AHC/WI: The Soviets Land On The Moon After The USA

Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to make it so that the Soviet Union lands on the moon after the United States in 1969, and to explain the ramifications of them doing so.
I have a lot of timelines either by alone or by group similar to your specifications in terms of goal laying around this board, but this time I'm in for a new shift by taking up the mantles of abandoned TL "The Stars Above: An Alternate Space Race".

1955: The planning for the upcoming International Geophysical Year was in full swing. President Eisenhower had just ordered the formation of a committee to decide on which proposal to fund for the IGY satellite project, as part of the United States' contribution to the international effort. Headed by Homer J. Stewart of JPL, the committee also held two representatives each from the Army, Navy, and Air Force, as well as two men selected by Assistant Secretary of Defense Donald Quarles: Joseph Kaplan, head of the American IGY committee, and William Pickering, the director of JPL. Out of the three proposals, Project Orbiter had been selected to launch America's first satellite.(This is the POD. OTL, Richard Porter got appointed instead of Pickering. The same Richard Porter who helped develop the Project Vanguard proposal in the first place. No wonder it got selected over Project Orbiter)

1956: On August 12th, after several test launches in the preceding months a Jupiter type rocket lofted Explorer I into space and into the history books.

1957: More Explorer satellites were launched and the Van Allen belt were discovered. NASA is formed while the Soviet Union launched a Sputnik I much bigger than OTL. Sputnik 2 were launched in November 3 carrying Laika the dog.

1958: Pioneer 1, 2 and 3 flew by the Moon and into heliocentric orbit, however the cameras failed to capture the image of lunar far side.

1959: Luna 1, 2 and 3 goes like OTL. NASA begins preparations for manned spaceflight program.

1961: Alan Shepard became the first man in space on March 24th, but however he was beaten by Yuri Gagarin into orbit on April 12th. After Kennedy made the pledge to go for the moon, the Soviet Union immediately responded in kind and approved the then secret N1 moon rocket project.

1962: John Glenn became the first American in orbit.

1963: Soviet cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman in space.

1964: Soviet's Zond 2 Mars probe succeeded TTL.

1965: Alexei Leonov conducts the first spacewalk.

1966: Irina Solovyova is the first woman to spacewalk in the Voskhod 4 mission.

1967: Soyuz 1 ended up successful, but Apollo 1 fire happened as OTL.

1968: Apollo 8, and Yuri Gagarin didn't die in the plane crash.

1969: On May 17th Vladimir Komarov and Victor Gorbatko became the first Soviet cosmonauts to orbit the Moon in a Soyuz 7K-LOK spacecraft. Neil Armstrong became the first man on the Moon in Apollo 11 mission on July 20th. On August 4th the Soviets reciprocated by sending a manned mission with cosmonauts Alexei Leonov and Oleg Makarov to Mare Serenitatis of the Moon. The Space Race has become a Space Marathon. Amidst the panic of losing the marathon President Nixon decides to keep and expand the Apollo Program to include moon bases into the scope. Chinese Dong Fang Hong I became the first Asian satellite.

1970: Apollo 13 didn't encounter failures at all. Irina Solovyova became the first woman on the Moon.

1971: Both Mariner 8 and Mars 2 arrived at the target planet, this time the Mars 2 lander is successful. Later on Mars 3's rover became the first to do so on the planet. Salyut 1 space station is launched.

1972: Apollo 20 touched down at Copernicus Crater. Meanwhile in Moscow a plan is approved to upstage the Americans once again with an automated Mars sample return mission.

1973: Skylab I is lofted to orbit.

1974: Launch of NASA Mariner 10 to Venus and Mercury. A LESA moon base is set up at the Mare Insularum.

1975: Nominal space detente as US and USSR conducted Apollo-Soyuz test project.

1976: First US Mars lander Viking I arrives on Mars.

1977: Launch of the Voyager probes.

1979: Soviet Mars 5M sample return mission commences, which would arrive at the planet a year later.

1982: The Soviet Mars sample return capsule arrived at Earth.

1991: Soviet Union dissolves and transformed into the Russian Federation.

1993: Russian constitutional crisis, also Yuri Gagarin emigrated to the U.S. and settled down in Houston on a permanent residence basis.

1996: Mars 96 was launched to Mars successfully.

2001: 9/11 attacks.

2008: Start of the Great Recession. Barack Obama elected president

2009: H1N1 pandemic.

2010: An improved International Space Station with a rotating habitat is completed by this time.

2011: Arab Spring.

2014: Start of the Ukrainian conflict after a revolution toppled Yanukovych

2016: Donald Trump won the presidential election as OTL.

2019: Hong Kong protests.

2020: COVID-19 pandemic. Yuri Gagarin contracted it after travelling to a conference in Houston. He eventually succumbed to the virus causing far more widespread grief worldwide.
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Deleted member 114175

If the N1 rocket had a higher budget (preventing cost-cutting measures like using pyrotechnics to activate components, which doomed the first stage) and lead engineer Sergei Korolev lived until at least 1970 (keeping momentum going on the project and remaining within the original design concept) then the Soviets probably could have gotten to the Moon.

If so, the space race would have extended to long-term American and Soviet moon bases by the end of the 1970s (which would probably be abandoned before expected due to technological limitations and cost) and manned Mars landing before 1990 (which would fail to detect perchlorates and probably end in disaster). With all the focus on manned missions, I wonder if unmanned missions to outer planets may fall behind. Would Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 be launched in time for the rare planetary alignment that they required?
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If so, the space race would have extended to long-term American and Soviet moon bases by the end of the 1970s (which would probably be abandoned before expected due to technological limitations and cost) and manned Mars landing before 1990 (which would fail to detect perchlorates and probably end in disaster)

I really doubt it. A moonbase is just within the realms of plausibility, but expensive enough that it's unlikely, and very unlikely to be anything more than 3-6 men in a temporary shelter doing science for a month or two.

Mars is right out. You're talking about a program that costs as much as a fair-sized war (you could fight the whole Vietnam war for the money it would take to get ONE ship to Mars and likely have a good chunk of change left over), the odds of a crew dying during the mission are much higher than it was during the short jog around the block that Apollo was and the program would require several election cycles to bear fruit, making it useless to any American politician, and a bit of a longshot for even the much longer terms in office Soviet leaders enjoyed.

Going to Mars today, with much better technology and the foundation provided by close to 50 years of robotic probe missions to Mars is a different case. And even now, I don't think it is cheap and safe enough that anyone would go there for a propaganda score.

Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to make it so that the Soviet Union lands on the moon after the United States in 1969, and to explain the ramifications of them doing so.

Hmm. Possible. There's not much in the way of high-likelihood PoDs that lead there though. The Soviets just didn't have that much money to spend on their space program.

If the Soviets take the Americans seriously in 1961, they add 3 years to their program (the Soviets only realized the US was serious in 1964). Combine that with their program selecting a smaller and more practical rocket (say, something like the program that led to the later Zenit in OTL, where the rocket is designed around the most common payloads - military ones - but thought is put into how those components can be bolted together into a moon rocket). So TTLs Soviet moon rocket takes all the funding that went into OTL's Proton and N1 rockets, and the product fulfils the OTL Proton's function, while a clustered rocket fulfils the Lunar program's needs. Additionally, the Soviets go for an EOR-LOR architecture, so the Lunar rocket is much smaller than the OTL N1, only launching 40-60 tonnes at a time, say. So the Soviet moon-ship is assembled in 2-3 launches, before going to the moon, landing, having a short surface stay, then coming back home.

The Soviets would need some luck to avoid things going wrong (the Soviets took more risks with their program because they didn't have the money to go for the belt-and-braces approach the Americans did) but it is possible that the Soviets get to the moon while the Apollo program is still going. Especially if the US program has been delayed. Another Apollo 1 level of mishap would delay the US a couple years.

Another path for the Soviets making it to the moon is that they take the Americans seriously from the start, but the leadership absolutely forbids any expensive new rockets, and instead all resources are going into improving the R-7 rocket and building a program based on multiple launches. It would be interesting to see a Soyuz rocket with a hydrolox upper stage. Of course, since the Soviet moonship will take at least 7 launches and maybe as many as 30 launches to assemble, the Americans are going to see the Soviet departure date months before time, and will be well placed to get a Saturn V launch in before the Soviets can depart. (This is the main reason why the Soviets rejected this approach in OTL - that many launches to assemble a ship and the Americans can see exactly where they are in their program.)

Again, neither of these is likely. The Soviets already spent heavily on space per capita, and its a whole lot of bother for little tangible return. The Soviet side of the space race was pretty accidental. Korolev made them a poor ICBM that turned out to be an amazing launch vehicle and then it turns out that the Soviets doing cheap things in space really impresses the rest of the world, so they do that for a while. Then the Americans treat it like space exploration is a matter of life and death... And the Soviets aren't interested in spending the money. Everything they do from day one to the day the Soviet Union fell is to use spin-offs from their military programs to score easy points or do interesting science that can fit into their tight budgets.

If the Soviets reach second place in a moon landing, well then whatever guy they send will never be as widely remembered as Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin.