Air and Space Photos from Alternate Worlds.

More of the Comrade (last for several days)

Douglas PBD-1 Invader B.1, 453 Sqd, RAAF, Kangnung, southern Korea, 1 March 1946

Douglas PBD-1 Invader B.1
The PBD-1 was the USMC version of the Douglas A-26 Invader. It featured numerous changes from the USAAF's A-26, including wing-tip fuel tanks, more powerful engines driving 4 bladed propellers and wing-mounted radar. In USMC service, the Invader was a direct replacement for the North American PBJ-1 Mitchell.

435 Sqd was the only RAAF unit to operate the PBD-1. Although a RAAF unit, 435 Sqd was one of several Australian manned squadrons to serve under RAF command for the duration of the war. Equipped with Hudsons, 453 Sqd's first campaign was the ill-fated defence of Malaya and Singapore. Forced to disband with the fall of Singapore, it was reformed in India, initially on Blenheims before more Hudsons became available. In 1943 it flew Beauforts before progressing to Beaufighters in 1944.

The Invader was taken on in mid-1945 when the squadron was ear-marked for use in the invasion of Japan, flying both maritime patrol and land attack missions. Because these misions were to be undertaken exclusively at night, the USMC midnight blue finish was retained and roundels similar to a type used by the Fleet Air Arm in the Pacific on midnight blue camouflaged aircraft was adopted. Unlike other tactical aircraft involved in Operation Downfall, these nocturnal RAAF and USMC Invaders were exempted from applying the yellow and orange invasion stripes. Like the late-war PBJs, the USMC and RAAF removed the PBD's rear turrets to save weight, drag and a crew member, as the threat from Japanese night fighters was minimal.

The Mission
With Flight Lieutenant George Barrington at the controls and Warrant Officer Ronald Barassi serving as the navigator-bombardier, Sweet Miss Lillian (named after Barassi's wife) went to war on their sixth and final mission together just after midnight on 1 March, 1946. That night, the invasion of Japan was underway, as American troops stormed beachheads on the Kanto Plains and British Commonwealth forces went ashore at Wakasa Bay. Their mission was code-named Pomegranate, being a coastal armed-reconnaissance seeking targets of opportunity. If, after a certain interval and completion of search patterns and no targets being found, and fuel and weather permitting, Pomegranate crews were instructed to attack land targets from a selection presented to the crew at their briefing. In Marine Corps terms, these lone night attacks against land targets were known as "hecklers".

After being relieved on station and finding no targets at sea as they patrolled to the south of the Wakasa Bay invasion fleet, Barrington and Barassi mounted a heckler against the airfrield at Matsugaoka. This site has been attacked in hecklers before with no retaliation, but with the invasion clearly underway the Japanese fought back this time. Using standard heckler tactics, the crew first made a bomb run on the airfiled and followed this up with a rocket attack. It was during the rocket approach that the nose of the aircraft was struck by flak, critically injuring Barassi and injuring Barrington's legs and feet. Barrington brought the damaged aircraft back to an emergency landing without a nose wheel, but it was too late for Barassi, who was found dead in the crumpled and holed nose.

The crew
Warrant Officer Ronald Barassi flew in RAF Mitchells and RAAF Beauforts before being transferred to 453 Sqd for service as a bombardier/navigator/radar operator in the unit’s PBD-1 Invaders. Before the war, he was a well-known and liked player for the Melbourne Australian rules football club. His was survived by his wife and son, Ronald Dale Barassi Jnr.

The young Barassi Jnr spent his latter teenage years living with Norm Smith, coach of the Melbourne Football Club and a former teammate of his father. He showed potential as a player and was recruited to Melbourne under the father-son rule. After compulsory military service (in the Australian Army), Barassi Jnr went on to become a football legend, playing for Melbourne before moving to Carlton as captain-coach. He later coached Melbourne, North Melbourne and Sydney, earning several VFL Premierships as player and coach and initiating tactics that were seen as revolutionary. In 1988 Barassi Jnr was listed as one of Australia’s Living Treasures.

George Barrington joined the RAAF in 1943 and, like Barassi, was trained as part of the Empire Air Training Scheme. He stayed with the RAAF post-war as an intelligence officer in Japan and Southeast Asia, rising to the rank of Squadron Leader, before joining the Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) 1956. For cover he worked as a journalist and writer as G.B. Barringston, becoming the Southeast Asia correspondent for The Argus newspaper from his base in Thailand. By 1960, his writing exploits extended to the first in a series of Bruce “Bluey” Howard books, which have been described as an ocker cross between Biggles and James Bond. Bluey Howard was franchised into a series of popular Australian movies, a long-running comic strip published in Australasian Post and has recently been revived into the graphic novel format. He also wrote several travel books during the 1960s and early ‘70s as part of his cover, but used a variety of pseudonyms for these titles.

In 1985, Barrington published the first of what he promised to be three autobiographies. Wings Above the Earth dealt with his early years and RAAF service. Having retired from his ASIS duties in 1975, he felt free to publish his espionage memoirs, Spy Catcher, in 1987, but the Australian Government tried to suppress the work. After a lengthy and suppressed court battle, the book was released and became an instant best seller, but has since been criticised as fraudulent. In 1990, Max Harris, literary critic for The Age newspaper, revealed the Spy Catcher trial to be the result of “a hoax". After reading a redacted version of the manuscript that lead to the trail, Harris noted that the Australian Government had been given “a fake draft of photocopied documents, photographs and notes” that was “a crude paste-up job” from which to judge the book and had been set up for “a calculated publicity stunt.” Barrington died in 1989 before this criticism came to light and the manuscript for the third instalment of his autobiography remains unpublished. David Marr's 1992 biography of Barrington, [iG.B. Barringston: A Fraudulent Life[/i], went further. Marr noted that Barrington's ASIS worked really only amounted to attending parties and bars and passing on gossip, that his travel books were full of errors and that Spy Catcher was "a work of fiction featuring a significant amount of plagiarism.” He also revealed that Barrington was behind the fake Tojo Diaries published in the Murdoch newspapers in 1979.

Curtiss SBF-4 Helldiver II
"He'll be back" C3-M, 800 NAS, HMS Emperor
South China Sea, October 1945

When HMS Emperor began its voyage to the Pacific from Britain, it and 2 other aircraft carriers were part of an experiment. With the growing power, range and load-carrying ability of Leand-Lease Hellcats and Corsairs, the Fleet Arm Arm wanted to test if carrier air groups could successfully operate in combat without the need to include two-seat combatants (such as the Barracuda, Firefly and Avenger). As the result of exercises in the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean, the commanders of the three carriers (HMS Emperor, HMS Shah and HMS Ruler – together dubbed the “Triple Crown Fleet”) identified the need for a “combat support” two-seater to conduct a variety of missions, including air-sea rescue, navigation lead-ship and strike-force pathfinder roles.

The requirement was evaluated at high levels whilst docked in Ceylon. During these discussions, a Canadian naval officer commented that his Navy had similar ambitions but had concluded it was prudent to add Helldivers to its carrier air wing to perform a similar range of specialist missions. It was subsequently arranged for a force of 8 SBF-4 Helldivers, built by Fairchild-Canada, to be transferred from Royal Canadian Navy stocks for service aboard the Triple Crown Fleet. The aircraft were picked up from Australia in July, 1945, along with several seconded Canadian personnel who were familiar with the Helldiver. No new unit was created; instead, a Helldiver Flight was added to the lead fighter squadron of each of the 3 carriers.

Together with the Hellcats and Corsairs of the Triple Crown Fleet, the Helldivers were active over IndoChina and Hong Kong during August and September, 1945. To replace attrition, more Helldivers were added from Canadian stocks and subsequently took part in 2 campaigns against the Japanese Home Islands, during December 1945 and again during the invasion of Honshu, in March and April 1946. Following the end of the war in May, 1946, the Hellldivers returned with their carriers to Britain, where they were retired in October, 1946.

This Helldiver is seen with a typical air-sea rescue load, including two inflatable life rafts and 8 flares underwing, with a 150 US gal fuel tank mounted in the bomb bay.

Noorduyn Norseman VI
724 Naval Air Squadron, Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm,
HMS Speaker, British Pacific Fleet
Operation Unsaid, South China Sea off Cam Ranh Bay, Indochina, August 1945

724 NAS was a specialist unit, establsihed in February 1945 at Mascot, New South Wales, Australia, but soon moving to Nowra. Outwardly a light transport squadron tasked with establishing the carrier on-board delivery (COD) mission for the British Pacific Fleet, this acted as a cover for a more clandestine range of roles. Initially equipped with standard Beech Expediter, Noorduyn Norseman and Taylorcraft Auster aicraft for training, these aircraft were supplemented by carrier capable models during April and May, the Beech JRB-7 Expediter IV (with tailhook and folding wings), Noorduyn JA-2 Norseman VI (with tailhook) and Auster Vb (also with tailhook). Of the 27 JA-2s delivered to the Fleet Air Arm, 14 were to JA-2N standard with AI Mk XV (APS-6) radar.

724 Norsemans and Expediters began aircraft carrier operations and deployments from July, 1945. Their first major mission came during Operation Unsaid, the seizure of Binh Ba Island land the Cam Linh peninsula on the western side of Cam Ranh Bay, Indochina. This operation was a necessary step in preparation for the re-taking of Hong Kong by British Commonwealth forces, the timeline for which had been hastened by the Red Army's 9th August invasion of Manshuria and China and the rapid retreat of the Japanese Army. Wanting to beat both everyone else to Hong Kong (the Chinese Nationalists, the Chinese Communists and the Red Army), and having to do so without direct American support, British commanders saw the need for an airfield and a deep-water naval base in Indochina to provide the necessary logistic support. As the main force of the British Pacific Fleet steamed north from Australia in from 15 August, 725 NAS were already flying several Expediter IVs and Norseman VI's northward.

On 16 August, they landed aboard the aircraft carrier HMS Speaker, steaming in the South China Sea. HMS Speaker had been serving as an “logistics carrier” in support of Operation Oboe off North Borneo before being ordered north in response to the Red Army's actions. In fact, the ship was a “commando carrier”, with special forces on board from the South-East Asia Command's Small Operations Group, including Royal Marines, the No.2 Special Boast Section, the Special Air Service and the Australian Z Special Unit. Up top were Royal Marine Auster Vbs. This was the kind of carrier force that 724 NAS had always been intended to join.

From 18 August, 724 NAS aircraft flew missions over Indochina, delivering special forces personnel and their supplies via parachute in preparation for Operation Unsaid, which was successfully launched on 25 August. During the first two days and nights of the invasion, the Norseman VI depicted here and two others flew several missions under fire into the airstrip on the Cam Linh peninsula to deliver troops and supplies and perform medical evacuations.

724 NAS went on to support the British liberations of Hong Kong and Singapore, additional Allied operations in Indochina, further Operation Oboe actions in the Dutch East Indies and missions against the Japanese home islands before, during and after the Y-Day invasion of Honshu. With their highly trained crews, radar, dark sea blue all-over camouflage and carrier capability, the aircraft of 724 NAS were especially appreciated for their night infiltration work.

Hawker Tempest V(FE)
Phoebe, 83 Sqdn, RAAF, Parachup Khiri Khan, Siam, February 1946
Personal mount of F/L Peter Boyd

The plane
With the end of hostilities between the European Axis nations and the western Allies in August 1944, the RAAF was able to disband several fighter squadrons operating in Europe and re-deploy forces against Japan. Taking the opportunity to re-equip, an order was placed for a Far East version of the Tempest V, the Tempest V(FE) featuring modifications to make it suitable for long-range missions. The aircraft were sent to Ceylon where the RAAF was preparing to participate in Operation Zipper, the Allied invasion of Japanese occupied Malaya.

One of the squadrons to receive the Tempest V(FE) in Ceylon was 83 Sqdn. This unit had previously flown Boomerangs in the Northern Territory and Queensland, but in early 1945 it was briefly disbanded before standing up again in Ceylon. As part of the Zipper plan, training included simulated take-offs from aircraft carriers, as they were to fly directly from carriers to an airstrip near the invasion beach. 83 Sqdn was to fly from HMS Begum, but this was damaged by a submerged object just before going abound and was replaced by the USN escort carrier, USS Block Island. USS Block Island had just come off supporting operations in the Dutch East Indies and was porting in Ceylon at the time; her aircraft were removed and replaced with the RAAF Tempests.

In transit to Malaya, the squadron received orders to camouflage their aircraft, which up to then wore a polished metal finish. The only suitable paint available on Block Island was the US Navy standard midnight blue, so this was applied to the upper and side surfaces and the squadron codes changed from black to white. The departure from the carrier was delayed due to the slow expansion of the beachhead at Port Sweetenham. During this time, the squadron’s resident artist, Flight Lieutenant Peter Boyd, adorned the Tempests with large girlie images. This combination of midnight blue and Peter Boyd’s “blue” artwork earned the squadron the “Blue Peter” nickname; also, their Squadron Leader was S/L George Peters.

Once ashore on 2 September, 1945, 83 Sqn performed air defence and close air support missions. As the front line moved away and other airfields became available, the unit moved forward, initially in the direction of Singapore but in early November they deployed to Butterworth in northern Malaya. Here they performed long-range mission into Siam, including fighter sweeps and escorting bombers and transports supporting armed Thai resistance fighters against the Japanese. From February, 1946, until the end of the war in May, they were based at Parachup Khiri Khan in Siam and mounted operations in Siam and across the Gulf of Siam into Japanese occupied French Indo China.

The pilot
Peter Boyd had served with 78 Sqdn flying Kittyhawks in New Guinea before transfer to 83 Sqdn in Ceylon. By the end of the war, Boyd was credited with 7 aerial kills (2 Oscars, 1 Zero, 1 Edna, 1 Emily, 1 Lorna, 1 Tabby), plus a share in the sinking of 3 Japanese ships.~

After the war, Peter Boyd (described by critic Robert Hughes as “the least talented of the Boyd family artistic dynasty”) made a name for himself as a painter and photographer of nudes. In 1954, one of Boyd’s exhibitions was closed down by Queensland police on the grounds of “obscenity”; a similar run-in with Victoria’s Vice Squad saw several pieces of art removed from an exhibition in 1956. Along with former S/L George Peters (often described as a “colourful racing identity and night club owner”), Boyd pioneered erotic entertainment (including nude body painting and drag queen shows) in Sydney’s Kings Cross during the 1960s. Both men were mentioned in royal commissions into police and political corruption in Qeensland and New South Wales during the 1980s and 90s; Boyd for his parties and orgies and Peters for his black market activities and encouragement of the “slab economy”.

The publication of Peter Boyd’s autobiography, Blue Peter, in 1979 caused a stir. He outed himself as bi-sexual and commented favourably on “the many” Australian homosexual servicemen he had met during the WW2. This saw him forced to resign his membership from the RSL (Returned Services League of Australia), whose policy on such matters at the time where best summed up by outspoken Victorian RSL President, Bruce Ruxton: “There are no poofters in fox holes.” In an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald following his “expulsion” from the RSL, he commented that “what really makes the likes of Ruxton mad is that I’m an ace. I’m a bona-fide war hero. Ruxton was a cook who never saw combat, never had to kill a man and never rose about the rank of Private.” He drew more ire when, in 1980, he became a patron of the RSL (Rainbow Services League), an advocacy and support organisation for gay and lesbian current and past service personnel. He repeatedly wore his RAAF dress uniform and campaign medals (plus a fictional Rainbow Campaign ribbon of his own design) on Rainbow Services League floats during the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras parade. Boyd’s rainbow ribbon design has gone on to be a symbol of the GBLT cause.

Peter Boyd died in 1998 and George Peters in 1991.

Apparently, Phoebe was Peter Boyd's pre-war muse and sometime nude model.

(and now an Post-WWII model)

McDonnell Douglas A-4H Skyhawk
a/c IE1083, 8 Squadron, Indian Air Force
Personal mount of Flying Officer VK Heble
Bareilly, India, 8 December 1971

India had been in negotiations with the US Government with the intent to acquire the Douglas A-4 Skyhawk from 1964, well before the nation joined the UN and SEATO. The original discussions centred around the acquisition of a combination of A-4s and the F-8s for the Indian Navy, which was seeking replacements for its A-1 and FJ-3 fleets. Douglas was quick to pitch the A-4 to the Indian Air Force once India’s UN membership was sealed, aggressively lobbying Indian politicians in a somewhat scandalous promotions campaign. In defiance of Air Force brass, who were seeking major purchases of the Avro Canada Buccaneer and McDonnell F-4 Phantom II to fulfil ground attack duties, the Indian government developed a joint requirement for the A-4 resulting in both services receiving aircraft built to a common standard. 132 A-4H single-seater and TA-4H two-seaters were delivered to India, the Air Force receiving 96 and the Navy 36, although the Navy later received an additional 24 A-4Hs from Air Force stocks during the 1970s. Ironically, the Air Force still went on to purchase 40 Buccaneer Series 51s and 88 F-4E/RF-4E Phantoms IIs and added a further 116 A-4N Skyhawks to their fleet.

The first A-4H Skyhawks were delivered to India in 1968. Based on the A-4F, these were similar to Australia’s A-4Gs and contrary to popular opinion the H designation did not stand for Hindu, but simply identified the next variant on from the G. From 1970 to 1982 the A-4H fleet was used extensively on combat deployments on behalf of the UN and SEATO. Their most heralded operations, though, were missions flown during the 1971 Indo-Pakistani War, the Skyhawk performing close air support and interdiction missions from land and sea against targets in both East and West Pakistan.

This A-4H, IE1083 of 8 Squadron, is depicted as seen in photographs before a mission against Pakistan’s Murid Airbase on 8 December 1971. The squadron was formed in 1943 and flew the Vengeance, Spitfire, Bijalee, and Sabre before converting on to the A-4H in 1969. On 8 December 1971, four 8 Squadron planes lead by Squadron Leader RN Bharadwaj were dispatched on the unit’s third raid of the war against the Pakistani Air Force based at Murid. Each Skyhawk was loaded with three Mk.16 1,000 lb fragmentation bombs fuzed for air bursts on a centreline multiple ejector rack and two external fuel tanks on the inner wing pylons. The A-4s of Squadron Leader RN Bharadwaj and his wingman Flying Officer VK Heble were armed with Mk.82 500 lb bombs with fuze extenders on the outer wings, while Flight Lieutenant Karambaya and Flying Officer Deoskar flew with SNEB 68mm rocket pods in these positions. Forming two pairs, each pair approached Murid from a different direction and their time over the target was separated by 30 seconds. Karambaya and Deoskar were the first in, their role being to suppress air defences; a mission they had previously accomplished on the second of the squadron’s three attacks. Bharadwaj and Heble had also visited the base before, using Mk.14 1,000 lb high explosive bombs against a fuel storage site on the first of the unit’s three missions against Murid, but this time their targets were a series of revetments housing Pakistani Air Force F-104G Starfighters.

All four A-4Hs returned to base safely and without damage and Indian post-strike analysis counted two Starfighters as probably destroyed with another damaged, with one fuel truck and a Bofors 40mm ack-ack site destroyed. It wasn’t until the 2018 release of the book "In The Ring and On Its Feet - Pakistan Air Force in the 1971 Indo-Pak war” by Pakistan's premier military aviation historian Air Commodore M Kaiser Tufail (retd.) that the full extent of the raid’s success was publicly revealed. Five F-104G Starfighters of Pakistan’s 15 Squadron had been destroyed or otherwise damaged beyond repair by Bharadwaj and Heble’s bombs, while the effects of the air defence suppression had destroyed not just the Bofors site and a fuel truck, but also resulted in a UH-H helicopter being gutted. Tufail noted that that two of the Bofors gunners were killed and in that nine Pakistani personnel were injured.

Air Commodore M Kaiser Tufail’s book also shed new light on an incident related to this attack on Murid. Flying ahead of the Skyhawks were two F-4Es of 31 Squadron and two Mirage IIICINs of 15 Squadron. Using mixed fighter force tactics to counter the expected Pakistani interceptors, the F-4Es penetrated Pakistani airspace at medium altitude while the Mirages ingressed at low altitude. Encountering a pair of patrolling Starfighters, the Phantom II crews drew their opponents into a trap for the Mirages to use their AIM-9F Sidewinders to engage the enemy. In the ensuing battle Flight Lieutenant Sunil Chhetri was credited with destroying one F-104G while the probable claim by his wingman Flying Officer Jarnail Singh was not confirmed. Tufail’s account of the incident reveals that the two Starfighters were actually Iranian F-104S aircraft, Iran’s 15 Fighter Squadron having deployed to Pakistan to bolster the nation’s air defences. Chhetri’s confirmed claim was flown by Captain Masoud Shojaei and Singh’s unconfirmed probable was an actual, the damaged F-104S being abandoned by its pilot, Major Ali Daei, about two minutes after disengaging. Both Iranian pilots ejected and survived the encounter.

A-4H IE1083 remained in frontline service until 1981, when it was retired from 20 Squadron as they upgraded to the Tornado IDS. In the meantime it had been upgraded to bring it up to a similar standard as the A-4N, the 20mm Colt cannon being replaced by 30mm DEFAs, the N’s “camel” avionics hump, squared-off horizontal and vertical tail surfaces, extended jet pipe and braking chute being added and a Hughes Angle Rate Bombing System installed. The plane flew several combat campaigns beyond 1971, seeing action with 8 and 20 squadrons in South East Asia from 1973 to 1975 and returning to the theatre in 1979 following Vietnam’s invasion of Cambodia. Lightened, with the avionics hump and armament removed, IE1083 was used for training duties and was seen undertaking target towing and dissimilar air combat sorties between 1985 and 1992, after which it was stripped for spares and broken up.
 


Space Station Freedom, the largest space station (and last remaining since 2014), saw birth ironically with both the Soviet ''Zvezda'' and ''Mir'' space stations. With the Russian abandoning any attempt at Moon landing, the Apollo program became more and more hollow, looking more and more to the eyes of an once ecstatic public as an expensive stunt. The reticence of NASA to include scientist astronauts contrasted with the treasure trove of scientific experiments allowed by the Soviet space stations. This meant that almost all the planned Apollo missions were put on the chopping block, with Apollo 17 being the last time man walked on the Moon. Instead, it was decided to leap-frog the Soviets and dominate the Low-earth orbit with a ''Space Shuttle'', allowing cheap access to space with a reusable spacecraft, able of multiple mission profiles, notably, carrying space stations.

Ironically, the first American space station; ''Skylab'', would not be carried by the Space Shuttle but by a venerable Saturn V, one of the last remaining. Despite its larger size then the Soviet Zvezda, Skylab was radically different as it was not modular. Built as one block, it could not be improved or modified. This however would prove the basis of the American mentality regarding construction in space: versatility over specialization. There was a hiatus in the Space Station project with the Spacelab project, that used the Space Shuttle as a living module and its massive cargo to hold specialized scientific module for experiments. The perceived lower cost and using existing infrastructure allowed the lower NASA budget to multiply experiments in space. However, their was one area where Spacelab was inadequate and the Soviet kept a health lead: long duration experiments. The Shuttle, no matter how versatile she was, could not rival a dedicated space station capability to stay for months or even years in space. Furthermore, the Challenger disaster in 1986 had shaken many in NASA and costly update on the shuttle had been planned in addition on stricter launch rules. The Shuttle was no more the ''space truck'' that many believed, that could run on minimal safety measures. An overall update plan was approved from 1987 to 1997 in order to modify the Shuttles to insure no more similar disaster could happen, the modifications included the defective o-ring, but also both the reinforced carbon edge panels and thermal insulation tiles, an many were seen struck by foam during ascend, engineers in NASA saw fit to strengthen them.

With the Soviet new rounds of investments in Mir, the American began to plan for what would become the Space Station Freedom, it was arduous as resupply had never really been something that the Americans had experience with and the Shuttle was (quite rightfully so) seen as overkill for this job. There was talk to build new or use an existing rocket (like the Titan family) but there was no budget for that and many were adamant to use the Shuttle, after all, she had been expensive and it was perceived that they needed to cash in the dividend of their investment. Looking to reduce cost, NASA began to look for foreign partner. The most obvious was the ESA, the European Space Agency, with their new Europa-1 rocket, they had entered the Space age and was already a partner from Spacelab, the multiple countries member of the agency were all ready to join on the venture. The second was Canada, already a close partner of NASA with their addition of the Canadarm to the Space Shuttle, despite the minuscule budget of the CSA, the Canadian Space Agency was ready to provide telemetry support and miscellaneous contributions like supply or science experiments. The last one to join was quite the oddball, the National Space Development Agency of Japan (or NASDAJ) had began to launch small satellite by themselves and were quite ready to prove themselves on more ambitious projects. Already seen as being at the technological forefront, Japan was considered as a valuable partner by NASA.
In 1988 was signed the ''Space Station Freedom Agreements'' between NASA, the ESA, NASDAJ and the CSA, and a committee was formed to design the station. Unlike Mir, the ''SSF'' was planned from the start, its core would be two massive ''Multipurpose Module'', built by NASA. These would supply water, air,amenities, computation, beds and even small laboratory emplacements, basically life module where the astronauts would live most of the time. At both ends would be 4 ''Connecting modules'' with 6 connections, two of the module would have docking port for connecting with the Shuttle docking module. These connecting module would serve to expend the space station and allow transit between the modules. Two top ports of the ''Union'' and ''Harmony'' connecting modules were reserved for the Starsight-1 and 2 energy modules, massive solar panels and radiators that would power and cool down the entire space station. This core, composed of the ''Liberty'' and ''Independance'' Multipurpose Modules, the two ''Harbor'' and ''Anchorage'' Docking/Connecting Modules, the two ''Union'' and ''Harmony'' Connecting Modules and ''Starsight'' 1 & 2 Energy Modules, would be all built by NASA and form the basis upon which all the other countries could add their own Modules.
This ''multipurpose'' vision was truly entrenched on the new American philosophy in space: do as much as you can with the least launch, both due to the Skylab experience and the Shuttle itself, be with Spacelab or its costly launch cost. And while their ally would design more ''specialized'' module, their lack of equivalent launch vehicle to the Shuttle massive payload would mean that they would insure that their module would be able to do as much as possible too. The ESA would build the ''Da Vinci'' Laboratory Module, capable of many void experiments and vacuum testing thanks to its exposition emplacements but also include small telescope and captors that could be inserted in the exposition port as well. The Japanese planned both the ''Chishiki'' Laboratory, more specialized with biological experiments but also include electronic-assembly workshop and the ''Kido'' Scientific Module, an experimental centrifuge to simulate various gravity, similar to the Russian ''Tsentrifuga'' Module.
This was planned as ''Freedom-1'', Freedom-2 would be possible extensions to be added once the station would be functional, all signatories were in agreements that Space Station Freedom would probably have unforeseen needs that might necessitate more specialized additions.

With Space Station Freedom sharing low-earth orbit with Mir (although not the same altitude or degree), it was decided to sign the 1992 space collaboration treaty with the Soviet Union, insuring a peaceful coexistence in space. However, with the troubles coming with the fall of the Soviet Union in 1993 and the Russian agency potential inability to maintain Mir discouraged any venture. But the highly mediatized ''Polyakov stunt'' and the famous contest that allowed children of Russia and then across the world to speak with a man in orbit, gave confidence that Mir was there to stay. European astronauts were the first to share the station in 1995, followed by an very hyped american mission in 1996. In addition of scientific achievements, these missions allowed both the Europeans and Americans to have a preview of how run their permanent space station, what to expect as life regime and schedules.

In 1998, 10 years after the signature of the Space Station Freedom Agreement, after no less then 9 Shuttle launch, almost one per year, the tenth one was the team that would bring the SSF online. The seven crew member had been carefully chosen to represent that 4 co-signatories: the veterans John Young and Robert L. Crippen, the new comer Sally Ride and the Spacelab veteran Guion Bluford for the Americans, the both Spacelab and Mir veteran Jean-François Clervoy for the Europeans, the freshly trained Koichi Wakata for the Japanese and Marc Garneau for the Canadians.
From there, the crews would fluctuate according to the missions needs and astronauts availability, although Americans were often the majority since NASA was ''reluctant'' (to not say adverse) to allow foreign pilots for their Shuttles.

In 2006, the second rounds of planning for the Freedom-2 extension saw place. The main goal was to allow EVA without needing a Space Shuttle on station every time. After all, the goal of the SSF was to allow long duration experiments in space without needing the Space Shuttle. This round saw the first Canadian addition to the station: the ''Canadarm 2'' Manipulation Module, similar to the Shuttle Canadarm, the module include in addition of the said arm an advance telemetry and observation post to allow for more precise maneuvers. The Americans added the ''Eyrie'' EVA Module under the Canadarm 2 to take advantage of the arm during EVA and the Europeans added the ''Aristotle'' Exposition Module next to the Canadarm as well, as their module allowed exposition port and the arm could then place them on the exposition rack, allowing multiple experiments to be exposed to the void in same time.
Unrelated to the Canadian addition, the Americans also planned the ''Carrier'' Docking Module, allowing the Shuttle to dock next to the Japanese lab, allowing technically two Shuttles to service the station (but in practice it was for easier cargo handling, not needing voluminous objects needed for the Japanese or European lab to be dragged across the multipurpose modules). And the ''Conduit'' Supply Module, connected under the ''Union'' Connecting Module, would serve to stock and transfer liquid and gas (mostly water and oxygen) to the station more easily. The Japanese planned on a less useful but more poetic addition: the ''Sora'' Cupola, a module with windows, allowing a beautiful view of both space and earth. Inspired by the marvelous shots from the ''Milyutin'' module on Mir, many considered that it could be useful both for the astronauts pleasures and for public relations, allowing pictures and even interview with such a background to capture the public imagination (and support). Built with two separated layers of 2 inch thick plexiglass, it was theoretically possible to change the exterior panels without needing to seal off the cupola (although for safety reasons it was sealed anyway). The last planned addition was the ''Bacon'' Science Module, fitted with a much more potent telescope, communication array and captors, fitted under the Harmony connecting module, allowing the ESA to complement their deep space research that they started with the ''DaVinci'' laboratory.

In 2011, Colombia was put under scrutiny for a thorough examination and it was discovered that not only her superstructure showed signs of fatigue but the reinforced carbon edge panels showed extensive signs of damage despite their increased 5 inch thickness. While Atlantis is allowed to flight after additional examinations in order to supply the station, all other flight are suspended until a full inquiry is over. This caused some panic among the other members of the SSF, they had been reliant on the American shuttles for all their flights to the space stations. An interruption, or worst, a cancellation of all Shuttle flight would effectively mean the death of the SSF. Both the ESA and JAXA (the new name of the NASDAJ after its merger with other space-related agencies), began to work on providing an alternative both for supply and flight of personnel.
While Atlantis, the youngest and less worn out Shuttle was already under refit by the Americans to continue the supply missions, as well as a major refit of the prototype Entreprise to fit engines and missing components to make a functioning Shuttle ''on the cheap'', it did nothing to alleviate the concerns of the co-signatories.

In 2014, the same year that saw the end of the Mir Space station, JAXA unveiled the HTV-1, a fully automated supply capsule that they could launch from their H-II rocket. It would allow for cheap re-supply missions, sending supplies and experiments to the station, it would then be filled with trash and burnt up in the atmosphere. Two years later, in 2016, the ESA unveiled the ''Jules Verne'' Space Capsule, a fully capable spacecraft that could send three persons in space, one pilot and two passengers from their new Ariane 5 rocket. A plan to include a Service Capsule is presented as well. With the Entreprise refit completed, as well as the Endeavour full maintenance, NASA had finally some breathing room with three operational shuttles. Unfortunately, it was revealed that Colombia and Challenger could not be repaired due to the damages having spread to much of the structure, it was found that even with a full maintenance, their was significant risks notably around the wings joints. It was decided to decommission the two Shuttles and keep them as museum, Challenger being donated to the Smithsonian and Colombia kept by NASA museum at the Houston Space center.

2018, twenty years from the signature of the Space Station Freedom Agreement, was the year that the Europeans uncovered their ''O'Neil'' Service Capsule, it could be fitted atop the Jules Verne spacecraft and, like the HTV-1, filled with trash and sent to burn up in the atmosphere while the Verne capsule would plunge back to earth. But for NASA, it's also the year of questioning, with only 3 remaining shuttles, and no funds to build more, their is pressure to possibly design their own rockets. Many are seeing how the Japanese, European and Russians are able to send passengers and cargo into space for a fraction of the Shuttle cost, wondering if instead of wasting their meager budget on refitting and refurbishing the aging Shuttles they could not follow with cheaper rockets. While the ''Shuttle cartel'' is still clinging to their ''Space-truck'', others are pointing to NASA lead experience in reusable components. While the reusable boosters had been abandoned quite early, many are proposing to use liquid engine to allow the boosters to land back to the launching pad. Some even wonder why not make an entirely reusable rocket to replace the shuttles.

While these plans are drawn, Space Station Freedom, now last representative of the long sci-fi dream of living in space, keep orbiting around earth. Whether it would continue for long, or even if it will stay alone is unknown, but what is certain is that two generations built, worked and discovered the mysteries of the universe thanks to it.
 
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So this is something very interesting and very clever that I found on deviantart, classic American Railroads reimagined as Airlines. I recommend checking out the original artist too, its weird but in an interesting way... rather than the usual deviantart 'weird'




https://www.deviantart.com/supreleader/art/2017-03-04-799100444




https://www.deviantart.com/supreleader/art/2020-05-03-840411819



https://www.deviantart.com/supreleader/art/2020-03-01-832277597



https://www.deviantart.com/supreleader/art/2019-09-18-813742982
 
So this is something very interesting and very clever that I found on deviantart, classic American Railroads reimagined as Airlines. I recommend checking out the original artist too, its weird but in an interesting way... rather than the usual deviantart 'weird'




https://www.deviantart.com/supreleader/art/2017-03-04-799100444




https://www.deviantart.com/supreleader/art/2020-05-03-840411819



https://www.deviantart.com/supreleader/art/2020-03-01-832277597



https://www.deviantart.com/supreleader/art/2019-09-18-813742982
Just thinking "Conair" and having a chuckle. Would love to see PC livery!
 
I'm back, and this time is comic (this time: Luftwaffe 1946 and associated, like Kamikaze 1946)
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BTW: The Ta-152C is instead an T-1, and can carry an torpedo!!
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Grissom Step.jpg

23 May 1969 - Col. Virgil I. "Gus" Grissom, USAF becomes the first man to set foot on the moon. He is pictured here descending the ladder of the Apollo 10 LM "Freedom", just moments away from taking his first step onto the lunar soil in the Sea of Tranquility. His crewmate, Jim Lovell would follow about 20 minutes later. The two would spend approximately 22 hours on the lunar surface before returning to lunar orbit and docking with the CSM "Columbiad" piloted by Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin and returning to Earth.
 
3 from Luftwaffe 1946 (and associated - this time story) + 3 from Comrade

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German made Me-262 - flown by Italians - in Operation Downfall...
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Comrade Harps
(Again)
Link: www.whatifmodellers.com/index.…

During 1943, the South African government saw the need to pursue a policy of “war on all fronts”. Although this excluded the Eastern Front, it did see the South African Air Force sent on a mission to participate in the war against Japan. While elements of the the South African Navy and Army fought in the China-India-Burma theatre, the SAAF was sent to the South West Pacific. From early 1944 to Japan’s surrender in June, 1946, the SAAF operated a pair of F4U Corsair squadrons in the Pacific, supported by a servicing unit and a flight of C-47s.

For the Pacific theatre, the SAAF adopted a modified national marking, the blue, white and orange roundel being flanked by American style white bars. When the overall midnight blue finish was adopted in February, 1945, the white from the roundel was dropped and the blue assumed by the midnight blue. The fin flash was reduced to a single, orange vertical bar. The Fleet Air Arm were making similar stylistic concessions to the British roundel and fin flash for operations in the Pacific on midnight blue camouflaged Corsairs, Hellcats and Helldivers at around the same time.

The SAAF began combat operations with F4U-1As in the Pacific in February, 1944. Throughout the year, 36 and 37 Squadrons rotated through 3 month combat deployments. Serving alongside RNZAF and USMC Corsairs from bases in the Solomon Islands and Bougainville, the South Africans achieved a reputation for low attrition and high levels of bombing and strafing accuracy.

In April, 1945, 36 Squadron moved to Okinawa, where they fought in the air war against kamikazes and joined in providing close air support to US Marines and Army troops against the Japanese defenders. They were relieved by 37 Squadron at the end of June as the ground war on Okinawa drew to a close.

Okinawa was the last campaign flown by the SAAF’s F4U-1As. By then, the Corsair units of the USMC were flying either the F4U-1C or D models. Unlike these aircraft, the SAAF Corsairs were limited to bombs and guns. To make up for not having rockets or napalm, the South Africans often augmented their 1,000lb or 500lb centreline bombs with bundles of strap-on 20lb fragmentation bombs.

Napalm and rockets arrived with 37 Squadron in June, which also introduced the F4U-4 (at the same time that the USMC received F4U-4s on Okinawa). Both squadrons would go on to be based in southern Korea, 36 Squadron ending the war in June , 1946, at Oshima Island, Japan, supporting the Sagami Bay beachhead as the Allies fought their way across the Tokyo Plains.

With the end of the war, 37 Squadron was disbanded in July and 36 Squadron remained in Japan on occupation duties until November. As the SAAF left Japan, the Lend-Lease Corsairs were handed back to the Americans.


Link: www.whatifmodellers.com/index.…

Grumman F8F-1B Bearcat, 3rd Fighter Squadron, Cuban Air Force, San Antonio de los Baños, May 1954

When troubled brewed in Cuban during the early 1950s, the Cuban government received generous military and civilian aide from the USA to quell the prospects of a revolution. By 1954, armed guerrilla groups were operating in the countryside, forcing the government to mount an ongoing series of major counter-insurgency campaigns.

The main combat aircraft used was the Grumman F8F-1 Bearcat, Cuban having acquired 80 ex-US Navy examples in 1952-53. 16 of these were of the cannon armed F8F-1B variety. Armed with rockets and napalm (the yellow tanks seen here under wing), the Bearcats attacked rebel troop concentrations and provided accurate close air support to the Army.

By 1958 the armed rebellion had been crushed, leaving the regime of the corrupt but pro-American Fulgencio Batista in power.

Right to Left

Phooey, Mustang IV, 17 Sqd RAF, Taegu, Korea, 6 April 1946 - www.whatifmodellers.com/index.…

The Red Army’s swift advance in to Manchuria and northern Korea in the first week of August 1945 panicked the Western Allies. The big question was, Would the Reds stop at the agreed 38th Parallel? To help provide an assurance that they would, the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff presented the Commander in Chief with Operation Titan, a contingency plan for the invasion of southern Korea at Inchon. With the Reds advancing swiftly, it was apparent that the Japanese defenders of Korea were poorly trained, equipped and lead. These were all good arguments for Titan being a better option than the planned Operation Olympic, the intended seizure of the southern third of the southernmost main Japanese island of Kyūshū. With fewer losses, a base close to Japan could be established whilst at the same time heading off the Red Army. After urgent trans-Atlantic consultations, the idea was approved and the Inchon beach head was established on the 15 August. Unable to either withdraw or reinforce its position in Korea, the Peninsula was rid of the Japanese by mid-September. Red Army soldiers shook hands GIs at the 38th on the 21 August. Surrounded, blockaded and subjected to massive conventional and atomic air strikes, the Japanese fought on.

With Olympic no longer necessary and Korea secured with less than expected casualties, it was been planned to bring Operation Coronet, the invasion of the Tokyo plain, forward from its planned spring 1946 launch to November. However, on October 9, 1945, a typhoon packing 140-mile per hour winds struck the American staging area on Okinawa, causing considerable damage. The typhoon’s impact delayed Coronet preparations by around 45 days, placing its start past the 1 December winter deadline. Another damaging typhoon struck important staging areas on Luzon on 4 April, 1946, but by then Coronet was underway. With the Japanese government seeing The Divine Wind at play in saving the nation from foreign invader, they defended vigorously, buoyed with a sense of divine intervention. Coronet was finally launched on 6 April, 1946.

On the evening of 5 April, 1946, orders were issued that all aircraft operating in support of missions against the Japanese home islands be painted with special identification stripes. These invasion stripes differed from those applied for D-Day in Europe partly because white was to avoided. Japanese fighters based in Japan featured white fuselage and wing bands signifying their homeland defence role. Instead, colourful stripes were chosen that would be visually striking on both darkly painted naval and aluminium finished air force aircraft. Several schemes had been tested on a USAAF Thunderbolt and a USN Hellcat and the best on both was an orange-yellow-orange arrangement.

17 Sqd, RAF, deployed to Taegu in early October 1945 and commenced fighter missions over Japan soon after. Retaining their low-visibility, red-less SEAC markings, the unit operated successfully until the eventual end of hostilities in the Pacific on 4 June, 1946. Squadron Leader Clarence Donald, flying Phooey, joined 17 Sqd in late March, 1946, earning 5 confirmed kills against the Japanese by X-Day (6 April, 1946). On this day he claimed another three planes, including two Nakajima Ki-115 kamakazi planes and an escorting Kawasaki Ki-100. His eventual total would be 17 Japanese planes, adding to 3 Italian and 1 German kills from earlier in the war. On 14 April, he was killed when his aircraft was shot down by Japanese flak.

Republic P-47D-41
aircraft of Major Pablo Aguirre
301 Escuadrón, Argentine Expeditionary Air Force, Latin American Fighter Group, Taegu, southern Korea, May 1946 - www.whatifmodellers.com/index.…

After several attacks on its shipping by Axis forces, the Argentine government declared war on Germany, Italy and Japan in December 1942. One result of this was the establishment of an expeditionary fighter squadron, which first saw combat in the Philippines in June 1945 equipped with ex USAAF P-47D-28s and -30s. In September, this unit was united with similarly armed fighter squadrons from Brazil and Mexico to form the Latin American Fighter Group (LAFG).

At around the same time, the LAFG was equipped with new P-47D-41s. The -41 was the final production batch of P-47Ds and combined the D airframe and armament with the more powerful R-2800-77(C) engine of the P-47M and N. Built exclusively for Lend-Lease customers, the delivery of these aircraft had been held back from the LAFG until they were deemed to be combat proficient with the earlier models.

In October, 1945, the LAFG moved to Okinawa and began operations against the Japanese home islands before moving to southern Korea for more tactical missions in December. The blue anti-glare finish on the fuselage and wing tops was adopted whilst at Okinawa. Up to X-Day, most missions were Strawberries and Pumpkins, with the occasional Asparagus deterrence CAP against possible Red invention. After the invasion, Watermelon cab-rank CAS missions were also undertaken. On X-Day itself, though, 301 Escuadrón conducted air defence CAPs against Japanese kamikaze attacks on Korea, Major Aguirre claiming his only two air combat victories on this day. Both victims were Ki-155s, shot down on approach to Pusan.

The LAFG's colours were white, red and black, and proved to be controversial. Officially, the white was for "the purity of our hearts and the righteousness of our cause," the red signifying "the blood we will spill in pursuit of freedom and liberty" and black was for "the death we will bring upon our enemies."

Hawker Tempest V, a/c "T" of Groupe de Chase 1/7 Provence, T, Pohang, southern Korea, May, 1946 - www.whatifmodellers.com/index.…

After the deal which Germany's post-Nazi regime saw the withdrawal of occupation forces from France, the Armée de l'Air received 200 Tempest Vs from the RAF. These were chiefly used in Asia. Two escadrille joined SEAC for the September 1945 invasion of Malaya and moved through to campaigns in Thailand and the reclamation of French Indo-China. The other two, G/C 1/7 and C/G11/7, joined the USAAF's 5th Air Force in the Philippines, moving forward to Okinawa in November 1945. From here they conducted several Apple shuttle missions, taking off from Okinawa, conducting fighter sweeps over the Japanese main islands and landing at Taegu in southern Korea, reversing their journey a day or two later.

On 5 April, 1946, the day before X-Day, the invasion of Honshu, G/C 1/7 flew an Apple mission to Pusan, leaving C/G 11/7 on Okinawa to perform a similar mission the next day. The plan was for both units to conduct a series of Strawberry seek-and-destroy missions against Japanese road and rail traffic over the next week before returning to Okinawa with the second half of their Apple mission. The French had asked to be based in Korea, but the 5th Air Force argued that it needed them to conduct interception missions from Okinawa and was only prepared to release them for offensive missions when additional pressure needed to be applied. The French suspected that the Americans really wanted to hog the lime light associated with attacking Japan.

The Japanese response to X-Day on the C/G 11/7 at Okinawa was horrific. That night and into the the next day, around 800 Japanese kamikaze aircraft set out for Okinawa. In addition to high explosives, the Japanese used chemical agents, killing or incapacitating thousands of Allied personnel. By dawn X-Day +1, around 30% of the French contingent on the island were causalities and most of the French Tempests had been destroyed on the ground. In the wake of the attacks, C/G 11/7 was disbanded and the able bodied survivors sent to join C/G 1/7 in Korea.

At Taegu, C/G 1/7 feared much better, loosing only 3 aircraft on the ground to the Japanese and with no significant casualties. On X-Day +1 they flew air defence, claiming 18 Japanese planes without a single combat loss. As the kamikaze threat subsided, C/G 1/7 was re-located closer to Japan and based at Pohang to conduct both CAS missions (code named Watermelons) and interdiction missions (including Strawberries and Pumpkins, the latter being strikes against fixed targets) until the Japanese surrender. Just visible under the bomb mission markings are several Asparagus mission symbols. With the Red Army giving every appearance that it might invade the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido, the Western Allies undertook a campaign of deterrence, which included combat air patrols (code named Asparagus) over Hokkaido and the Sea of Japan.

The kill markings on this aircraft were all earned on X-Day +1, when over two sorties, two pilots claimed two Ki-84s and a Ki-61.


Link: www.whatifmodellers.com/index.…

The Reds continued development of the Metoer when they took control of Britain in 1950, primarilly as a night fighter and an attack platform. Dubbed MTR in Socialist Union nomenclature, the Meteor took new directions, especially once Nene or VK-1 engines were installed.

MTR - KPU Fizzer N (seen here) featured stiffened wings with wingtip tanks, had a detachable surface mapping radar (with redesigned cockpit console) and British made VK-1 engines. Only 67 were made and it was mostly used in combat by the 879 International Regiment, which included the 532 German Escradrille, as depicted here. On the 3 December, 1952, MTR - KPU Grey 36 was flown by Combat Pilot Felix Abendroth from Kinloss on an nocturnal anti-shipping patrol with 5 other Fizzers, including a pair of two-seat Fizzer Ms. During the patrol, the Fizzers engaged and sunk the US Navy destroyer USS De Haven (DD 727) off the Faroe Islands.

The camoflage was referred to as "Alantic moon-glint" and was suitable for low-altitude operations over rough seas at night.
 

The Silverwind III is a rather old, if reliable, airframe that has long since been withdrawn from frontline combat service with the attack and interdiction squadrons of the Colonial Air Corps. In its floatplane configuration, the Silverwind III is the final culmination of the Zephyr-series of biplane airframes first fielded by the squadrons of the Three Wings just prior to their subjugation by the Kommersant. Slower than modern monoplanes like the Rapier I and II, while carrying lighter payloads and inferior weapons packages, the Silverwind III is an easy target for modern anti-air incendiary shrapnel barrages and even vulnerable to massed conventional musketry at lower altitudes and speeds. However, its relative ease of maintenance and impressive fuel efficiency compared to its more modern successors make the Silverwind III an excellent aerial mount for the scout-fliers of the Colonial Air Corps on detached duty far out on the fringe of the frontier.

The depicted Silverwind III floatplane bears the ancient signs of the Black Eagle and the Wreathed Cross, emblems of two of its Fliegervolk pilot's ancestral squadrons. The venerated White Blossom of the old Jagdgeschwader Europa replaces the usual winged star in its place of honor mid-fuselage. Combat mission tallies are marked on the rudder in distinctive Fliegervolk fashion; non-Fliegervolk Wingmen mark kill or mission tallies on the fuselage beneath their cockpits. The emblem of the modern Seventh Squadron, a Colonial Air Corps element attached to the Kommersant's 392nd Mobile Squadron, is visible on the tail, indicating the unit from which the aviatrix is nominally seconded for scout-flier duty. Except for occasional visits to the Squadron's fleet tenders and hangar bays for nanodust refueling and maintenance overhauls respectively, it is unlikely that the aviatrix will ever see much of the Squadron outside of major fleet exercises or maneuvers.
 
My attempt at a Babylon 5 style Klingon starfighter.

My attempt at a TOS era Klingon Bird of Prey.
Qa'pla ! :D I really like these. For a moment, I thought the first one was an older Romulan fighter in the style of their old Birds of Prey.

I'm back, and this time is comic (this time: Luftwaffe 1946 and associated, like Kamikaze 1946)
The Napkinwaffe again ? :p

A Kawachi-class Space Dreadnaught

A Tone-class Space Missile Cruiser
(Not to scale)
Where's the propulsion ?
 
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In 2020, NASA came forward with an announcement that shook the astronautical world: a new launcher would be built to replace the venerable Space Shuttle. While those who had some inside already knew the vague direction, for most of the public it was a complete surprise when they unveiled their plan for the creation of the ''Zeus Rocket Booster''. It seemed at first that the NASA was abandoning the sleek and technological advanced Space Shuttle to step back to rockets, but as the specs of the Zeus rocket were shared, it was clear that NASA was taking no step back. The Zeus rocket was planned to be fully reusable by landing back to its pad after accelerating its payload. Acting as the first stage of a two-stage system, it was doted of over-powered engines and more fuel then needed for low-earth orbit insertion so it could decelerate and practice a soft landing on its hardened fins, and all that without any pilot. The technology was finally small and light enough for computers, transponders, gyroscopes and reaction wheel to be fitted on a rocket without penalizing the payload, allowing it to be remote controlled.
Another surprise came from the second stage, or more appropriately, its two second stage. One was called the ''Space-Hopper'' and was an automated cargo vehicle that could launch its payload and, like the Zeus rocket, decelerate back to earth and land softly on its fins. Its four engine could either launch probes or fit a supply pod for the Space Station Freedom. Its ability to land back on earth notably allow experiments from the Space Station to be carried back safely, unlike the Japanese or European supply vehicle that burn down in the atmosphere.
The second vehicle is the ''Space-Jet'', reminiscing of the Space Shuttle, the Space-Jet is however focused on ferrying passengers on orbit, like on the Space Station. Much smaller and compact, the Space-Jet can bring 5 astronauts (1 pilot+4 passengers) out and back to earth in a quick fashion. Less complex, it notably only have around 425 thermal tiles compared to the Space Shuttle 20 000, allowing faster and cheaper refit and its small cargo bay is mainly occupied by the EVA and transfer module.

While many are astounded by the newly unveiled plans for a truly reusable launch vehicle, others are perplexed at the lack of heavy cargo capacity, wondering how parts for the Space Station Freedom could be send. While the planners of NASA stay vague and propose using the Space-Hopper for the smaller modules, nothing seem to be capable of taking the mantle of the venerable Space Shuttles, announced to be retired between 2035 and 2040, once NASA have sufficient stock of Zeus and its second stages. Idem for any manned planetary exploration, while one engineer proposed to refuel the Space-Jet with a Space-Hopper, technically allowing it to make a trans-lunar orbit and come back, probes seem to be destined to be man's eyes on the other stellar objects.

But what many dejected enthusiast were not aware, was that the Zeus configuration was only half of NASA plan, more accurately, the half that had been accepted and funded by congress. NASA officials had stayed vague because they were still in negotiations for the improved version: the Zeus Heavy Rocket. A Zeus core fitted with two ''Hera Side Booster''. These Hera booster were quite the technological leap themselves, as unlike other side booster, they were liquid fuel engines that, like the Zeus rocket, could land back on their fins and be reusable. Although their single engine meant that they needed side fins to stabilize their trajectory, adding complex computerizing and control for the booster, they would add significantly more payload capacity. Along the Zeus Heavy, the Star-Shuttle and the Galaxy-Ship were added as second stage; one being effectively a Space-Shuttle being able to land vertically, possessing the same payload capacity and various mission capacity, the other being an enlarged version of the Space-Hopper capable of sending 40 000 Kg in low-earth orbit, and notably, be the gate for space-built space ships, further space stations or even lunar bases.
Despite these wild promises, many in congress are still reticent on expend the budget while the first Zeus rocket as not flied yet, so maybe, if the star aligns, after the first successful Zeus launch planned around 2025-2028, the next stage in the human conquest of space would be approved.
 
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