Eyes Turned Skywards

Oops, you've got the wrong characters, Nixonhead.

Named a hortened form of “Sky Home”

Home, jia (flat accent), is indeed 家 (or can be, I don't know if there are other possibilities).

But 'tian' here is 'sky' not 'field' (which is what you have).

天 is the character you want for that.
Oops, you've got the wrong characters, Nixonhead.

Home, jia (flat accent), is indeed 家 (or can be, I don't know if there are other possibilities).

But 'tian' here is 'sky' not 'field' (which is what you have).

天 is the character you want for that.

Thanks! The perils of GoogleTranslate ;) Turns out I made a mistake in my Arabic too - e of pi points out that the image is actually of the future multi-modular Tianjia-2, not the 2007-12 Tianjia-1. I've updated the image on the wiki. Sorry for the errors.
Thanks! The perils of GoogleTranslate ;) Turns out I made a mistake in my Arabic too - e of pi points out that the image is actually of the future multi-modular Tianjia-2, not the 2007-12 Tianjia-1. I've updated the image on the wiki. Sorry for the errors.

You fixed the label on the picture, but the captions are still wrong.
This week's update is going to be a guest post from Brainbin, wrapping up the evolution of science fiction and greater culture in this timeline. It's been a real pleasure having him work on this with us, and I'm sure you will be just as pleased as I have been to see this last post, later tonight.
Part IV, Interlude #5: Look Up and See the Future
Salutations, everyone! I am the Brainbin, and I am honoured to present to you my final contribution to this wonderful timeline: the last of the pop culture interludes! I must say, it’s been one heck of a ride working on these things for all this time, and I like to think I’ve gained far more than I’ve invested into working on them. With that said, it brings me great pleasure to bring you the following...

Eyes Turned Skyward, Interlude #5: Look Up and See the Future

At the 2015 WorldCon being held in Seattle, the gathered assemblage of enthusiasts awaited the beginning of a highly-anticipated roundtable discussion whose panelists included some of the most renowned and acclaimed science-fiction writers, literary critics, and historians of the past several decades. The panel was being moderated by John Scalzi, a novelist and television writer of some renown, on a topic near and dear to his heart, that of how speculative fiction had reflected and interacted with the cultural mosaic of the previous two decades. “Science Fiction and Science Fact” was the name of the panel in question, and the convention’s organizers trumpeted it as an intellectual summit the likes of which were rarely seen. (Other, more cynical observers described it as “so transcendently nerdy, even a convention full of nerds think it’s the nerdiest thing they’ve ever seen”.)

“Thank you all for coming,” Scalzi said. “It’s really great to be hosting this panel today of all days, what with the latest news from Armstrong Base.” Murmurs of agreement could be heard in the audience, interrupted by one loud, triumphant cry of “ARMSTRONG!” which brought the house down with laughter. Scalzi did his best not to be brought down with it, and continued.

“A lot of changes have taken place in outer space over these last two decades. Our question is, how much impact have these changes had on the stories we’re writing in the science-fiction genre today, and how much reciprocal impact science-fiction is having on technological developments in the real world. With that said, allow me to introduce the panelists! Would you please give a warm welcome to…”

He introduced each panelist in turn (with the audience reaction varying wildly, from the polite-bordering-on-tepid applause for obscure academic historian C.A. Baxter to the full-throated cheers for such beloved figures as Ronald D. Moore and Ira Steven Behr). Since Ronald D. Moore - the public figurehead of Star Trek since the 1990s, and undisputed creative authority (apart from the invisible guiding hand at Paramount) since Gregory Garza’s tragically premature demise - was the first to be introduced, he received the first question of the night.

Star Trek has been with us for a long time now - half a century next year,” Scalzi said. “I know it means a lot to me, as I imagine it means a lot to many of us here tonight.” He paused to allow applause from the audience. “Ever since the 1960s, Star Trek has been credited as having ‘created the future’. Many of us are sitting here right now, playing with our phones, are living proof of that. With that in mind, Ron, how do you and the other Trek writers figure out how to depict future technology, in a world where Treknology is already a reality?”

“Oooh, great question, John,” Moore replied. “Coming strong out of the gate.”

“I try,” Scalzi said.

“Well, it’s a challenge,” Moore said. “I remember reading once, the real challenge isn’t anticipating the need for a car, it’s anticipating the gridlock and urban sprawl that would result from using them. I think the communicorder is the best of example of that. It doesn’t look nearly as advanced to have a single device functioning as a tricorder and a communicator in a world with smartphones.”

“That goes all the way back to Beyond the Frontier,” Scalzi said.

“Right, the first Star Trek show I worked on. That really captured the zeitgeist of the 1990s in a lot of ways,” Moore said. “Information technology was revolutionizing every facet of life, even if nobody knew quite what to do with it yet. On TOV, there was an episode where everyone made a huge deal about the computer running the whole ship. Nowadays, computers run everything.”

“And the setting itself, ‘beyond the frontier’ - leaving the galaxy for the first time.”

“Right, that was inspired by probes leaving the solar system, and plans for the longer-term lunar landings. There was no easy way to get back to Earth in just a few days. In a way, the Large Magellanic Cloud represented the Moon - close by, but somehow so distant at the same time. All the shots of the Milky Way in the background were inspired by lunar pictures of the Earth. Look how it fills the lunar sky. You’d think you could just reach out and touch it. But you can’t.”


One of the emerging themes of Star Trek: Beyond the Frontier was how technological advances could shorten distances between two points. That, coupled with the setting featuring diverse aliens with whom the combined Milky Way crews become acquainted through constant exposure, led many critics to view the series as an allegory for post-Cold War globalization. The Christmas Plot had proven that 1991 was not the “End of History”, but Star Trek’s idea of the future seemed to be a constant repetition of the same tactics which had, in-universe, united the Earth, and then the Federation, and finally the galaxy as a whole. In the long run, surely it could unite the whole universe.

BTF, as fans inevitably called it, stood in contrast to Exodus, the other major science-fiction series of the 1990s, in maintaining the overall optimism for which Star Trek had always been known. Ronald D. Moore himself was among the few writers who pushed for more interpersonal conflicts within the crew. Showrunner Gregory Garza agreed to this approach, provided that the crew come together to act as a united front against outsiders, rather like a dysfunctional family. Although fans of the show (along with fans of virtually all works of fiction) supported certain characters entering into a romantic coupling, the writers were much more tentative in their overtures in that direction - the franchise had not been terribly successful with past couplings. Captain Kirk and Yeoman Rand in TOV had been a widely-derided joke which ended in scandal; Commander Decker and Lieutenant Ilia were a tiresome and ultimately pointless tease; and Kirk’s romances in the movies had little more substance and longevity than those of James Bond, with him changing love interests in each successive film. Given the enforced long-term proximity of the combined crews, romance was eventually considered a necessity for narrative purposes, not to mention that it allowed the writers to allegorize interracial and same-sex relationships, and directly depict them, in the latter case. (TNV had featured gay characters, but never same-sex relationships.) The most controversial romance on the show was, in a demonstration of societal progress on the issue - neither (meta-fictionally) interracial (both characters were played by Caucasian actors) nor same-sex - it was between Captain Siobhan Ryan and the Klingon Commander Kahv, her First Officer. The relationship was praised for being based on mutual respect and understanding, and of the characters coming to know and like each other over time. Also, the romance remained on the back-burner; each character had far more going on.

Beyond the Frontier concluded after seven seasons (just like TNV) in 2001, with the crew using a combination of technologies cobbled together from the various alien powers they had encountered and befriended to permanently re-open the wormhole they had inadvertently traversed to the Large Magellanic Cloud. As a result of their tireless efforts, the Federation Council voted to establish a permanent outpost in the region, with which to conduct diplomacy and trade with their new allies - and, in due time, to accept new member worlds. The series ended with Captain Ryan ordering her navigator to set a course through the wormhole.

The Navigator, a Romulan, had to ask: “Where to, Captain?”

Ryan merely smiled at this. “Where else? Home.”


Beyond the Frontier was a really good experience for me,” Ron Moore concluded. “A great crash course in producing a weekly series. When I started, I barely knew which way was up. And Greg Garza was a great boss - the best I’ve ever had.” The audience dutifully applauded at the heartwarming mention of the late showrunner, still widely mourned by many Trekkies despite his own flaws as a writer.

“A man I knew personally, and well,” Scalzi said. “And I couldn’t agree more.” He paused, flipping through his note cards. “Of course, Beyond the Frontier wasn’t the only sci-fi show on TV in the ‘90s. Which brings us to the man sitting to your left, Mr. Ira Steven Behr.”

“Sorry Chris Carter couldn’t make it,” Behr quipped. “Once he heard about the moon base, he went over to NASA to ask if there were any launches to Mars, so he can find the aliens for himself.” The audience laughed, as did Scalzi.

“He was the man behind Exodus, yes, but you were the man up front,” Scalzi said. “And in its own way, Exodus was even more remote than Beyond the Frontier, despite a much closer setting, in terms of both distance and chronology.”

Exodus was about personal isolation,” Behr replied. “How you can be alone no matter where you are, or who you are. How it can strike anyone, anywhere.”

“How do you feel it was influenced by what was happening at the time?”

“Well, the Christmas Plot played a huge part, of course. A lot of doomsday predictions after that, fire and brimstone. But we’ve always been like that as a culture. The End Times have been around the corner for millennia. Somehow we always survive, and recover. That was another theme of the show. Look at how Europe rebuilt itself after the devastation of World War II. That’s one of the reasons we were always surprised at how everyone described the show as so pessimistic. I can’t speak for Chris, but I found it very idealistic.”


Exodus continued to stray from the “hard science-fiction” premise it had debuted with, due to the increased focus on Martian Mysticism by the show’s producer, Chris Carter. However, there was considerable resistance from the other writers, including Behr, as regarded Carter’s plans - or rather “plans” - for the aliens. He didn’t have any, and decided to write many alien plots as open-ended mysteries, leaving the door open for him pick and choose which clues he would use at a later date. Behr, in particular, favoured a more direct approach. “We should tell everyone upfront just what the aliens can do, and why. It’s enough that the characters don’t know.” The compromise that emerged was that the aliens were clearly testing the leaders of the human civilization, in particular the three protagonists played by Tim Matheson, Nana Tucker, and Bill Mumy, for some unknown purpose.

The only thing which could rival Carter’s love of aliens and mystery plots was his fondness for Judeo-Christian symbolism. To this end, the aliens (whom he personally called “angels”, a term which became widespread on the internet through online “fan chats” with the producers) intended to deliver the humans to the Promised Land (continuing the metaphor of the show’s title) - here represented by an entirely new, Earth-like planet in another solar system. However, the angels would only do this once the humans had passed their “tests”: once Matheson’s character had overcome his insecurities and doubts to become the strong, decisive leader the colony needed; once Tucker’s character had overcome her resentment and hostility to differing opinions and accepted the need for compromise; and once Mumy’s character had overcome his guilt due to his past actions and accepted his ability to redeem himself through good works. This theme of redemption was central to the series finale, in which the entire population of the colony was evacuated to their new homeworld, leaving the solar system behind. The blatant Judeo-Christian themes of the series finale were hugely controversial, generating intense internet discussion (and argument) which would endure for many years to come. Carter and Behr, for their part, both moved onto other projects.


“Ultimately, Exodus was an ode to human ingenuity,” Behr said in closing. “And we were inspired by what was happening in space. It juxtaposed the visceral and immediate horrors of a Christmas Plot with the triumphs in the space program at the time. New probes, new missions… so a post-apocalyptic story set in space seemed like a perfect melding of those two opposing ideas. And humans are deeply flawed - that’s what makes them human. But that makes our ultimate triumph, maybe even our inevitable triumph, more satisfying.”

“Do you think the controversial reaction to the religious elements might have encouraged subsequent writers to focus on less fantastic stories and settings in response?” Scalzi asked.

“It’s possible,” Behr replied. “After all, we hit on basically every theological precept from Moses to Jesus Christ and back again. Except for resurrection - but then Doctor Who had already done that.” That got a huge laugh from the audience, followed by applause. There was obviously no shortage of Doctor Who fans attending the panel.

“Dr. Baxter,” Scalzi said, after the buzz had died down. “Since Beyond the Frontier and Exodus had ended at about the same time, what did that mean for science-fiction from that point going forward?”

“The 2000s were a decade of social activism in support of populist causes,” Baxter explained. “The commercialization of the space industry, and the focus on infrastructure-building, was a double-edged sword. It made space travel more accessible, more mundane, and therefore less fantastic. That coloured people’s impressions of outer space. What so many shows, books, and movies had always treated as commonplace finally was. American producers weren’t able to adjust to this right away - but other creative types elsewhere, who were observing the very same shifts in their cultural perceptions - were able to adapt more quickly to the situation.”

“Where in particular were these creators?” Scalzi asked.

“A lot of them were in Japan. Japanese animation was becoming very popular in the United States at this time anyway, and the Japanese approach to just about any topic is to exaggerate its importance to almost comedic excess. Counter-intuitively, treating what was increasingly becoming mundane in the real world as epic and grandiose seemed to be a winning formula.”


Space travel and exploration had been a theme in Japanese anime for decades prior to the 2000s, exemplified in such disparate genres as the shoujo action-fantasy Sailor Moon and the shounen mecha Gundam series. These were generally in the vein of most fantasy stories written for younger audiences: focusing on a handful of special, “gifted” individuals. Shows with a space-borne setting which focused on average people with no particular gifts were a key innovation of the twenty-first century.

The “space trucker”, as Americans might call them, became quite common. Junk collectors and mercenaries with little more than their own jalopy ships and skeleton crews took to outer space, often stopping over at fuel depots - invariably depicted as gas stations. In a way, the depiction of space as something akin to the American West perfectly defined how it had lost the “frontier” aspects of its history while still remaining largely untamed, vast, and empty. [1]

On the other hand, space becoming more attainable for the average person allowed it to become the ambition of many an underachieving shounen (or occasionally shoujo) protagonist, forced to put his nose to the grindstone just in time to finish at the top of his class and be handed a golden ticket to become an astronaut - a job which required great skill and discipline, despite being increasingly routine - not unlike an accountant or engineer. That said, being an astronaut was still treated as “exciting”, as these series were usually modeled on professional sports animes, where being “the best” at a given sport was the pinnacle achievement.

Unsurprisingly, given the popularity of anime in the West in the 2000s, these shows would soon reach American audiences. Much like how the jidaigeki films of the mid-20th century had influenced Star Wars, these anime would influence American writers and producers as well, particularly those in the “space trucker” genre, which was already of a piece with the popular cyberpunk genre. It wasn’t surprising that the “space trucker” material was so popular, given how much it owed to the American West, and how trucker culture was so integral to the American concept of “cool”.

The most ambitious - and ultimately successful - example was Apache, a television show about a small crew of haulers operating out of the titular tramp freighter planet-hopping across the solar system in the (unspecified) near future. [2] This borrowed not only from the convoy aesthetic, but also depicted a romanticized, turn-of-the-(20th)-century “twilight of the old west” setting. The tramp freighter, for example, was outdated, being the proverbial stagecoach amidst a cavalcade of trains and automobiles. The crew of the freighter was, therefore, a crew of romantics, mostly older (though “mature” by Hollywood casting standards - in their 30s and 40s, much like the cast of Alien) and nostalgic for their prime years. The nostalgia was reflected in the eponymous theme song, the original 1960s version of “Apache”, as performed by the Shadows. The production values borrowed from the Used Future aesthetic pioneered by Star Wars, coupled with stories written and set in the American Southwest during the early 20th century, and the visual style of films set in the period (though filmed some decades later) such as Treasure of the Sierra Madre, and the works of John Ford and starring John Wayne. In terms of production values, action-adventure series of the 1960s and 1970s were a clear inspiration, though storytelling techniques and conventions were bleeding-edge modern, with a particular focus on arc-based narrative, taking inspiration from past science-fiction series.

The owners of the ship were a husband-and-wife team; he had the passion and it was his dream that had brought these well-heeled Terrans to the rugged outer limits of the solar system, whereas she had the brains and the silver tongue, not to mention the bankroll. It had been her money which had bought the ship and the cargo which had allowed them to get the ball rolling on making a living in trading out on the frontier. They were joined by their chief engineer, an old salt (or grizzled prospector, depending on the needs of the plot) who knew and cherished these old ships despite their effective obsolescence. The fourth and final permanent member of the cast was a gifted young woman from Mars who wanted to “see the universe” (despite her great intelligence that could get her a spot at any top Earth university). She joined, as most new characters who upset established ensembles do, in the pilot episode, along with another friend of hers who tragically died to prove that the situation was serious. Thereafter, the cast enjoyed a rotating “fifth chair” position, and the three “core” crewmembers always treated the fourth as if she too might leave at any time, though she never did. Indeed, she proved herself quite valuable as a cook and medic (due to her frontier living experiences) and - since she had studied psychology quite extensively - her role as a de facto morale officer. (Her plans to become a psychologist were the inspiration for her plans to tour the frontier, to see “real people” and not “cast judgements perched atop an ivory tower”.)

More ambitious was a neo-noir film based on the cyberpunk genre, Spin City. Another retro throwback to films such as Blade Runner, Spin City was set in an orbiting colony in outer space, which was owned by a consortium of corporations (which had paid to build the colony, and whose word was law). It concerned a private detective (naturally) who sought to locate a missing person - only to find him dead, and himself the prime suspect in his murder. On the run from the corporate police, he discovers a vast conspiracy which reaches into the uppermost echelons of the colonial bureaucracy - which, if uncovered, could throw the colony into utter pandemonium. The film became a cult classic, receiving critical praise and several Academy Awards (though only in the technical categories).


“Of course, the general trend of Japanese focus on harder science fiction didn’t exclude some very popular exceptions, which had more science-fantasy influences,” Baxter continued. He looked about ready to continue speaking - he had already talked for longer than all of the other panelists combined up to this point - but Scalzi interrupted.

“Thank you for your interesting findings, Dr. Baxter,” Scalzi said, resisting the urge to hold up a hand in an urge to stop him from speaking. “I think that’s an excellent opportunity to move on to our next panelist, the author of the popular Draconic Instruments Trilogy of urban steampunk fantasy novels-turned-hit HBO series, Judith Rumelt.”

The precipitous decline of positive responses from the audience while Baxter had been speaking made a dramatic reversal when her name was announced, particularly from a group of cosplayers in top hats and - counterintuitively - tight leather pants. “Judith, your work is set in the 19th century, though it retains many trappings from the present day,” Scalzi said. Why do you feel the ‘present-day past’ setting has become so popular in recent years?”

“That’s a good question,” Rumelt replied. “People like familiar settings, but they’re aware of how modern technology doesn’t really make for good drama. How many episodes of classic TV shows would be wrapped up in two minutes if the characters had cell phones? There’s a certain appeal to writers of an age where the fastest form of communication was by carrier pigeon.”


Perhaps the single defining aspiration of the twentieth century in science-fiction was man’s conquest of the Moon, dating all the way back to A Trip To The Moon, the very first science-fiction film, in 1902. Mid-century futurist exhibits proudly predicted lunar colonies by the year 2000. After the first Artemis mission took place in 1999 and effectively fulfilled this prediction in essence (if not in scope), the sense of anticlimax was palpable. As one of the great science-fiction scribes, Theodore Sturgeon, had so famously written: You may find that having is not so pleasing a thing, after all, as wanting. It is not logical, but it is often true. And so it was in this case. Therein lay the appeal of the steampunk genre, and those which were descended from it: dieselpunk and atompunk were foremost among these; collectively, these genres were known as “retro-futuristic”. This double adjective captured its synergy with nostalgia in general, and with the escapism of more traditional swords-and-sorcerers fantasy.

In contrast to the epic scope of most traditional fantasy stories (pioneered by Lord of the Rings, which was in turn inspired by epic folktales such as Beowulf), retro-futuristic stories tended to focus on a narrow group of characters, often in an urban setting - which lent itself well to genres such as mystery, suspense, or horror, and a generally dark, gritty, and noir-ish feeling. This was a departure - escapist settings were usually sunnier, more idyllic. Along with a sister genre, the urban fantasy (which featured explicitly supernatural happenings, usually of and pertaining to fantastic creatures), the point of these genres were the juxtaposition of the familiar with the unfamiliar in bizarre, almost surreal ways - and indeed, self-awareness tended to be common. Earnestness didn’t play well in urban fantasy or retro-futurism.


“Thank you, Judith,” Scalzi said. “Of course, that’s not the only way to deal with escapist fantasy. For another approach, we have Kathleen Kennedy, Chief Creative Officer of Lucasfilm.”

Applause rose from the audience, though more tepid than previously, and with a few scattered provocateurs daring to boo and hiss - though never without someone shhh-ing them.

“Kathleen, how do you feel more traditional science fantasy appeals to today’s audiences in a way that it might not have in the 1970s and 1980s, and vice-versa?” Scalzi asked.

“I think that nostalgia has had a cumulative effect,” Kennedy replied. “People were nostalgic for the adventure serials that inspired Star Wars, and in addition to that lingering nostalgia, they’re also nostalgic for the Star Wars films themselves. We feel that’s part of the reason why the re-releases and the prequels have been so financially successful.”

More scattered boos and hisses. Kennedy studiously ignored them - she had a lot of practice. Again, there were no small number of positive responses either. It made for a fine microcosm of fan reactions to Star Wars, ever since the mid-1990s...


George Lucas had never been truly satisfied with what would eventually become known as the “original trilogy” of Star Wars films - Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi - and as soon as the technology for doing so became available, he vowed to re-edit these films to bring them closer in line with his original vision. He was, at heart, an auteur, who viewed his every concession to the collaborative nature of filmmaking as a personal slight. He took more advantage of the two-decade nostalgia cycle than anyone else (unsurprising given his keen business acumen) when he re-released the trilogy to theatres in 1997, for the 20th anniversary, as part of the Special Edition - with many changes from the original theatrical release, as well as all home video releases up to that point. He would not live to see the fan reaction to these changes, however, given his tragic death in early 1997, when he was fatally wounded as a bystander in a drive-by shooting. [3].

By this time, pre-production on the first of the prequel trilogy of films had begun. By the term of Lucas’s last will and testament, Steven Spielberg would direct the prequel films. However, he had not completed the script for even the first instalment (Episode I - the original trilogy comprised Episodes IV through VI), and therefore Lawrence Kasdan, who had co-written both Empire and Jedi, was hired on as the principal scribe for the prequel trilogy. Kasdan based his drafts on Lucas’s story ideas, but many of them were found unworkable. Initial plans to make the first movie about Darth Vader’s childhood were scuttled, replaced with plans to focus on an adolescent Vader, about Luke’s age in the first film. Vader, still known by his birth name of Anakin Skywalker, had been orphaned by a traumatic event and left with no alternative but to join the Republican Starforce, where he would eventually encounter a Jedi Knight named Obi-Wan Kenobi, who sensed great power and Force potential in him. The promotional blitz for Star Wars Episode One was unprecedented, with tie-ins covering every conceivable merchandising operation. There was no way that it or any other film could live up to that hype, and indeed it didn’t. Critical reviews were very good, bordering on excellent, but fan reaction was deeply divided. As expected, the film made a mint - nearly half a billion dollars, more than all of the releases of the original Star Wars put together (though still less than Titanic). [4] Though the film won no Academy Awards beyond the obligatory technical nods, it swept that year’s Saturn Awards.

The two films that followed charted Anakin Skywalker’s seduction by and descent into the Dark Side of the Force, and his romance with Padme Amidala, the mother of his two children (Luke and Leia). In a reversal of fan reaction to the original trilogy, the final film of the prequel trilogy - Rise of the Sith - was the best-received. The actors received consistent plaudits for their performances, particularly the returning Ian McDiarmid as Palpatine. John Williams, naturally, provided the film’s most highly-praised aspect in its original score, with some of his pieces considered on par with his legendary soundtrack for the original trilogy. The visual effects played a large part in bringing CGI out of its awkward, 1990s-era adolescence, though practical effects continued to play a substantial role in the making of the film. The location footage was striking and beautifully shot. The fight sequences were elaborate without feeling unreal or outrageous; Spielberg clearly put his Oscar-winning experience shooting World War II battle sequences to good use. Despite these clear strengths, fans continued to be deeply torn as to how the films should be regarded within the greater mythos - the prequel trilogy had demolished decades of cherished fanon. This, coupled with the poorer box-office receipts of Episode II in particular (the only Star Wars film not to finish at #1 in the year-end box-office tally) would have a chain reaction which affected the franchise’s greatest and longest-lasting rival.

Star Trek was riding high after three successful “prequel” films of its own by the time of the Star Wars Special Edition. A fourth film was greenlit which would, ultimately, be released in the same year as Star Wars: Episode One. Aware of the need to draw in extra fans, Harve Bennett decided to make the movie about the first mission of the USS Enterprise under Captain James T. Kirk - which would unite most of the characters from TOV and TNV (with the notable exception of Chekov, whose introduction was planned to be delayed until the fifth film). The opening scene featured James T. Kirk being promoted to Captain and assigned command of the USS Enterprise as Captain - now Commodore - Pike handed over command to him. Spock became his First Officer; Dr. McCoy his Chief Medical Officer; Montgomery Scott his Chief Engineer; Lt. Hikaru Sulu his Helmsman, and Lt. Nyota Uhura his Communications Officer. The plot involved the introduction of the nefarious Klingon Commander Kor (as part of the introduction of the Klingons to the prequel films, from which they had been largely absent up to that point). Kor had appeared in one episode of TOV (“Errand of Mercy”) and several episodes of TNV, though never as an adversary of Kirk’s after his initial appearance. This film changed that, borrowing the popular superhero movie approach of taking a character from Kirk’s “rogues gallery”. Kor died at the end of a prolonged space battle sequence, his conspiracy to start a war between the Klingon Empire and the Federation thwarted by the crew of the Enterprise.

Star Trek: Cold War was well-received by critics, though fans were more lukewarm (as was the case with Star Wars). The film was derided as too derivative; in addition, a vocal minority complained about the continuing absence of Ensign Chekov (who, Bennett explained, was still Cadet Chekov at this point, and would appear in the next film). However, as with all previous Star Trek films, Cold War turned a healthy profit. Thus, a fifth film was ordered, which would premiere in 2001: Star Trek: Eugenics Warriors. As the title implied, the featured villain was Khan Noonien Singh, whose derelict SS Botany Bay was discovered - not by the Enterprise, but by a sister ship, the USS Republic - whose crew was quickly overwhelmed and subjugated by Khan and his men (and women). The task falls to the Enterprise to contain the Republic before it can do any further damage to peace and order within (or beyond) the Federation. Khan was played by an actor also named Khan - Aamir Khan - an actual Indian, as opposed to the Mexican Ricardo Montalban who essayed the role originally (in “Space Seed” on TOV, and then in numerous TNV episodes); this was a deliberate attempt by producers to “rectify” what they described as a “past wrong”. Aamir Khan’s performance as Khan Noonien Singh was intense and brooding, making him a convincing sociopath and supervillain, though he lacked Montalban’s charisma and magnetism, making him less believable as a natural leader.

Unfortunately, the film opened opposite Star Wars Episode Two, and it lost the ensuing box-office battle. Reviews were mixed-to-negative, and fans - who were very protective of Montalban’s Khan in a way they weren’t even of Kirk, Spock, or Bones - had little nice to say about (Aamir) Khan’s performance, ultimately coming to view the role of Khan as a triumph of talent (Montalban) over authenticity (Aamir Khan). By 2001, the internet was sufficiently large, diverse, and popular that the toxic buzz surrounding the release of Eugenics Warriors would work to help prevent the release of a sixth film in the prequel series. Harve Bennett kicked around a few story ideas, but he and Paramount would officially part ways in 2002 - ostensibly for him to enter retirement, as he was 72 years old - and Paramount itself decided that perhaps the franchise should lay fallow once more (Beyond the Frontier had also ended in 2001), leading Star Trek into its third hiatus in franchise history (after 1969-77, and 1984-91). Bennett had been waiting in the wings from 1984 onward for the resurrection of the franchise, but the Heir Apparent to his informal title as creative head of Star Trek, Gregory Garza, would not live to see the franchise return as a result of his tragic death, leaving it rudderless.


“Back around to Ron again,” Scalzi said, flipping through his note cards, “Since that brings us to the present. And the present of Star Trek is, of course, The Enemy Within. Your writing staff had several years to strategize after Beyond the Frontier ended - how did the changes in the space program in the interim affect your plans?”

“Well, first off, it helps to have a great creative consultant,” Moore replied, and Scalzi (the creative consultant in question) tried his best to look modest. He failed, miserably.


“The Enemy Within”, obviously, was the name of a classic TOV episode - the one where Kirk gets split in two (Good!Kirk and Evil!Kirk). The title, while being delightfully evocative, was also an effective allusion: the primary enemy race in this new series, a shape-shifting alien race known amongst themselves as the “Progenitors” but known by the Federation Alliance as “changelings” or “shape-shifters”, obviously due to their ability to take any form, including those of trusted friends and allies. No consistent method of detecting who was an imposter and who was the genuine article was ever discovered - even transporters and communicorders were unable to tell them apart, due to the quantum spectral radiation given off by the Progenitors (who were mechanical in nature). [BC] However, this was only revealed as the seasons wore on. It began on the edge of the Milky Way - the Federation Alliance controlled over 95% of its home galaxy as the pilot movie opened.

The crew of the lightly-armed “runabout” survey ship, USS Voyager, was exploring a distant spur of a spiral arm on the other side of the galaxy from the Sun when sensors detected a single, very massive vessel from “outside” - beyond the galactic barrier and in the intergalactic medium. The first sign of trouble came when this ship was able to traverse the barrier without any adverse effects - at least, based on the observable evidence. The Captain of the Voyager attempted to hail this unknown vessel, only to receive no immediate response other than being scanned - and then, watching in amazement, for the unknown alien vessel to suddenly (and dramatically) change its shape to match a vessel of the same class as the Voyager. Where no life signs were detected initially, now a few dozen could be found; visual communications were established; a man who vaguely resembled Voyager’s CO (played by the same actor, under heavy prosthetics) was at the helm of this new ship. It was clear that these aliens were mimicking Voyager, but for what purpose? The ship’s communications officer reminded the Captain that many aliens had inscrutable customs; perhaps this alien ship was mimicking Voyager simply to send a greeting. This impression was reinforced by the alien Captain merely parroting everything that Voyager’s captain said to him, and the alien crew gradually looking more and more like the Voyager originals as the conversation between the two Captains continued (achieved through the actor’s prosthetics gradually being removed, with the transitions depicted through CGI “morphing” rather than the more traditional jump cuts). However, the crew of the Voyager soon tired of this and broke off communications. As they discussed their next move, the tactical officer announced that they were under attack - the enemy ship had begun to fire upon them. Fortunately, the enemy’s weapons were pathetic, even in comparison to those of Voyager, who returned fire and was able to defeat the enemy, who self-destructed (in a massive, modulated burst of energy) rather than risk capture. Bemused and totally puzzled, Voyager decided to return to the nearest Federation outpost.

Where Voyager went, trouble followed - the ship had arrived at the outpost and was under repair when they were hailed by a Starfleet Admiral demanding an explanation: the Voyager had attacked a Klingon freighter in the Garza sector, which was days away even at maximum warp (though still along the outer edge of the galaxy, in the same quadrant). Given the ship’s past itinerary, there was no way it could have been anywhere near the Klingon freighter - which, due to how heavily-armed all Klingon ships were relative to others in their same or equivalent class, had damaged “Voyager” beyond hope for recovery, and it, too, had self-destructed in a similar burst of energy. Since Voyager was still in one piece, it could not have been responsible. Starfleet quickly ascertained that these unusual pulses of modulated energy had to contain encoded signals, though these signals were omnidirectional, making the intended recipient untraceable. All that could be determined was their range; the ship which had attacked the Klingon freighter had to have received the signal from the one which had attacked Voyager. Estimates of this range were confirmed when Starfleet lost contact with Federation research base situated near an interstellar anomaly, about the same distance away from the Klingon freighter that the freighter was from Voyager.

Voyager had an edge in that they actually had recorded scans of the alien entities as they existed prior to taking on the shape of Federation vessels, and reported this information to Starfleet - in exchange, they would be supporting a task force dispatched to the last known coordinates of the research base in order to re-establish contact. This task force - a full-on Federation Alliance effort - included a Klingon strike force, under the command of Captain Kahv (Jonathan Simmons, co-star of Beyond the Frontier, in the increasingly obligatory “pass-the-baton” appearance). Kahv was depicted as considerably older than he appeared in Beyond the Frontier, far more than only seven years of aging could explain, implying that the show was set some decades in the future from BtF. The task force arrived at the clearly abandoned base - no lifesigns were found, but unusual radiation not unlike the readings taken of the unknown vessel were detected. Captain Kahv suggested beaming a landing party aboard. The Captain of the Voyager demurred, but reluctantly agreed.

The situation onboard the laboratory was dark and spooky, not unlike a scene out of Alien. All of the known crew members were accounted for - dead, often in particularly gruesome ways. All sensor logs had been wiped; the library computer archives had been accessed and downloaded to some unknown device. Although there was no detectable alien presence, they had nonetheless chosen to send the anti-matter core into an irreversible overload to self-destruct the station - which could not be stopped. The landing party could not remain for long, lest they be blown away as well. The crew were about to return to their ship when a pair of Klingons ominously failed to respond to their team leader - however, when others were sent to look for them, they were quickly found, explaining their lost signal as their communicators having given out, probably as a result of the strange radiation. With nothing more that could be done, they returned to their ship, just in time to see the station explode… and another signal sent out. This was the third explosion, and plotting all three points on a galactic map created a curve, not unlike the circumference of a circle; all three radii neatly converged on the same central point, not too far outside the galactic barrier. The task force decided to head out in search of further answers.

After traversing the galactic barrier with relative ease (especially compared to the Enterprise back on TOV), the task force almost immediately found what appeared to be a mothership - it was much larger than the ship which Voyager had initially encountered. It was easy to find, given that there was no cover for it beyond the galaxy, an expanse utterly lacking in stars, planets, asteroid fields, nebulae, and gaseous anomalies. However, as the ships approached the mothership, there was suddenly trouble aboard Kahv’s vessel - two of the Klingon bridge officers (the same two who had briefly lost contact with the rest back on the station) suddenly rose up and attacked the others. They were, inexplicably, much stronger than the Klingons, and resistant to their disruptors - but not their physical weapons, which ultimately cut them down, revealing them to be shape-shifting robots - obviously, the very same ones who had encountered Voyager. Kahv, in particular, had a singular moment of triumph when he delivered the killing blow to the second of these changelings, though sadly not before most of his bridge crew had been killed by them. The changelings, though they could not self-destruct as spectacularly as the larger vessels from which they had spawned, still sent signals back to the mothership, which immediately launched “fighters” to attack the task force. The climactic battle of the pilot movie had well and truly begun.

Although Kahv’s flagship had itself been temporarily disabled (naturally, Kahv and his crew regained control just in time for a dramatic cavalry-style re-entry into the battle) the other Klingon ships were able to fend off the fighters most effectively, and began to advance on the mothership itself. However, it too self-destructed shortly thereafter… and sent out the same radiation as all the other ships had done. Apparently this was not a mothership after all, merely the next step up in a frightening matryoshka pattern. This was confirmed shortly thereafter when, upon returning to Federation space, the Admiral informed them that other such incidents had been reported throughout the galactic periphery, at distances of up to thousands of light-years away. A lingering question remained: what if some of these aliens had been more successful at infiltrating the Federation and its allies?

Although the pilot movie did not receive a wide theatrical release in the vein of the 1990s Star Trek films, it did receive a limited release in several cities in 2008, such as Los Angeles and New York (making it eligible for the Academy Awards), Washington, London, Paris, Berlin, Tokyo, and Sydney, among others - and, in what was billed as the first extraplanetary film release in human history, on the Orion Lunar Outpost.

The series proper continued many of the themes and situations established in the pilot movie. The advantage of Voyager’s size was an intimacy the viewing audience had with the small crew - this was a show with no redshirts. As a result, characters did not merely die to prove that the situation was serious - every death had meaning and lasting repercussions. This borrowed more from shows like Apache than from the history of Star Trek, so it was not without some controversy among Trekkies. Furthermore, all of these characters were given story arcs of their own, and the show - even moreso than Beyond the Frontier - was a true ensemble piece. These were also characters lacking in primal, heroic “alpha” traits - strong leadership and decisiveness was less important than cooperation and mutual understanding, which was very much emblematic of the time, and indeed it also reflected how sociologists viewed the “ideal astronaut” - less a John Wayne type, and more an Alan Alda type. (Alda himself was considered to play the Captain before it was decided to cast someone younger.)

Most episodes were mysteries (often in the TOV mould) or suspense/horror stories. Diplomacy was usually avoided, to make the show stand out from Beyond the Frontier. Intrigue was the show’s primary focus instead - the tone was often somewhere between a noir-ish, hard-boiled detective story and a taut, gritty spy thriller. Voyager was assigned an ongoing mission to seek out and root out possible activity by the alien race which had been called “the Infiltrators”. They could do this because they had first-hand experience with them, and because it was possible for them to operate somewhat clandestinely, lacking the profile (literally and figuratively) of an Enterprise or similar. Details about these aliens were doled out very gradually over the course of the series, but to Ronald D. Moore’s credit, he did sketch out a full backstory for them, and so avoided some of the traps of other, less rigorously-plotted shows (a common complaint regarding Exodus in particular). For one thing, although the Infiltrators continued to attempt to do just what their name implied and attempt to disguise themselves as humans and members of other races for some unknown purpose, enough of them were discovered and interrogated as the seasons wore on that more and more details were revealed about their true nature, including their name: the Progenitors.

The Progenitors were an example of von Neumann machines, robots capable of self-replication and self-reassembly to suit whatever needs their artificial intelligence deemed worthy. Though popularly referred to as “nanobots” in the jargon of the era, many of the Progenitors (such as their scoutships and motherships).were in fact quite large, consisting of many smaller pieces working together. It was eventually revealed that these alien robots were created millions of years ago, for the explicit purpose of conquering and pacifying alien worlds - by any means necessary. This naturally came to backfire on their creators after their empire became bitterly divided in a civil war - the Progenitor hive-mind could not decide which side to support, and ultimately took a third option - to destroy both sides and choose to govern themselves. However, they did elect to continue their original mission of conquering and pacifying “the enemy”, which led them to occupy their entire home galaxy (Triangulum, as it was consistently known in The Enemy Within) and spreading to other, nearby ones, including Andromeda and (obviously) the Milky Way. It turned out that not only were they facing resistance from the Federation Alliance in the Milky Way, but also from the dominant Kelvan Empire in Andromeda. This news astonished the ship’s First Officer, who was herself a Kelvan from the New Kelva “colony” (now a Federation member world). This would eventually tie into what turned out to be the Federation Alliance’s secret weapon, which comprised the ongoing storyline in the 2014-2015 season. The Progenitors were only capable of traversing the great distance between the galaxies by ship, which took hundreds of years. However, thanks to their experiences in Beyond the Frontier, the Federation Alliance could stabilize wormholes, and eventually Voyager herself found one leading to Andromeda. In the season finale, Voyager travelled through this newly-stabilized wormhole only to find itself in the heart of the Kelvan Empire - and immediately threatened by a massive armada of Kelvan ships, demanding that this strange alien vessel state its business, or face their wrath…


The room burst with applause - yet again! - after Moore had dropped his sixth or seventh tantalizing hint regarding the eighth season premiere. Scalzi had been indulgent, but it seemed as though even he was beginning to tire of it. Several members of his panel certainly were; Rumelt was seen rolling her eyes, muttering to Kennedy: “Pfft, Star Trek doesn’t have any shirtless guys in leather pants.” Baxter was openly yawning - ironically, he seemed to find the proceedings even more boring than the audience found him. Behr was pursing his lips so tightly that they had turned white from the pressure. Scalzi noticed this, and decided to put a stop to it. “Thank you, Ron,” he said. “But much as we all love what you’re doing with The Enemy Within, that unfortunately isn’t the subject of this panel.” Moore had the decency to look somewhat sheepish at this. “The question is, what has changed in popular culture with regards to outer space, and why has this been the case?”

“I think I have an answer for you, John,” Baxter said. Barely-suppressed groans could be heard throughout the audience, but Baxter - an academic, after all - studiously ignored them. “If you’re looking for transitions from space as it was to space as it is today, there’s a singular event to my mind in recent history which symbolizes that change.”


And indeed, no single event encapsulated the transition of space in the popular imagination from the “final frontier”, the Wild West writ large, to the “mere” endless expanse of truckers and rangers than the death of perhaps the defining space pioneer: Neil Armstrong, the first man on the Moon. He had lived his life in the decades following his historic moon landing in relative seclusion, eschewing the spotlight as much as possible. Upon his tragic death, there was some debate as to whether he would even receive a state funeral - one had not been bestowed upon anyone who had not been a President of the United States since General Douglas MacArthur in 1964. Armstrong’s would be the first in nearly a half-century. Nevertheless, plans went ahead due in large part to an attempt by the lame-duck President Woods to shore up popular enthusiasm for his administration despite its shaky record on investment in the space program. No doubt Woods was also mindful of his own legacy - many of his critics, who took pains to acknowledge that Armstrong certainly deserved a state funeral, pointed out that he nonetheless would not have wanted one and accused Woods of propagandizing the death of a great man for his own ideological purposes - a chest-thumping exercise of the highest order. [6] Certainly, the touching memorial at the Orion Lunar Base (which was quickly renamed Armstrong Lunar Base in his memory), with the famous photograph of the assembled crew saluting the flag at half-mast during his state funeral, did much to quiet any criticism of the occasion, even among the more cynical of those who had previously done so. Biographies, and indeed the eulogies given at the funeral (which included those of Armstrong’s crewmate Buzz Aldrin, fellow astronaut and former Senator John Glenn, and former President Al Gore) consistently described him as a “reluctant hero” - one who, no doubt, would have welcomed the demystification and democratization of space exploration.


Surprisingly, by the time he finished his own eulogy of Armstrong, Baxter had the audience in rapt attention. “It ties into the point Ron made earlier,” Baxter said. “You don’t need to be a Neil Armstrong to go into space anymore. That’s not what’s needed anymore, but it’s because of people like him that it’s possible for people like us to go into space in his stead. In every sense of the word, he was a pioneer… even though he flew aboard Apollo.”

Baxter did earn some groans at that terrible pun, but also a few chuckles as well, including from Scalzi. “I oughta put that in my next book, Cal - it’ll go along very nicely with the doll pun I’ve already written,” he said. “And a great way to cap some truly great sentiment. Since we’re talking about sentiment, I’d like to close this discussion with some final thoughts from all of you about what you think the current course of space exploration means to people, and what it means to all of you, how your works have responded to it, and will respond, in future.”

“I think it’s important because it inspires all of us to dream big dreams,” Kennedy replied. “Which is what it has in common with science fiction, I believe. We both want people to aspire to greater than what and where they are now. I’m thrilled with our continuing exploration of the Moon, but I think we can do better than that, and I can’t wait to see it. Onto Mars!”

Her battle cry was naturally met with cheers from the audience, the first time they had responded to Kennedy in such a fashion all night - clearly taking her aback somewhat. Rumelt, no stranger to controversy, and unafraid of adverse reaction, took the opposite tack.

“I really don’t think what we’re doing right now is as important as what was done in the past,” Rumelt said. “We’re never going to do anything as big as be the first to land on the Moon. We’re still billions of dollars and decades away from Mars, and all we’ll find there is the same thing we found on the Moon - dirt and dust and rocks. Like I said, I think this is why science fantasy and urban fantasy are so popular. The real future isn’t exciting - it’s boring. A perpetual series of letdowns. The human imagination is so powerful, nothing we accomplish in reality can ever live up to it. When we landed on the Moon, that’s one of the few times we were able to achieve exactly what we dreamed we could. Right now, the questions that science fiction really needs to address are peak oil, overcrowded cities, collapsing biodiversity, crop failure… solving them is a lot harder than just launching a rocket.”

Rumelt’s analysis met with scattered boos and hisses, but also some applause.

Behr was next. “I think the situation is a bit more nuanced than that,” he replied. “Technologies derived from space exploration have improved our everyday lives - especially in ways which are relevant to us as media creators. Computing, as an industry, owes most of its early developments to the military in World War II and then NASA in the 1960s. They laid the groundwork for the same technology that allows us to read your books on our e-readers. Solar power technology was perfected to power satellites, space stations, and vehicles - and Earth-based firms were able to use it to power our homes and offices. And how many of us got here with their GPS systems in their cars, or on their satellite phones? None of that would have happened if it wasn’t for the space race in the 1960s. That laid the foundation for our everyday lives, with some gentle guidance from people like Gene Roddenberry, Harve Bennett, Greg Garza, and of course my friend Mr. Ronald D. Moore.”

Behr’s opinion was met with considerably more enthusiasm than Rumelt’s, and Moore slapped his longtime-rival-turned-friend on the shoulder. “You’re too kind, Mr. Behr,” Moore teased in response. “If only you were this nice to me when Exodus was running.” Behr laughed loudly at this. “To answer your question, John,” Moore continued, “I think we’ve come to realize that the Earth needs to be protected. There’s already been a shift to sustainable development and alternate energy sources - a focus on efficiency and minimalism. We’re also more in touch with ourselves as compassionate, sensitive creatures. We want to change everything for the better - we’re increasingly without taboos, and disdainful of traditions and the way things have always been done. We’ll go to any means to make life better for all of humanity, up to and including changing humanity, if need be. Star Trek has always been hesitant to step into the field of genetic engineering, but I think it’s something we’re going to have a harder time ignoring as we move forward. Everything can be improved, by any means necessary, and anyone who stands in the way of that improvement will suffer the consequences. We’re definitely a more absolutist, less compromise-driven society than we used to be. Ironically because we’re more united than we ever have been in the past.”

“Well, thanks for that, Ron,” Scalzi said. “A lot to think about - from all of you. I hope you’ll join me in giving a big round of applause to all our panelists.” The audience duly obliged. “They’ll all be signing autographs later this evening, and I’m sure they’d love to see you in the alley. I’ll be there too, and so will I. Thanks so much for coming out, and have a great night!”

After another round of applause, the crowd gradually dispersed, as did the panel. Baxter muttered his goodbyes to the others before dashing away, leaving the convention hall entirely so he could make the flight back home in time to get a good night’s sleep before his morning lecture. Kennedy also did not linger; she was due to fly back to the Bay Area that evening. Behr and Moore decided to pick up a coffee and chat about old times before heading to their respective booths; only Rumelt chose to embrace her fans at once, as they rushed over to her and gushed about her fiction, which was nothing at all like the fan fiction she had once written. Scalzi observed all of this, silently, thinking that perhaps it would make fine material for his next novel. Writing about science fiction writers may have seemed overly precious and meta for anyone else, but for Scalzi, it was par for the course…


[1] Among the OTL anime inspirations for the shows we’re discussing here are Planetes, Space Brothers, Rocket Girls, and Cowboy Bebop.

[2] No, Apache is not Firefly - Joss Whedon died in the Christmas Plot.

[3] Because I’ve already got a car full of people due for an accident, and there was no room for George to be a passenger.

[4] IOTL, The Phantom Menace finished with over $400 million - good for #3 all-time up to that point - though still behind the original Star Wars.

[5] Essentially, the Borg meets the Changelings - with a dash of the T-1000 from Terminator 2). I’ve also been reliably informed that they borrow from the Reapers in the Mass Effect franchise.

[6] Neil Armstrong did not have a state funeral IOTL, because his family did not wish for him to have one. I will point out, without further comment, that this family included his widow (and second wife), whom he married in 1994 - a quarter-century after the POD.
Morning all. Today we join the crew of Armstrong Lunar Base as they pay their respects to a hero of the space age.

Part IV, Post 26: Lunar base planning, commercial moves
Eyes Turned Skyward, Part IV: Post #26

The first half of the 2010s was a busy time for NASA. After all, the last major change in vehicles for the agency had come almost thirty years in the past, nearly beyond the career of any outside of higher management. Indeed, Multibody’s basic design was now older than some of the engineers and technicians working to keep it flying. The last station transition (from Spacelab to Freedom) was not significantly more recent, and even Artemis had been established as a program for nearly twenty years. Even more significantly, NASA was now trying to switch horses in midstream, as it were, substituting Saturn II for Saturn Multibody at the same time it kept up flight rates to support Freedom and Orion and assembled the permanent lunar station at Shackleton. As NASA’s internal team and contractors worked on the projects, the scope of the projects made itself clear in the seemingly endless series of challenges which had to be navigated.

Even as Saturn II was progressing through its development, the first major payloads it would carry were slowly navigating the path to orbit themselves. The most straightforward of these, ironically, was the foundation of the Oasis-turned-Armstrong architecture: the NASA-contracted, Northrop-built Gateway network, essentially a scaling-up of Northrop’s existing TransOrbital architecture, though with some improvements. The network consisted of three major components. In Earth orbit, there was the Gateway 1 depot, a large depot derived from a Pegasus stage, just as NASA’s cryogenic demonstrator and TransOrbital’s operational depot had been derived from Centaur. As with these depots, the LOX tank of the depot would be made up of a slightly abbreviated Pegasus stage, roughly the size of the LH2 tank in an operational Pegasus, attached to another Pegasus-based tank (this one stretched substantially, to roughly 12 m long) at the front, where it would make up the depot’s LH2 tank. In between the two lay an equipment module, providing insulation between the tanks and housing avionics and docking ports for propellant transfer to and from tugs and tankers. In addition, the Gateway 1 station would also house larger solar panels and radiators than the original TransOrbital depot, which would be used for a new active chilling system designed to effectively eliminate hydrogen boil-off when combined with the existing TransOrbital-heritage passive cooling systems. The Gateway 1 station, when prepared for launch, was just barely short enough to fit within a Saturn-class widebody fairing, and would have the capacity for almost 140 tons of propellant--enough for nearly two complete Pegasus stages. As the Saturn II finished its testing, the final ground-testing of Gateway 1 was completed, and the station was being prepared for launch.

Even as Gateway 1 was being prepared, other elements of the system were already launching to orbit on the older Saturn Multibody. The first was a pair of Pegasus-T tugs. As with the TransOrbital Centaurs, these tugs were much more limited modifications of the source stage—equipped only with improved autonomous control, multi-layer insulation, and gaseous hydrogen/oxygen maneuvering thrusters, they weren’t intended for long-term propellant storage, only to serve as tankers or to push payloads. Because of this, the first Pegasus-T was able to catch a ride to orbit on a Saturn M02 in 2013, where it began its commissioning ahead of the launch of the Gateway 1 station it would serve. In addition to this tug, another M02 launched the first operational actively-chilled depot, this one a smaller Centaur-based station and a near-copy of the TransOrbital depot, to EML-2 in the same year. There, this Gateway-2 station would serve to “top-off” Pegasus tugs carrying payloads out from LEO to enable the tugs to return back to Earth orbit. Gateway 2’s check-out in EML-2 was sufficient to verify most of the technology changes from the original TransOrbital designs and confirm the readiness of Gateway-1 for launch, which then followed in the summer of 2014. The massive “orbiting gas station” was successfully deployed and tested, and many within NASA breathed a sigh of relief as the critical infrastructure for conveying Armstrong crews to the surface was completed.

Also entering service were the new generation of reusable vehicles which NASA was relying on to provide the cheap propellant to the Gateway system. Fortunately, here NASA was blessed with a variety of options. In addition to the only partially-reusable Saturn II and the veteran Thunderbolt L1 (both available as a last resort), the agency had contracts placed with both Lockheed-McDonnell and Star Launch Services to supply the network’s thirsty tugs with the hundreds of tons of propellant a year that the system would require using their coming generation of fully-reusable vehicles. Indeed, for both companies, this contract was key to closing the business case for the development of their reusable vehicles--NASA’s requirements provided each a solid base of flights to supply Armstrong’s propellant needs. The result was that the early 2010s saw not just StarLaunch’s development of the L2 orbiter for Thunderbolt but Lockheed’s more exotic two-stage Starclipper spaceplane. It was an all-out race between the two to see which would claim the honor of the first operational fully-reusable launch system.

Although SLS had been operating the reusable first stage of Thunderbolt for more than five years, Lockheed-McDonnell initially held a decisive lead on Starclipper’s development, benefitting from their myriad of other military and commercial aerospace ventures and resulting deep pockets. While Paul Allen was a billionaire, even his wealth seemed insufficient to self-fund Thunderbolt L2 development, especially given his reluctance to sink his entire fortune into the launch business. However, the approval of Saturn-II and resulting granting of a sub-contract for the landing system from Boeing to SLS was a major boon for the firm—not only were the funds themselves appreciated, but Allen was able to leverage them into a major second round of investment capital and push Thunderbolt’s L2 second stage development, led by Don Hunt, to full throttle. In spite of this, Starclipper’s two years of formal development and years of studies provided quite a lead to make up. In 2012, the new scaled-up X-33 which would serve as Starclipper’s first stage made its first development flights from Edwards Air Force Base, the same place where the original X-33 had been launched years before. Given this past history, there was less to verify with regards to the vehicle’s aerodynamics and overall design, and instead the test program that year focused primarily on the actual functionality of the booster’s engines, tanks, avionics, and thermal protection system. In a near-mirror of the flights made just over a decade earlier by its little brother, the maiden Starclipper booster North Star passed its acceptance tests with flying colors, including a long-range glide test to Malmstrom AFB—not just a verification of the vehicle’s glide-forward distance but a proof-of-concept for national-defense polar orbital launches. Following this flight, the vehicle was transported by aircraft to its new operating base at the ALS Matagorda Bay launch site, where it began a series of additional shakedown flights to the new Clarence “Kelly” Johnson landing site in southwest Florida. With the first booster operational, work proceeded on readying two others—one for national defense launches, the other as a “ready backup”.

While work proceeded relatively smoothly on Starclipper’s booster, the orbiter portion of the system proved more of a handful to the engineering teams. Faced with the challenges of achieving a lightweight vehicle capable of serving as a second stage, reaching orbit with a meaningful payload, then returning to Earth safely, it was perhaps no surprise that its development was complex and expensive. While the booster was making its first test flights, the testing of structural pathfinders and aerodynamic mockups continued throughout 2012. It wasn’t until the summer of 2013 that the first captive-carry and glide tests of the Starclipper orbiter were conducted from the back of a modified Lockheed Bistar freighter. However, once the flight testing began, the pace was rapid, beginning with a series of captive-carry flights. The test campaign concluded in a dramatic fashion with a pair of “approach and landing” tests, where the orbiter was released in mid-air to glide free of the carrier plane and into a runway landing to prove the orbiter’s approach and landing systems. With the testing concluded on each portion of the system, Starclipper was ready for its maiden flight in April 2014.

However, while Starclipper’s testing had been underway, StarLaunch had been closing the gap. Given that they had their own first stage already prepared, their development tasks were simpler, and the barrel-shaped Thunderbolt L2 stage was significantly less complex both structurally and aerodynamically than Starclipper’s spaceplane. Thus, around the same time that their Lockheed-McDonnell competition was preparing Leander for her first powered flight, Don Hunt’s SLS team was shipping the first Thunderbolt L2 stage to Wallops for flight testing. With its vertical takeoff, vertical landing design, SLS’ Thunderbolt orbiter benefited from being more easily tested separately from its booster, roughly mirroring the test hops which the Thunderbolt L1 booster had conducted in 2004. In these flights, the vehicle’s systems were shaken down and tested, with a primary focus on its avionics, the RL-10-based aerospike cluster, and the vehicle’s base-first thermal protection system. Thus, though the Starclipper team had almost a three-year head start, by the time of Starclipper’s first operational orbital flight in the summer of 2014, Thunderbolt was trailing by bare months, planning their own orbital demonstration in the late fall.

Both vehicles were faced with an immediate demand for their services. While they had been completing their tests, the Gateway-1 depot had been launched to orbit in July 2014, with filling immediately beginning using Thunderbolt L1 and Delta 5000 launches while NASA awaited the operational debut of the Commercial Fuel Services (CFS) vehicles. In 2015, the two competitors quickly began to ramp up their flight rates as they settled into routine operations not just supporting Gateway-1 but also sending satellites up to TransOrbital’s second generation Centaur tug and depot based on the Gateway-2 design for transport to GTO. However, the Americans weren’t the only ones seeing their plans for reusability paying off—the Aetos first stage of EuropaSpace’s Aquila system made its first taxi tests in August 2014, on track for ESA’s own system making its debut into service in 2015 or 2016. This was also key to NASA’s plans, given that the modular design of Discovery (whose modules were proceeding from design into assembly and launch preparation) depended in a large part on Aquila’s ability to launch and return large-diameter payloads of up to 30 tons in a single flight—almost triple that of Starclipper and five times that of Thunderbolt L2. In addition, Italian engineers were making progress on the design of ESA’s own depot system and their aerobraking interorbital tug, Prometheus. This coming ability to contribute to the propellant supply for the Gateway network was a major component of Europe’s barter for ongoing flights of its astronauts to Armstrong, Freedom, and (once it was launched) Discovery.

While the Americans and Europeans were achieving successes in advancing the next generation of space access, their Russian equivalents were more worried with securing their success in the previous generation. With the retirement and deorbit of the decrepit Mir in 2009, the Russians had been left without a space station on orbit, leaving them arguably less capable in spaceflight than even their Chinese former partners, thanks to the latter’s Tianjia program. While their cosmonaut’s flights on American Orion expeditions to the Moon was some comfort, it wasn’t much for a country that had grown used to being one of the two dominant leaders in spaceflight. Much of the weight of restoring the glory of the Russian program (and of funding any advancements to restore parity with even the Chinese or Europeans) depended on the plans for the semi-commercial Mir-II station. Following its “re-scoping” in 2009, in which the MOK-2 module originally built in the 1980s for Mir I was re-designated as a “phase two” addition to the station, work had proceeded with the preparation of the new-build DOS “service module” which had replaced MOK-2 as the central core of the station, and the TKS subsidiary modules had already been largely completed. However, the station wasn’t yet entirely free of the delays which had haunted it for half a decade. While the original plan as re-conceived in 2009 would have seen the station’s modules begin launching in 2013, the DOS-SM was only barely shipped to Baikonur towards the end of the year, and the station’s launch would slip one last time into 2014.

However, this delay would indeed prove to be the last. In February 2014, as the Americans were readying Armstrong, Gateway, and Discovery, Mir-II finally got off the ground as a Vulkan carried the DOS-SM to orbit. Later in February, the first crew of cosmonauts would take up residence in the module, and oversaw the addition of the first two subsidiary TKS labs necessary to support the “interim” crew capacity of 6. With this complete, the station was visited in October by its first paying visitors when the operations crew of three was joined by another TKS module flown by one cosmonaut and carrying two space tourists. With Mir-II finally in orbit and earning money, Roscosmos was able to finally begin thinking about preparing MOK-2 to join the station—a task made easier by the ability to rely on DOS-SM for much of the command, control, and crew life support functions which MOK-2 would have hosted in the original Mir-II designs. In addition, at long last, the Russians were able to begin the job of conceptualizing their own reusable launch system to replace their Vulkan and Neva launch systems, just as Saturn II, Starclipper, Thunderbolt, and Aquila were replacing other launch systems of the same vintage.

While the Russians were finally following through on their plans for their new station, the Americans were coming closer to fruition of their own plans for the expansion of the Orion into its new guise as the permanently-staffed Armstrong Base. While each Orion mission was as capable a platform for scientific exploration as the entire Artemis mission series (much as each Artemis flight nearly matched the sum total of the Apollo missions), they were still limited in their ability to expand the base and explore for extended durations beyond a hundred kilometers around the South Pole. Additionally, while the base’s facilities--a three-story expanded Artemis habitat, an Artemis-derived logistics lander, and two pressurized rovers--were more than sufficient for the early month-long missions, they were distinctly cozy for the longer 3 and 4-month flights that had followed in the early 2010s, particularly as the habitat’s volume (and even the volume of the logistics lander freed by consumables usage) was becoming crowded with longer-running experiments and new gear transported up by the annual flights. Finally, the outpost’s two main modules were securely bolted atop their descent stages, making transporting or linking them with any expansion modules impossible.

Armstrong was designed to improve on its predecessor in several ways. Some of these were in the transportation architecture; in addition to being cheaper, the topping off of the descent stage’s propellant and the assistance of the Pegasus tug would enable landing 20-ton modules on the lunar surface, an increase from the 14.5 tons of Artemis and Orion’s single-H03 cargo missions, and even on the 17-ton payload of the dual-launch crew landings. This use of the Gateway network and reusability was key to the plans for maintaining a permanent staff at Shackleton crater. However, Armstrong also represented a switch to a more permanent, expandable base design as well as a more sustainable access architecture and a slight increase in payload capability. First, the base for the first time would detach landed modules from their habitats and place them on the surface--a change which would serve to dramatically ease operations around the base, preventing a recurrence of the famous “Little fall” by Artemis 7’s commander. However, the change would also make it possible to connect the base’s modules directly, in a surface-bound version of the modular assembly used in every space station since Spacelab in 1978. To accomplish this, the base would use a new rover design, called the All-Terrain Lunar Activity System (ATLAS). This was a two-part rover, each part having a tripod of long wheeled legs. These halves could extend up on opposite sides of a descent stage, grab a payload from the top, and then move it off and lower it to the ground. Once at ground level, ATLAS could then roll the modules around to connect them. Once linked, permanent legs could deploy from the modules to hold their position and level on the ground, and ATLAS could detach to other work.

This crane/rover capacity figured heavily in the design and assembly sequence of Armstrong. The plan called for three cargo landers to deploy several major modules. The three primary modules were based on the same vertically-oriented 5-meter diameter modules used in the Artemis, assembled in a triangle. Each would have two levels within its rigid portion, plus an inflatable dome--equivalent in size to the Orion habitat module. The modules could be linked to each other as well as other module by new “Surface Attachment System” docking ports. SAS was a port standard similar to CADS or LPAS in concept, but with a taller, more traditionally “door-shaped” opening. The first module to land would be fitted out as the “operations and habitat core,” essentially a lunar-bound equivalent of Freedom’s Habitat and Service Module Challenger. In this role, the operations would house the base computers, main life support systems, and primary crew-support functions including working spaces, the galley, and a hygiene station. In addition, the module would launch to the lunar surface with the base’s main airlock attached at one of its side ports and carrying the ATLAS rover. The second cargo lander would carry the station’s science and lab module. The lower floor would be entirely dedicated to a geology lab and EVA support, including the suitports and an SAS port initially housing a backup airlock, while the upper level would be devoted to biological and physics experiments. The third module would be devoted initially to cargo and logistics, with heavier equipment and spares on the lower level and food and other supplies on the upper story, but it also included reserve suitports, life support, and a second hygiene station, and its internal volume was intended to be repurposed as the supplies were consumed, such as for expanded living quarters or equipment storage.

In addition to these three main modules, there were several smaller modules planned. The most notable was a new pair of pressurized rovers, much like the design already in service at Orion. This “camper” had seen heavy use during Orion, and thus the decision had been made to provide a new pair of rovers, which would include the new SAS ports among other improvements to enable longer-duration traverses. This would not only allow the rovers to dock directly to the base and avoid the necessity of an EVA to transfer crew and supplies, but would also allow the two rovers to dock to each other in the field during long traverses, providing additional contingency options for trips which might be as much as a week’s drive from Armstrong proper. One of these new rovers would arrive on each of the second and third cargo landings, atop the science and logistics modules. The other secondary module was an experimental “semi-rigid” module. This would consist of a deployable floor frame with an SAS port in a single vertical wall. The sidewall of the rest of the sausage-shaped module would then inflate, like the habitat domes on Artemis and Orion and the new modules under design for Discovery, with the rigid frame serving as the basic structure and an attachment point to the rest of the base. The module’s main purpose would be to test semi-rigid expandable modules for surface bases, but it was intended to be attached to the science module for expanded lab space (potentially including a small greenhouse if fitted with appropriate lights) and could also be buried under regolith to serve as an improved “storm shelter”. Combined, the modules of Armstrong would offer over two thousands square feet, making the base “house-sized,” as the Public Affairs Office insistently noted.

While Armstrong’s modules were being assembled by Boeing in Bethpage ahead of the planned 2015 first landings, NASA was finishing operations at Orion. This was driven by a combination of factors, ranging from minor contributors like the need for experienced lunar mission planners’ input into the development of Armstrong’s hardware to the more serious, like the minimization of tricore Saturn Multibody H03 launches during the transition to Saturn II. However, the most dominant was the depletion of the outpost’s pre-emplaced supplies. Originally, Orion had landed with roughly 12 crew-months of consumables, and each Orion crew added only another three weeks between their lander and the annual Luna-Pe resupply vehicles, while lasting six weeks to three months. This meant that over time the stocks of consumables at the base were being steadily depleted, though this had been anticipated during initial planning. Since the plans called for Armstrong’s maiden crew to rely on Orion’s habitat as a “construction shack” during initial fitting out of the base, it was necessary to leave a supply reserve, which could then be added to Armstrong’s initial supply cushion if some part were not consumed. Thus, the final Orion mission would be Orion 5 in 2012, lead by Aaron Altman, a veteran of Artemis 8. During their three months at the outpost, Altman’s crew primarily focused on closing out operations at Orion, finishing and collecting data and samples from a variety of long-running experiments and preparing the site and the modules for two years of inactivity and remote operation before Armstrong’s modules would begin their arrivals.

The final hurdles to be cleared before the beginning of Armstrong and Discovery’s operations was the introduction and testing of the new Saturn II first stage, upon which the cheap launches of the base and station components and crewmembers would depend. Fortunately, Boeing was an experienced astronautics firm, and both they and their subcontractor Starlaunch had experience with the introduction and testing of reusable vehicles--Boeing with the heritage of Grumman’s X-40 Starcat, and Starlaunch with the more recent Thunderbolt L-1 and their ongoing work on the new L-2. Thanks to this, work had been proceeding with remarkable dispatch since the program’s official approval in 2009, and even as the Michoud Assembly Facility continued to roll Saturn Common Cores and Boosters for Freedom and Orion operations, the first structural test and flight Saturn II first stages had taken shape beginning in 2011. In 2012, the first integrated core had been shipped to Stennis to undergo rigorous qualification testing of the new engine cluster and the core’s structural design. Later in the year, while S-2-B001 was still in testing at Stennis, S-2-B002 was shipped by barge to Cape Canaveral to begin facilities checkout.

With the launch of Orion 5 in July 2012, the flight rate at KSC saw a noticeable drop off, enabling the dedication of a VAB cell and Mobile Launch Platform to preparations for Saturn II. Also undergoing preparations was the new Saturn Landing Facility (SLF) which had been constructed on the grounds of the decommissioned LC-13. Preparations at LC-13 such as the new Booster Preparation Facility (BPF) and the landing pad itself were given priority, and S-2-B001 soon arrived fresh from its testing in Stennis in early 2013 as S-2-B002 was belatedly shipped to Stennis for its own qualification for flight. As with Starcat and Thunderbolt before it, Saturn II made its first flights in short hops from deployed landing gear at the SLF, verifying the ability to conduct a safe landing. After a series of escalating altitude hops concluded in mid-2013, Saturn II made its first flight from KSC in July, launching from LC-39B in a suborbital flight, flying downrange almost 50 kilometers, and then returning to a successful landing at the SLF. A repeat flight was conducted in late August, and the first full Saturn II demonstration flight took place in November, with the S-IV upper stage delivering its mass simulator to orbit at roughly the same time that S-2-B003 touched down at the SLF. In 2014, Saturn II was officially qualified as operational, at least in the “Medium” configuration, and the flight rotation of six boosters took up the slack with hardly a hiccup as Saturn II officially took over the “milk-run” flights to Freedom, even as testing continued on landings on the downrange recovery of cores and of the Saturn-II Heavy configuration, which debuted in November 2014.

With the testing of the first Saturn II Heavy, the final roadblocks in the preparation of Armstrong were cleared: Gateway was up and running, and Armstrong’s modules were prepared for flight. Over the course of 2015, the first three operational Saturn-II Heavies lofted their payloads to LEO, handing off the landers carrying the Operations, Science, and Logistics to the Pegasus tugs which would convey them to EML-2, from which the landers delivered the three payloads safely to the lunar surface. Today, all that remains is for the arrival of the first Armstrong base crew to follow the base’s hardware to the surface and complete the assembly and commissioning of the first permanent moonbase, a flight scheduled for early spring of 2016. Meanwhile, within NASA, attention is shifting to the plans for the launch of the first modules of Space Station Discovery in 2017, and the subsequent retirement and de-orbit of Space Station Freedom. With the commissioning of a new wave of reusable vehicles, a new generation of space stations, and the first permanent moonbase, a new era is dawning in spaceflight--one that holds the promise of accomplishing long-delayed dreams dating back to the era of Apollo.
OK. I'm confused.

You talk about a propellant depot at EML-2 to top off tugs before their return to earth - but if the tugs don't have the fuel to make it there and back, where does the fuel in the depot come from?

Your tugs for GTO were only for gTo, they didn't have the energy to take a satellite to GSO, and return. Surely, it's more expensive to get to L-2? (I haven't done the mechanics or anything...)

And if tugs ARE bringing fuel to L2 somehow, why do cargo tugs need to be refuelled?

Or do we have disposable tankers?

I think I'm missing something.

Hmmm... You know, you could have ion propulsion tugs taking fuel and low priority cargo out ther...
OK. I'm confused.

You talk about a propellant depot at EML-2 to top off tugs before their return to earth - but if the tugs don't have the fuel to make it there and back, where does the fuel in the depot come from?
The Gateway network tugs are Pegasus based, not Centaur--they have almost 4 times the propellant load and a slightly improved mass fraction thanks to scaling. A Pegasus tug can make it to Gateway-2 at L2 with about 54 tons of payload if it burns its entire propellant supply to get there, but only about 45 tons if it retains the propellant to fly back to Gateway-1 in LEO. The manned missions need (well, okay, prefer) to have the extra seven tons of mass margin, so it's easy enough to run a couple tugs out to EML-2 with no payload but the surplus propellant in their tanks. At the depot, pumps siphon out what the tug doesn't need to get home, and then it heads back. That means that four future missions can then fly to EML-2 making use of that extra 9 tons of payload to EML-2, topping up for return at Gateway-2. The tugs can fly there and back just fine, just not with as much payload.

The same is roughly true for GSO vs GTO, but EML-2 is actually several hundred m/s closer to LEO than GSO in terms of delta-v, so the drop in payload of going from GTO to GSO and back is steeper, which is why TransOrbital charges enough for that service that most people aren't buying, especially given the smaller class of satellite it'd end up dropping in GSO.

Hmmm... You know, you could have ion propulsion tugs taking fuel and low priority cargo out there...
You could, but time is money, and prop is fairly cheap with TSTO RLVs lifting it. A Pegasus or Centaur tug is a relatively cheap investment in both development and marginal expense, but a whole new class of multi-ton ion tugs would be more pricey.

ESA"s got Italy developing their own tugs to challenge TransOrbital (and the TO/NASA Gateway), which will use aerocapture for more prop-efficient returns to LEO, but those are a bit down the line still--probably a bit before 2020, but not flying by 2015.
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By the way, I'm pleased to say that the post Workable Goblin put up today is, in fact, the final operations updates for Eyes Turned Skyward and the penultimate post of the timeline. Next week, at long last, we're bringing you the finale, and we'll be bringing the project to its conclusion. I hope you've all enjoyed the ride--your comments are a big part of what's kept us going all the way to the finish.
By the way, I'm pleased to say that the post Workable Goblin put up today is, in fact, the final operations updates for Eyes Turned Skyward and the penultimate post of the timeline. Next week, at long last, we're bringing you the finale, and we'll be bringing the project to its conclusion. I hope you've all enjoyed the ride--your comments are a big part of what's kept us going all the way to the finish.

I just have to re-state that this is far and away the coolest and most plausible space TL I've ever read.
By the way, I'm pleased to say that the post Workable Goblin put up today is, in fact, the final operations updates for Eyes Turned Skyward and the penultimate post of the timeline. Next week, at long last, we're bringing you the finale, and we'll be bringing the project to its conclusion. I hope you've all enjoyed the ride--your comments are a big part of what's kept us going all the way to the finish.

I think I'll go to the corner and cry, I don't want this TL to end, its integral to my Friday ritual, but what a way to go out, if only von Braun could see this. Another in a series of space stations, a moon base, launch services that are almost easy and cheep, definitely the place to be if you like looking upwards. I wonder how Bronson is getting along here, is there a Virgin Galactic making efforts towards space tourism?
I just have to re-state that this is far and away the coolest and most plausible space TL I've ever read.

Amen to that.

I've really enjoyed this timeline. It works because the authors have really done their homework - and, of course, the superb artwork of Nixon.
Clearly a lot to be done in not-all-that-much time.

And to think, all this being possible by way of a few small changes way back in '68, feeding through the years to rewrite several related events, to bring us all to this point.

It's something of a shame that this story is coming to an end, but that was inevitable. Still, with a Permanent Lunar Base coming online, and many reusable LVs entering service, it's some way to close out.

And I suppose one of the biggest praises I can offer here comes in two parts:

  1. This has achieved so much, and still remained on the correct side of plausibility to make you believe it really could happen; and
  2. Here, a Personal Dream of mine seems far more attainable than IOTL. Manned Mars - even if still a few decades away