover

    Jul 28, 2010
    All that 'back-door' activity, it does make me wonder just how much was done through such channels.

    As for the Ballast? That I have to see.
  17. Dathi THorfinnsson Daði Þorfinnsson

    Apr 13, 2007
    Syracuse, Haudenosaunee, Vinland
    Hmm... James Bond, what's he most famous for? Womanizing!

    Clearly, the ballast will be a small hab in which Marilyn and Judy travel, while the Astronauts ride in the CM. :):p

    Wrong word. "Avalanche", perhaps?
  18. Archibald space jockey ! Banned

    Jan 22, 2008
    Avalanche if you like it. English not my native language, and quite inevitably over 1400 pages it shows at times. :p

    I'll tell you, its only a beginning. The James Bond franchise will be tweaked ITTL. Sci-fi movies will be impacted, too.
    Last edited: Sep 9, 2015
  19. Michel Van Well-Known Member

    Jul 11, 2007
    Liege Belgium Europe
    A little back note on Mueller and Webb attend a meeting of the British Interplanetary Society in London.
    After this meeting Arthur C. Clark took Mueller to a visit at Movie set of certain Stanley Kubrick production.
    and impressed George Mueller label the Kubrick Production office: NASA EAST

    Mueller is on right of picture
    Last edited: Sep 9, 2015
  20. Archibald space jockey ! Banned

    Jan 22, 2008
    Wow, thank you Michel. What a treasure.
    Mueller visiting 2001 set ? that's formidable.
    I remember that indeed Clarke was present that August 10, 1968 BIS meeting when Mueller revealed the space shuttle project to the world.
    Mueller certainly had a grand vision for the shuttle. But that very close connexion with 2001 is new to me.

    Michel, please don't hesitate to add cool things like this one to my TL. You seem to have a treasure trove on your computer. ;)

    Btw, George Mueller is still alive. Born in 1918, he is 97 years old !
    Last edited: Sep 11, 2015