Kolyma's Shadow: An Alternate Space Race

Discussion in 'Alternate History Discussion: After 1900' started by nixonshead, May 11, 2014.

  1. nixonshead Well-Known Member

    Apr 1, 2013
    The main difference between Theseus and OTL’s Ariane-1 is Theseus uses kerolox for the first two stages rather than UDMH/N2O4. Other details… wait and see!

    Well, you can say what you like about Griffin’s design choices, but his political engineering is first-class. He managed to make a government funded heavy lift rocket un-killable, despite the costs.

    The intent was “Sentry”, reflecting its military recon mission. I omitted to run this past my Russian friends for a sanity check, so “Chasovoy” is pure Google Translate. I’ll see if I can get a confirmation on that. As far as I know, there was no OTL programme with this name.
  2. Threadmarks: Part III Post #9: Year of Crisis

    nixonshead Well-Known Member

    Apr 1, 2013
    So, both the American and Soviet rocket scientists are working towards a lunar mission. But they do not work in a vacuum, and global politics are about to exert an influence in this week's...


    Part III Post #9: Year of Crisis

    1974 dawned full of promise for Vladimir Chelomei. Although his hated rival Mishin had launched a second Chasovoy space station the previous year, as well as two successful crewed flights to occupy the station, Chelomei’s own moves meant that his political stock was once more on the rise. In September 1973 he had obtained a significant victory through the launch of air force pilot instructor Lidiya Kotova on a week-long Orel mission, claiming the title of First Woman in Space for the Soviet Union - a title that Mishin had spectacularly failed to secure a decade earlier with Zarya-3. On top of this, Mishin’s efforts to upgrade his Zarya capsule into a moonship were stalling in the face of continuous weight growth problems, whilst shortages of materials and critical components delayed work and morale and productivity amongst his workers continued to decline. Chelomei faced these difficulties too, but had been more successful in greasing the right palms to free up his supply lines, and by January 1974 he had a prototype Sapfir capsule ready to launch on an unmanned test flight.


    Lift-off for Sapfir-1 (aka Kosmos-121) on an unmanned test flight around the Moon, January 1974.

    The launch of Sapfir-1 (officially dubbed Kosmos-121) atop a Proton rocket was a complete success, injecting the spacecraft into a trans-lunar free-return trajectory that mirrored that planned for the manned mission. The capsule was mated to an AO module smaller than that planned for operational missions, as the full-sized module would require upgrades to the Proton launch vehicle that Kulik had yet to deliver. The substitute AO was however more than capable to support the capsule for this initial mission, and telemetry was picked up by tracking stations across the USSR and by specialised ships on the high seas all the way up to day 2, when the spacecraft passed behind the body of the Moon. A tense few hours followed before Sapfir’s signal reappeared on the other side, to cheers from Chelomei’s mission controllers.

    The return leg of the journey proceeded smoothly, but the most critical part of the mission remained: re-entry of the Earth’s atmosphere from lunar velocities. Unlike Mishin with his double-skip Zarya mission profile, Chelomei had chosen the simpler but more demanding direct re-entry option. Would Sapfir’s heat shield be able to withstand these forces? Would the deceleration generated remain within limits that a cosmonaut could survive? Chelomei had calculated these factors in theory, but only direct experiment could prove the answers.

    Those answers were delayed somewhat as the hunt for exactly where the capsule had touched down was carried out over the next two days. When the spacecraft was finally located deep in the remote taiga, the recovery team found that Sapfir had indeed survived the fierce heat of re-entry intact, with the the on-board instruments recording survivable conditions throughout the landing.

    Although Chelomei was increasingly certain that the job of flying to the Moon and back was survivable, the job of General-Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union was proving a more difficult proposition. After eight years in the role, Shelepin’s reputation was beginning to tarnish. The massive military build-up and policy of confrontation with the West that his regime had initiated had at first appeared to have achieved their objectives, strengthening the USSR’s grip on its Warsaw Pact satellites and ensuring that Soviet views were treated with appropriate seriousness in international affairs. A combination of military intimidation and targeted espionage campaigns had seen Albania and Yugoslavia forced back into the Moscow camp, whilst Castro’s Cuba had been left to wither on the vine, forcing China to commit more and more of its own limited resources to propping up the regime there. Relations with China itself remained frigid, but where he had been disdainful of Khruschev, Mao had learnt a wary respect for Shelepin’s strength.

    Successful as this policy of militarisation appeared on the surface, the massive diversion of resources it entailed soon began to have a negative impact. This diversion, along with the re-imposition of Stalinist controls of the economy, had seen the strong growth that the Soviet economy had enjoyed since the fifties - even the ‘growth’ reported in official government statistics - falter and stall. By 1974, economic growth was stagnant or in a mild contraction, but the quality of life of Soviet citizens had already been declining for several years as the civilian economy was disproportionately hit. Agricultural production in particular was in decline, and with Shelepin reluctant to rely upon Western food imports (and indeed many in the West being reluctant to deal with him), bread queues became a fact of life for anyone not able to access the specialist Communist Party shops. Food riots became frequent occurrences in 1972 and 1973, especially in the Baltic and Caucasian republics, which were already chafing over Shelepin’s focus on the Russian heartland at the expense of the peripheral republics. These riots were brutally put down by the Red Army and went unreported in the state media, but the scale of atrocities often became amplified in retelling over furtive black market exchanges. The KGB and Army between them were able to keep a lid on dissent within the general population, but as the situation deteriorated there were increasing murmurs of discontent amongst the governing apparatchiks themselves.

    On 17th April 1974, as Shelepin was being driven to his out-of-town dacha on the edge of Moscow, he suddenly found himself short of breath and sweating profusely. Alerted by the General Secretary’s banging on the glass between them, his driver immediately swung the armoured ZiL around and rushed back into the city centre, towards the Central Clinic Hospital. Upon arrival the doctors quickly ascertained that Shelepin had suffered a massive heart attack. Despite their best efforts to revive the Soviet leader, Shelepin fell into a coma, before finally dying of a second heart attack on 19th April.

    The following weeks were tense as various factions within the Soviet hierarchy manoeuvred for influence. Pravda and Radio Moscow were reporting that the General Secretary had passed from natural causes, but both inside and outside of the Soviet Union there were those who found the circumstances highly suspicious. Shelepin had been only 55 years old at the time of his death, and had appeared to be in overall good health. For many therefore, the only question remaining was had it been the KGB, the Army, or some faction of the inner Party that had managed to do him in? Whoever it was (assuming it was indeed an assassination), they had apparently either acted without putting a follow-up move into place, or had lost their nerve, leaving a paranoid vacuum of power whilst all sides attempted to secure their own strongholds of support in preparation for the inevitable move of one of the other factions. In the meantime, day-to-day running of the government was left to the Chairman of the Council of Ministers, a non-entity Shelepin appointee named Maxim Teplov, who had risen through the Party ranks on the back of a solid if unspectacular career in industrial management at the regional and national levels. He had held little real power under Shelepin, and continued to hold little power as the Politburo factions squared off against one another in the final days of April.

    The power vacuum in the Kremlin was greeted with fear by many in the West, but for others was seen as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. One of the first to move was Miko Tripalo, the head of the Croatian Communist Party. Croatian nationalism had been brutally suppressed following the 1969 coup which had seen Josip Broz Tito, a Croat, replaced by the pro-Moscow Aleksandar Ranković. Tripalo had managed to retain his position, but remained loyal to the memory of Tito and nursed a quiet resentment of what he saw as the subordination of Croatia and the other republics to Serbia within the Federation. Tripalo had quietly established contact with a network of Croatian nationalists in civil society and within the Yugoslav People’s Army, but with Red Army troops stationed throughout the country any uprising was liable to be immediately squashed at Shelepin’s order. However, with the Soviet leader out of the picture and the Moscow leadership in chaos, Tripalo and his allies seized their chance.

    On May Day 1974, the regional Communist Parties of Croatia and Slovenia declared their secession from Yugoslavia pending the creation of a more just and equitable Federal Constitution, and called for all loyal citizens in the People’s Army to return home and defend their lands. Serbian troops and those professing loyalty to Belgrade were quickly rounded up, but Soviet forces were left alone, with Tripalo loudly proclaiming his support of the USSR, the Warsaw Pact and the international worker’s struggle. With their leaders in Moscow struggling to keep up with events, and no-one quite sure if official Soviet policy was still to support Ranković after the death of Shelepin, the Red Army stayed put. Belgrade’s forces would have to act alone to quell the rebellion, and in a matter of weeks the situation had deteriorated into a bitter, bloody civil war.

    With Yugoslavia descending into chaos, several leaders in Eastern Europe began looking nervously to their own opposition groups. With Moscow apparently paralysed, could they also be hung out to dry in the event of an uprising? In Romania, Hungary and Bulgaria, the governments moved to eliminate this risk with a brutal pre-emptive crack-down on anyone who’d so much as hung a picture of Lenin crookedly. The governments in Czechoslovakia and Poland were more cautious, entering into quiet, behind the scenes talks with their radicals about how the system might be reformed to better meet the aspirations of the population. The DDR took a middle path between these two options, with the increasingly infirm Ulbricht at first ordering a crack-down, only to find his support within the SED had withered during his illness. He was instead forced to retire in early June, to be replaced as head of the Party by Horst Sindermann. As with Tripalo, Sindermann moved quickly to proclaim his loyalty to Moscow (as a strategically critical location with by far the greatest concentration of Soviet forces outside the Motherland, any other course would have been suicide), whilst also promising to “re-invigorate the DDR’s economic and political life in the pursuit of true Socialism”. Whilst these developments behind the Iron Curtain were viewed with a mixture of excitement and alarm by Western governments, the most dangerous phase of the upheaval was still to come.

    By July, the various factions in the Politburo had agreed to form a true Collective Leadership with a rotating Chairmanship governing the body. However, whilst this gave the appearance of stability, in reality it was the result of a deadlock that could collapse at any moment, should any of the factions decide that it had a chance to gain the upper hand over their rivals. The day-to-day running of the Soviet empire therefore remained with Teplov and the Council of Ministers, with only the most important of policy issues making it through the Politburo. Soviet foreign policy remained effectively frozen, and so it was the the governments of Egypt and Syria decided to take action.

    Since their defeat by Israel in 1967, the two Arab nations had been rebuilding their forces and waiting for an opportunity to strike back at their hated enemy. Shelepin had supported their governments as a powerful counterbalance to American influence in the region, and had supplied them with large quantities of sophisticated Soviet weapons systems and training, but had also acted to restrain his allies from taking action prematurely. Shelepin’s objective had been to spread Soviet influence through constant, steady pressure rather than to strike hard and risk a massive US reaction, but with Shelepin gone Sadat and al-Assad seized their chance. Plans were laid for a combined Egyptian and Syrian assault to begin on the morning of Sunday 28th July, on the Jewish holiday of Tisha B'Av.

    Those plans however quickly went awry. Israeli intelligence had been monitoring the build-up of Arab forces and had clear indications that an attack was imminent. Despite a plea from President Muskie that Israel had to avoid appearing as the aggressor in any new conflict, the Israeli Prime Minister controversially ordered a pre-emptive strike on Arab forces on the afternoon of Saturday 27th, on the Sabbath itself. Arab forces behind the Suez Canal and Golan Heights took a severe beating, although their state-of-the-art surface-to-air missiles exacted a steep price on Israeli aircraft and pilots.

    With war declared for them, the Egyptian and Syrian armies threw themselves across the border on the morning of 28th, but met with stiff resistance from the well prepared Israeli defenders. Despite achieving several local victories through shear weight of numbers, in particular in the vast empty spaces of the Sinai, by Monday it seemed the tide was turning decisively against them, and over the next few days Arab forces were repeatedly mauled by their opponents. Despite the brutal aerial and artillery bombardment suffered by several of her cities, Israeli victory was soon assured. Ten days after Israel’s first strike, Damascus and Cairo surrendered.

    Israeli victory however came with a high price. Thousands of Israeli soldiers and civilians had been killed, and over ten-thousand were dead on the Arab side. Israel consolidated and extended its security buffer in southern Syria and the Sinai (incidentally ensuring that the Suez canal remained closed), but faced condemnation from many Second World and non-aligned nations over their pre-emptive strike. The Western Allies generally stood behind Israel, but the weak response of many Western leaders, either in support or condemnation of Israel’s actions, led to political repercussions across the Free World. Finally, the defeated Arab nations took revenge by organising an oil embargo which acted as a hammer-blow to the world’s economy.
    Last edited: Jul 11, 2017
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  3. Michel Van Well-Known Member

    Jul 11, 2007
    Liege Belgium Europe
    seems this World turn into darkness

    Vietnam war
    Yugoslavia civil war
    North Irland conflict
    Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria, USSR and China way to deal with problems the hard way.
    Tisha B'Av war
    Arab Oil embargo

    and i think the worst still to come...
  4. marathag Well-Known Member with a target on his back

    Feb 2, 2013
    Muskie orders the invasion of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Abu Dhabi to gain control of the Oil Fields and break OPEC?
  5. Bahamut-255 Space Lover

    Jul 28, 2010
    Eep. Oil Shock, which IOTL resulted in the Stagflation years, and the elevated prices helped to prop up the flagging Soviet Economy.

    This is not going to end well I think.
  6. Shevek23 Spherical Cow-poke

    Aug 20, 2010
    Reno, Nevada USA
    For what it's worth I don't think the politically engineered oil shock of OTL was more than the trigger for a full-on generational recession, nor does it play a worse role here. It's my belief that capitalism is a vast machine that has cycles, and generational modulations of cycles, built into its fundamental operating system; there are buoyant generations and stagnant ones. The boom period from the end of WWII to around 1970 had deep roots, in part due to recovery of lost opportunities of the previous downturn generation, and there were limits beyond which the basis of the strong Western economies of the post-war years would overextend and lay the groundwork for a generation of crisis. That's just how capitalism rolls, so I always champion the idea that the stagnant and booming generations will fall in roughly the same years despite very large deviations between timelines.

    To be sure--OTL it sure looks to a lot of people like the Yom Kippur War and subsequent OPEC boycott was the root cause, and it will most likely be a very popular theory ITTL as well.

    Speaking of other deep causes, note that despite the fact that Brezhnev was large and in charge in the Soviet Bloc and had the same sort of influence over Arab policy Shelepin has here, Egypt and Syria launched the Yom Kippur war anyway.

    Vice versa--I don't know what to make of the Yugoslav mess here, this early. In retrospect it is clear enough that the sort of peace and unity Yugoslavia enjoyed from WWII until the 1990s was due pretty much entirely to Tito's personal rule, and therefore removing him early does seem likely to set loose the dogs of civil war indeed.

    What I'm dubious of is that Tito would have been so easy for Shelepin to take out. Whatever else he was, Tito was no softie--for years between 1945 and his break with Moscow, he was in fact known in the bloc of nations under Soviet domination as Stalin's loyal hatchet-man, quite willing to enforce "socialist solidarity" violently, and Yugoslav dissidents of his lifetime make it clear that he was none to gentle in Yugoslavia itself. So even granting that I may have been underestimating Shelepin as a dim bulb across the board, and perhaps I should give this devil the due of being perhaps a crackerjack Chekist, as apt at the game of dirty covert and black ops as ever Laverenti Beria was--that was still a game Tito knew how to play too.

    It would be interesting if anyone here knows, from the release of Kremlin secrets after the OTL Soviet collapse, of just how many times and in what ways Stalin and his successors did try to bump Tito off over a period of 40 years. I'd be amazed to learn none of them ever tried! I'm supposing he parried such moves more than once.

    Well, even Jupiter nods, and perhaps he got caught by surprise in a distracted moment.

    Another, minor point--I just had recourse to Wikipedia to verify something I recalled from a biography I read over a decade ago and have no access to now: indeed as I correctly recalled, although his birthplace is located in Croatia now and his father was Croatian, his mother was a Slovene. I don't think he ever thought of himself as simply a "Croatian." Rather his mixed background, I suspect, led him to emphasize the importance of Yugoslavia as a federal union of many peoples, and to act all through his political life to achieve a balance of power among them to check any particular nationality dominating. I therefore don't think a protege of him would act as a Croatian nationalist.

    Of course your rebel leader led both Croatia and Slovenia out of the union together, so there's that--that certainly does span Tito's divided family ties!:p

    I think the problem with Yugoslavia was that Tito did not succeed in creating a trans-ethnic Yugoslavian national identity, nor set up the right kind of checks and balances to guarantee that sectarian interests would be diverted into the interest of the union. I know he tried, but I suppose the waters were muddied by his reliance on personal rule and authority which left the attempted trans-ethnic mechanisms untested and undeveloped by hard experience. And in retrospect it may have been a hopelessly Utopian goal anyway.

    But I think I'm safe in saying, half-Croatian he may have been, but he was no Croatian nationalist.
    Quite some time ago I pointed out to nixonshead that going back over the various crises of the world OTL since the 1950s, there have been lots of opportunities for US/Soviet clashes to lead to WWIII; he responded that of course he'd be trying to avoid blowing up the world! Which is very nice I think, but constrains our predictions of what is likely to happen rather artificially. :rolleyes:;)

    Honestly though on the whole this world does not seem worse or nastier than our own. I regret the USSR being even sicker and weaker than OTL, but that's mainly because I want to see what could happen if Mishin and Chelomei could pull off their various schemes and shine; their doom seems to be hanging over both of them though even though perhaps out of this current leadership crisis in the Kremlin a sort of Indian Summer of support for one or both might briefly emerge--until the economic collapse undermines everything.:( And that's another roll of the WWIII dice of course.:eek:

    On the spacecraft front in Russia--too bad Mishin is having problems making a good Moon Zarya; Chelomei's Safir, which we could do with more description of, seems to be pulling ahead. The neat thing about the Proton-launched flyby program is that it doesn't matter which suitably low-mass yet big enough capsule system you make; I've been harping on the Soviets having one suitable candidate while the Americans have none, now it seems they actually have two. And the Americans still have nothing except on paper.
  7. nixonshead Well-Known Member

    Apr 1, 2013
    Well, I wouldn’t say it’s as bad as all that. Yugoslavia is a mess, but OTOH Vietnam by this point is pretty quiet. On balance, I’d say things are no more grim than at a comparable point IOTL.

    Given the set-up in the Middle East, I couldn’t see a version of the Six Day War being avoided, which sets up a re-match in both timelines, though the timing and order-of-battle has changed. Perhaps the most significant differences ITTL are the larger Israeli occupation zone (which will keep the Suez Canal as an un-navigable armed border) and the implications of an Israeli first-strike on global opinion.

    As mentioned in previous posts, the US economy was flagging from the end of the sixties onwards ITTL, and the problems of the Soviet economy have been covered in some detail. Compared to OTL pre-Oil Shock, the US economy is doing slightly better and the USSR’s worse. Given control of oil is such an obvious weapon when conventional military means have failed, I think an Arab defeat pretty much guarantees its use, so we get an Oil Shock ITTL too.

    IOTL Tripalo was one of those agitating for a louder Croatian voice in the Federation in the early ‘70s, before Tito squashed him. ITTL, Shelepin (a tougher, more ruthless operator than the luxury-loving Brezhnev) engineered the removal of Tito following the latter’s defection to the Mao camp, so Tripalo is able to strengthen his position - in part by playing up Tito’s Croatian (and Slovenian) roots and hinting this was part of the reason behind his removal. He is perhaps playing up his relationship to Tito into something closer than Tito would recognise...

    For Safir, take a close look at the top of that Proton and you’ll note a striking similarity to one of Chelomei’s OTL designs for a lunar flyby mission... ;)

    For Columbia, things are moving along and by 1974 are a lot more substantial than just paper studies… but more on that in Post#11 (see below).

    Welcome aboard! I read your All Along the Watchtower when trying to get a feel for an early Nixon presidency, so I’m glad you’re enjoying the story!

    So, Wait a minute, I hear you cry. Post#11? I thought each Part was 10 posts long. Well, nominally, yes, but before we wrap up Part-III we’ll be taking a look at developments in popular culture with a special guest post from Brainbin. As I’m otherwise engaged next weekend, he’ll be posting that update on Sunday 8th March. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have in review!

    Following that post, Post#11 break the regular schedule and will go up mid-week, before I disappear for a couple of weeks - so apologies in advance for not replying to comments.

    After that, I'm afraid there's going to be an extended hiatus before we get to Part-IV, as RL considerations mean there's still a lot to do before it's ready to post. It also means I won't be able to prepare illustrations for the next two posts, but I'm hoping to fix that retrospectively during the hiatus. I am fully intending to continue this TL though.

    Thanks for reading!
  8. Kirk Kerman Kerbal Rocketeer

    Feb 14, 2015
    Alright, here's my impression of an N-1 style M-1


    The other ideas will be done soonish.
  9. su_liam Incompetent planetary engineer

    Feb 15, 2011
    Eugene, OR
    First. ¡Brainbin!

    Now that I got that unseemly display outta the way, I like Mr. Kerman's work.

    But. I'm not sure that that long thin taper makes sense. At least for the reasons it was used on the N-1. Instead of two stacked spherical tanks, we have a cylindrical tank stacked above a spherical one joined by a straight fairing? Could that make sense as a design? Well, for Kerbals, sure. Those guys just ain't right in the head…! Still, it's a good application of Rule of Cool.

    On top of that, I'd really like to see the clustered triple core! I think that would be really cool and different. Perhaps tapered together like the R-7 boosters. That could give you that big squat look that screams cool Russkie-Space.

    Another thing I'd really like to see done right is a realistic space-wank. Make things just as good as they could possibly have gone without straining credulity. Maybe that would make a good AHC.

    Anyway, thank you nixonshead for an excellent TL and thank you for your awesome work visualizing ETS!
  10. Michel Van Well-Known Member

    Jul 11, 2007
    Liege Belgium Europe
    nice work, Kirk Kerman

    I want to see how the kerbal astronaut screams his way up in that rocket :D
  11. Kirk Kerman Kerbal Rocketeer

    Feb 14, 2015
    Yeah, unfortunately the long thin taper is the enly way to get the conical shape without overblowing the width. I'd imagine it could still work: with a spherical tank on tha bottom and a longer pill shaped tank above it.

    And don't worry, you will see the clustered triple core, I just didn't have enough time tonight to make it it.

    Well, unforunately, you're going to have to wait, as what you're seeing is a parts mods only install I'm using to sort out loading issues. :p

    EDIT: but if you have RLA Stockalike, Procedural Parts(with the Blackheart texture pack), Tantares (both the main pack and Tantares LV), and AIES aerospace, I can send you the craft file.

    EDIT2: but you only need AIES, procedural parts, and Tantares LV for the rocket.
    Last edited: Mar 4, 2015
  12. Kirk Kerman Kerbal Rocketeer

    Feb 14, 2015
  13. Threadmarks: Part III Post #10: Kolyma Kulture 1966-73

    Brainbin Kingpin of the Cultural Cartel

    Jul 26, 2009
    The British Empire
    Salutations, everyone! I am the Brainbin, and given that nixonshead is presently engaged (well, I suppose by now his engagement might be over), I've been asked to present to you my second guest post for this timeline! Thanks are due to e of pi for helping the two of us hammer this one out, and I hope you all enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. And now, without further delay...


    Part III Post #10: Kolyma Kulture 1966-73

    The space program being largely the province of the US military, and shrouded in secrecy, was fertile ground for conspiracy theories. One particular conspiracy struck a chord because of its close association with an older one: ever since the Allies had been made aware of the Nazi rocketry program, there had been rumblings of some hidden, off-planet site from which the Nazis intended to launch them. This resulted in the “Nazi Moon Base” featured in so much pulp science-fiction and B-movie schlock of the 1940s. Those who took it seriously at first believed that some Nazi remnant - not unlike the (real) Japanese holdouts in the Pacific - continued to inhabit the base. However, a consensus among the conspiracy theorists eventually emerged that the base was, in fact, “taken over” by American troops after it was “sold out” by the Nazis who defected after the war - including, first and foremost, Wernher von Braun (who was, after all, a former SS officer). Whether or not this was true (and it wasn’t), it did tap into the strong ambivalence in many quarters regarding Von Braun continuing to work for the United States without making amends for his past transgressions - whereas others like him were tried and convicted of crimes against humanity and sentenced to lengthy prison terms, some of which were still ongoing even into the 1970s. This, coupled with the continued youth, pacifist, and counter-cultural resistance to the military space program due to their perception of its “fascistic” nature, would have serious repercussions.

    By the 1970s, Wernher Von Braun’s career had long since peaked, and his ultimate position at the DRA could charitably be described as a sinecure. Therefore, as the voices calling for his head reached critical mass, his bosses became aware that there was little upside to keeping him in place, and much to be gained - at least on the public-relations front - from letting him go. Thus, Von Braun ended his career by resigning in disgrace in 1974, after having been “encouraged” to do so by his bosses. His supporters would, ever after, frame this “courageous” decision on his part as something akin to a heroic sacrifice, that he “saved” the space program by removing himself from it - never mind that his active involvement therein had long since ceased. It was an important victory for the more idealistic, less pragmatic Baby Boomer generation, who were less tolerant of fighting fire with fire and paying evil unto evil than their parents had been.

    It didn’t help that many political commentators judged the American military-industrial complex to be rife with hypocrisy: hiring a man from the very same regime they had sought to destroy a generation earlier, and stationing troops - most of whom were conscripts - on bases the world over as a show of American imperialism, even after their foreign policy had worked to dismantle the British and French Empires after the war. [1] Young men who couldn’t buy their way out of it were drafted and served overseas on one of those bases. In an enduring legacy of the War in the Pacific, and later Korea, East Asia was a common destination for them - Japan, South Korea, and South Vietnam all had a substantial American presence. Elvis Presley, the King of Rock and Roll, had been drafted at the height of his career, and served in West Germany - Europe was the site of many a US military base, though usually only de facto through the NATO alliance structure.

    The Nazi-turned-American Moon Base conspiracy was inadvertently bolstered by the mythos surrounding a major cultural milestone of the late 1960s, Space Odyssey, produced as a collaboration between noted science-fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke and reclusive film director Stanley Kubrick. The emerging auteur era of filmmaking was very good for him, as it made those controlling the purse-strings more willing to indulge his detail-oriented perfectionism. A loose adaptation of Clarke’s short story The Sentinel, the plot was expanded in order to fit a feature-length film - though not without its share of longueurs. Space Odyssey told the story of an American mission to explore a curious pyramid-shaped monolith on the far side of the Moon. It premiered in Washington, D.C. in December of 1968, opening in New York and Los Angeles before the end of the year to be eligible for Academy Awards consideration. However, it did not go into wide release until early 1969, by which time the Lunar Surveyor had already sent back data - which, fortunately, did not render obsolete Odyssey’s vision of the lunar surface.

    Kubrick was a very deliberate filmmaker; he took an active interest in the art direction and the set design for the film, insisting that all sets and props be as realistic as possible, as though the interiors of a zero-gravity spaceship, and a crew module capable of operating in the low-gravity lunar environment, were really being depicted - which was a challenge on terra firma, with gravity at a constant 1g. However, Kubrick’s use of clever photography to obscure the infrequently-used cranes and lifting devices hoisting the astronauts into the air, along with careful emphasis on making sure that the seated or standing actors were “belted down” or tightly gripping something that was, in order to “keep from floating away”.

    The exterior “moon” sets were based on the highest-resolution lunar photographs available during the film’s pre-production, along with extensive consultations with selenologists, astronomers, and researchers working for NESSA. The result was the most realistic depiction of the lunar landscape (the setting of most of the film’s exterior scenes) possible for the time - that this was accomplished with the assistance of a largely civilian space agency did not deter conspiracy theories that Kubrick and his cast and crew were in fact launched to the Moon Base for “on-location” filming, and that this was why the film was so realistic. The lack of actual footage of astronauts on the real lunar landscape at the time of release of Space Odyssey was enough to allow this ludicrous conspiracy time to incubate - Kubrick being a recluse who shunned public appearances didn’t help either (“What’s he got to hide?”), though many of his friends and confidants (when they bothered to even dignify such an accusation with a proper response) pointed out his fear of flying, which would be exponentially heightened on a rocket leaving the planet’s atmosphere.

    Clarke himself had some fun with this conspiracy theory when, some time after the release of the film (and the corresponding book), he wrote a short story (published in Playboy magazine) about a group of filmmakers sent to a lunar colony to make a documentary about “life on the lunar frontier” - only for them to end up staging most of their footage, because their producers had determined that vignettes about the lunar lifestyle weren’t “exciting” enough for audiences. Though an allegory for the staged nature of most supposed “true-life” film documentaries of the time (and in decades past), the references to the Space Odyssey conspiracy were obvious - especially in the name of the director, Oliver Agston [2], who was depicted as a meticulous perfectionist, who (ironically) was obsessed with making his staged fiction look as realistic as possible (in a tongue-in-cheek commentary on Clarke’s experiences writing the film with Kubrick). Clarke’s short story also playfully alluded to a popular corollary theory that the Nazi moon base was originally built by lunar aliens whose civilization was based on the far side of the Moon - which was why neither they nor this moonbase had ever been observed from Earth. To an extent, this did backfire on Clarke in that the conspiracy theorists chose to interpret his satire as an “exposé”, but he accepted this with good humour, having gotten a good story idea out of it.

    The plot of Space Odyssey entailed the discovery that the pyramid-shaped monolith was actually a relic from an ancient spacefaring civilization which - long ago - had visited Earth. This civilization’s first contact with the hominids inhabiting Earth was famously depicted in the film’s opening scene - in more satire on Clarke’s part, the monoliths being pyramids was a nod to the old conspiracy that aliens had built the Egyptian pyramids, which were among the oldest surviving structures in human history. Kubrick thought the metaphor was too on-the-nose, but Clarke convinced him that since the premise presupposed alien interference in the development of human technology and society, that keeping the pyramids would add a mystique to the aliens (who are never directly seen by the audience), and contribute to their goal of posing many more questions than they intended to answer.

    Millions of years after that first encounter - cued through an iconic jump cut, featuring a bone tossed into the air turning into a long, cylindrical spacecraft marked U.S.A.F., followed by a slow pan down to reveal the lunar surface - an American circumlunar flight (manned, though the crewmen had no lines, as the scene was silent except for the film’s score) exploring the far side of the moon. We eventually learn that they had discovered the pyramid - a shot taken from above smash-cut into a picture of the same image on display as part of a slideshow - a discovery which resulted in the famous briefing scene with various American officials - led by “the Secretary” - examining the data and deciding what to do about it - sending a manned mission being the only obvious answer. The question of whether “they” - the Soviets - knew about it too was famously answered by the Secretary: “Well, if they didn’t, they sure know about it now,” casting his eyes about the room, silently (and accurately) accusing any one of his many underlings of being a double-agent. (It became a popular fan theory that the only person to meet the Secretary’s disapproving gaze was in fact the mole - many years later, Clarke would confirm that this was Kubrick’s intention.)

    The race was on. Both the Americans and the Soviets launched manned lunar landing missions, taking off and landing almost simultaneously - within the same launch window. In some ways, it was an unintentional joint mission. However, the two sides were not communicating, and made a point of landing as far away from each other but as close to the pyramid as possible - therefore opening up a second “leg” of their race. Thus, the lunar mission had much the feel of a “submarine movie”, documenting the unseen but looming threat of the enemy as the American mission made its way first to their landing sites, then across the rugged cliffs and craters of the surface.

    Unsurprisingly, both sides arrived at the pyramid simultaneously, armed with their weapons - much more primitive than their earthbound equivalents - in a standoff strangely evocative of the opening sequence, as well as various gunfights from Western movies. The problem both sides faced was that - unlike their hominid ancestors - they had a higher purpose, which was to seek out and explore the strange alien artefact. Both the Americans and the Soviets - after some deliberation - decided that sharing this claim would be a more worthy cause than one side slaughtering the other, and possibly precipitating a catastrophic war back on Earth in so doing. Therefore, the two commanding officers agreed to enter the mysteriously-opened door in the side of the pyramid together, their confrontation having resulted in cooperation, demonstrating character development on behalf of the entire human race, rising above our baser animal instincts.

    Thus commenced perhaps the film’s most notorious sequence: as the two walked through the pyramid, either side of the screen was filled with psychedelic imagery - until they reached the top of the screen, at which point it filled with a sudden and blinding white light. Thus ended the film, leaving moviegoers eternally confused and forever ready to debate the significance (if any) of the ending with anyone who would care to listen.

    Space Odyssey was considered the apex of science-fiction as a genre in this era - certainly on the silver screen. The old B-grade schlock that had dominated in previous decades (with occasional exceptions, such as Forbidden Planet) gradually gave way to more introspective, allegorical stories, often adapted from the leading lights of literary science-fiction at the time - in addition to Clarke, Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, and Philip K. Dick all had adaptations in the pipeline by the mid-1970s.

    On the small screen, however, whiz-bang action-adventure stories prevailed. The American television adaptation of the old Perry Rhodan pulp stories began airing in 1971. [3] However, the show’s producers determined the appeal and popularity of Perry Rhodan to be somewhat inscrutable, and chose not to take it seriously - a stark contrast from the very “straight” tone of the original German tomes. The most obvious inspiration was the Batman series of a few years prior - which was also produced by a man (William Dozier, in that case) whose contempt for the material could not have been more obvious. In addition, Gold Key, the publisher which held the US licence to adapt Perry Rhodan in comic form, had been hitting hard times with their more serious material and were rather desperate to attract new readers by taking their editorial style in a bold new stylistic direction. Therefore, The Adventures of Perry Rhodan! (the exclamation mark was not optional) was a bright, wacky, colourful satire of the old whiz-bang adventure stories - and a reaction to the crushing earnestness of “straight” productions such as The Far Frontier - which, nevertheless, could be perceived by those not “in” on the joke as a “straight” take on them. Much like with Batman, there was deliberate craft and artistry in the show’s production, right down to the memorable (and prog-rock-influenced) theme and interstitial music, as well as the surprisingly ambitious set design (including evocative matte paintings), costumes, and makeup work. The show’s lead, a former stage actor named Stuart Damon, was perfectly chosen - playing Rhodan with a wink for everyone in the audience who was “in” on the joke of the character, but in such a way so that anyone who was in the dark would likely stay that way.

    Perry Rhodan “purists”, naturally, were apoplectic. The show made it back to West Germany with surprising rapidity - the Armed Forces Network picked up the show for broadcast and the network’s widespread coverage there ensured a substantial civilian audience - naturally, the language barrier meant that the Germans who tuned in had at least a working knowledge of the English language. Word soon spread among the Perry Rhodan fanbase that the Americans had turned their beloved property into a joke - so incensed were some of them that the term “Kulturkampf” (loosely translated as “culture war”) was used to describe the perceived atrocity. It went from bad to worse when it was discovered the many Americans, particularly the Baby Boomer youth, quite liked the show - and that tie-in comic books were being produced, taking its narrative cues from the TV series as opposed to the old pulp novels - too “dour”, “drab”, and “earnest” for the young audiences of the day. The show began airing on the BBC in 1973, and British audiences took to it as well - the Beeb also had a much wider broadcasting reach than the AFN, and the show could be seen in much of Western Europe as a result. A dub made for German-speaking audiences which made the game but ill-advised decision to ramp up the camp even further lasted less than a season when it met with vocal protest from Perry Rhodan fans and poor ratings from general audiences.

    Perry Rhodan, however, wasn’t the only sci-fi show to make a splash in the UK in the 1960s and 1970s. It shared space with such properties as Doctor Who - Geoffrey Bayldon [4] played the role of the Doctor for six series before the producers refused to raise his salary enough to entice him to remain. Ratings were low enough that the BBC declined to allow producers a chance to retool the program - this in an era when many of the most popular British shows saw American export, such as The Avengers and The Saint, along with the Supermarionation (stop-motion puppetry) productions of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson. Doctor Who wasn’t among them, and would soon be kept alive only by the memories of its fervent cult audience.

    Gene Roddenberry, on the other hand, had no shortage of ideas as to how he would follow up on The Far Frontier, which had run for five seasons before being cancelled in 1970 - the ratings had declined precipitously after the departure of the show’s star, Jeffrey Hunter. Roddenberry had wanted to avoid casting another “prima donna”, in his words, given his constant loggerheads with Hunter. Hunter’s co-star Bill Cosby, on the other hand, had planned to move out of the science-fiction genre and focus more on comedy, which had made him famous in the first place. Roddenberry felt that he was famous and successful enough as a producer for his ideas to sell to network without a big name attached - the unfortunate side effect of his ego and its tendency to over-inflate at the slightest provocation. In the end, none of his ideas managed to get past the pilot stage, leaving him to rest of the laurels of The Far Frontier for the remainder of his career.

    The epic, genre-defining triumph of Space Odyssey cast a long shadow which most other science-fiction produced for film and especially television would ultimately prove unable to escape. As the 1970s wore on, shows such as Doctor Who and The Far Frontier were a distant memory, and extant programming such as Perry Rhodan! were considered jokes by the mainstream and the hardcore alike. One of the common themes shared by all of these shows and movies were their focus on militarized space exploration - which reflected the realities of their era. This would begin to alter in the 1970s, reflecting the changes brought in under the Muskie administration in support of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics and Astronautics (NACAA). Popular perceptions of space travel were already shifting, thanks to the incredible images provided by NACAA probes and astronauts who, for the first time, would leave the Earth’s orbit behind them…


    [1] Because JFK was not elected President ITTL, the Peace Corps was never formed, and many of its missions and objectives are instead fulfilled directly by the US military, strengthening its perception amongst the Boomer generation as an instrument of imperialism.

    [2] Oliver (Hardy) is one half of a duo with Stanley (Laurel); Ag (the elemental symbol for silver) is part of the same group as that of Cu (copper - alas, there is no element with Ku as its symbol); ston(e), like brick, is a building material (in fact, there are even stone bricks).

    [3] IOTL, the first Perry Rhodan serials were set in 1971; however, ITTL, due to the slower-burning development of space technology, the setting was instead 1982, making this reference allohistorical.

    [4] Geoffrey Bayldon was offered the role of the (First) Doctor, apparently ahead of any other candidates. This was before Verity Lambert was brought in as what we today would call the showrunner, and decided that an older actor would be better to play the Doctor (Bayldon was only 39 in 1963 - William Hartnell was 55). Though he rejected the role IOTL (as well as that of the Second Doctor, in 1966), he has been involved with the franchise at various stages in his life, including playing the role he turned down in audioplays. (In fact, he’s still alive today, at over 90 years old - how different indeed Doctor Who might have been if he were chosen!)
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  14. Michel Van Well-Known Member

    Jul 11, 2007
    Liege Belgium Europe
    I like this version of "2001: a Space Odyssey"
    i wonder of MGM get lower cost movie or burn Kubrick same amount of money like OTL ?

    On Perry Rhodan
    were can i shot William Dozier in this TL ?
    irony there is Italian "Sci-fi" movie based on Perry Rhodan with same tone: Pure Trash
    this bright, wacky, colourful satire will over top by dub made for German audiences

    see in 1970s with cultural turmoil in Germany and new wave in sex movie and comedy show like KLIMBIM
    regular import TV show look "boring" so the dubbing was substantively altered creating a completely different program.
    Infamous Victims were "Department S" & "Jason King" and
    Die Zwei (The Persuaders!) it's German dubbing was "a unique mixture of street slang and ironic tongue-in-cheek remarks" and that it "even mentioned Lord Sinclair becoming 007 on one or two occasions".
    Dialogue frequently broke the fourth wall with lines like "Junge, lass doch die Sprüche, die setzen ja die nächste Folge ab!" (Quit the big talk, lad, or they'll cancel the series)
    or "Du musst jetzt etwas schneller reden, sonst bist Du nicht synchron" (Talk faster, you aren't in sync any more with moving picture).
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  15. Shevek23 Spherical Cow-poke

    Aug 20, 2010
    Reno, Nevada USA
    The ATL Odyssey movie would be a treat to watch I think, though it is very different. Fewer iconic spacecraft (just the first circumlunar mission, and then one each US and Soviet ensemble, no space station or gigantic Clavius Base). No HAL!:( So I suppose there is going to be more dialog and character interaction among the US crew and possibly some over-the-shoulder looks at the Soviet crew as well, with subtitled dialog among them.

    I'm having a hard time seeing how Muskie's ambition to offer up a NAACA/NESSA "civil" lunar mission as a break from and alternative to "military" technology is not going to fall between stools. He might desire a non-military high-tech culture but the fact is, like it or not (I certainly have deeply ambivalent feelings about it myself) the tech corporations are not so much joined at the hip with the military as sinuously intertwined with it like a ball of mating garter snakes. Von Braun may have been offered up as a sacrifice but just about everyone with any competence will in fact be working or have worked on many Air Force or Naval projects, and will not have enough confidence that the "civil" space program will be sustained adequately in that form to bet their careers on alienating contacts with the reliable contract-offering DoD; so presenting it as a separate thing from the MIC will be an obvious sham. Nor will space enthusiasts, even rather pinko-pacifist ones like I eventually became, have the visceral feeling that "purifying" it of military involvement is necessary or desirable; as I've pointed out before, the default assumption in our culture is that of course the military does stuff like explore frontiers and civilize them.

    Frankly it's not easy for me to see why Muskie or any large, influential wing of mainstream Democrats would set themselves such a goal in the first place. It's not quite what Kennedy, or the Congressional Dems before he was elected who twisted Eisenhower's arm OTL, were setting out to do, exactly. NASA of OTL was indeed supposed to be civilian, but these were civilians with a quasi-military mission, a sort of distillation of the "explorer/civilizer" role of the military, quite frankly front-line soldiers (with a hell of a huge logistical tail of course) in the Cold War. Since that mentality remains stronger than OTL into the '70s I don't see why Muskie would be driving any wedges or trying to burn any bridges to the Pentagon.

    Any support he had in doing that, from a rising counterculture, would probably prefer he didn't "waste" any money in space at all--there were OTL and are now "space hippies" like myself who certainly do want to see this kind of progress and somewhat deplore it being quasi-military, but we are odd and rare ducks, not much of a constituency, and most of us would expect at least a quasi-military mentality to dominate anyhow and would imagine more hippyish character expies of themselves as somehow getting along with and perhaps moderating somewhat the fighter-jock types, oddball cop buddy movie style.

    So while I appreciate the timeline is not trying to get too deep into backstory unrelated to space, since Muskie has this peculiar position, I think we need to know more about how and why this TL's US culture and politics differs from OTL, to explain his odd-seeming position and show where he gets a basis of support for it, or anyway believes he will.

    Kubrick's movie is certainly not going to help him much; the movie sends a bunch of Air Force jocks to represent the USA--and yet they manage to interact sanely with their Soviet counterparts, suggesting the soldier boys are not all kill-crazy nutjobs but in WWII movie fashion citizen-soldiers of the Willie and Joe stripe--iconic frontier Americans. And that even the Soviets are not entirely Godless Nazi-expy slime monsters either but respectable, responsible adults in their own way.

    Perry Rhodan fandom also is apparently on the default page of "explorer/adventurer"="good civilized soldier" too, and God knows what message the limited-run Dr Who of ATL sends--OTL the Doctor was all over the map politically but consistently a maverick and loner, albeit with a good friend in the Brigadier. Here, who knows? There might never be anything like UNIT or conversely the whole show might merge into that. Anyway that's Britain, with probably less influence on US culture than the OTL show eventually had, mostly as I noticed it via Tom Baker. By cutting off Roddenberry's career we've also cut out another possible voice of idealistic anti-militarism, and the Far Frontiers show also mixes up, as OTL Star Trek did, the messages of evolving beyond militarism with the packaging of it in a military--well, paramilitary, police--culture.

    On the whole the culture seems to favor a kind of Spartan-lite image of the outer frontier--the future pioneers are supposed to be less bigoted and more cultured than a gang of ruffians, and not money-grubbing businessmen either, but enjoy the soldierly virtues and are embedded in a disciplined, ordered command structure of common service for the common good.

    I just don't see how a culture like that produces a US President who is determined to drive a wedge between "good" high tech and "bad" military tech. And given as an improv prompt that it does, roll with it, I'd expect that President to fail of reelection and all his projects to be shot down or rolled up into something different come 1973. And while I can't quite believe in this Muskie existing at all, if that happened to a Muskie I could believe in, I'd think that was too bad.
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  16. Petike Sky Pirate Extraordinaire

    Jun 25, 2008
    Clockpunk Zemplín Kingdom / Franz Josef's Land
    Okay, nixonshead, the time has come... The time for what, you ask ? The time to binge-read your timeline, that's what ! ;) :cool: I'll give you my impressions soon enough.
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  17. Threadmarks: Part III Post #11: From the Earth to the Moon

    nixonshead Well-Known Member

    Apr 1, 2013
    Hi everyone,
    First, a massive thanks to Brainbin for his wonderful guest post on Sunday, and to e of pi for his constant advice and support in writing this TL. Thanks also to everyone who's commented, contributed or simply read my little tale! As I am having a rather busy (but fun!) week and am travelling a lot, so I'm afraid I'm not able to give the recent comments the feedback they deserve right now, but I hope to come back to them soon (especially those Kerbel rockets!).

    In the meantime however, the final post for Part-III is coming to you early! So it's with great pleasure I present to you Post#11 of...


    Part III Post #11: From the Earth to the Moon

    With 1974 proving to be a year of turmoil in international politics, it provoked a similar upheaval in the manned lunar missions of both superpowers. For Mishin and Chelomei, the political uncertainty and economic paralysis that had come from the death of Shelepin added more woes onto their already under-resourced projects, and both Chief Designers spent more and more time plotting to seize control of the assets of the other rather than advance towards their joint goal of a Soviet mission to the Moon.

    Political problems were however not only an issue for the East, but also manifested in the West. Project Columbia had suffered under resourcing for several years as Congress sought to divert funding to other, more urgent priorities, but the political capital invested by Muskie in the success of the mission meant that the President continued to fight its corner on Capitol Hill following his re-election in 1972. His announcement of the project in the 1970 State of the Union address meant that Muskie was personally associated with Columbia, and so a failure to meet the target would be a failure of the President - a fact that his political opponents were equally aware of, and several sought to use Columbia to undermine him. The considerable political pressure that had been exerted to remove von Braun from his leading position in the DRA had been part of this, as had the continuous attempts to cut the budget allocation. However, the first unmanned Earth orbital test flight of the Columbia capsule in April 1974 appeared to show that, despite the cut-backs and upheavals, Columbia was on schedule, and the success gave Muskie enough of a boost that he felt able to argue for increased funding to studies for a follow-on lunar landing mission during budget negotiations.

    Events over the summer completely changed this picture, with the White House caught completely unawares by the sudden power vacuum in Moscow and the changes sweeping Eastern Europe. Determined to ensure there be no threatening moves that could provoke the Soviets into rash action whilst they resolved their internal issues, Muskie’s hands-off approach was portrayed by his opponents as timidity in the face of a once-in-a-generation opportunity to split the Warsaw Pact and establish a decisive advantage for the West in the Cold War. This perception of weakness was only exacerbated by the Tisha B'Av War, and in particular when the Washington Post revealed that Israel had ignored Muskie’s advice not to strike first. With Muskie having supported Israel’s actions in the UN after the start of the war, the President was painted as an abused housewife, meekly accepting a slap to the face and then making sure dinner was on the table afterwards. With the price of gasoline skyrocketing through August and September in the wake of Arab sanctions, the final nail was applied to the coffin, and the Democrats took a sound beating in the November mid-terms, losing control of both Houses of Congress.

    The project nevertheless continued, with a second unmanned flight taking place in October 1974. Unlike the first flight, the Columbia-2 capsule included all of the design upgrades incorporated following the outcome of the Rhene Inquiry, including an oxygen/nitrogen atmosphere at sea-level pressure. This move away from the pure oxygen atmospheres that had been standard on Mercury and Dynasoar had the disadvantage that any spacewalkers leaving the craft would have to undergo a lengthy pre-breathing exercise to purge their blood of nitrogen, or else risk the bends when using the low pressure EVE suits. However, no spacewalks were planned for at least the first few Columbia missions, and it was felt that ignoring this key recommendation would risk appearing indifferent to the safety of the astronauts, and so the change was made. In another effort to limit risk to the crew, Columbia-2 was placed into an elliptical orbit which crossed the Vernov Belts, allowing engineers to confirm the extent to which the capsule’s hull would protect the astronauts from radiation during their voyage. The results broadly matched expectations: the crew would be fine during their brief crossing of the belts and outside of Earth’s magnetic field, but repeated passes or exposure to a solar flare would be far more hazardous.

    With two unmanned missions under their belt, NACAA decided to push ahead with their first crewed flight in March 1975. As on the first two missions, Columbia-3 would be an Earth orbital flight, which on this initial check-out would last two days. To pilot this first manned mission the Air Force had provided two of their most experienced astronauts to NACAA on detached duty. Commanding the mission would be Dave Merricks, veteran of four Dynasoar orbital missions, as well as several atmospheric skip-glide tests flights. He would be aided by pilot Gary Jones, who had flown on a total of three missions, including command of a two-week DEL mission. Aside from his piloting expertise, Jones’ experience as the first African-American in space also proved useful in handling the far greater press exposure of the NACAA-run Columbia mission compared to an Air Force Dynasoar flight. In contrast to the minimal publicity normal for Air Force flight, NACAA as a civilian agency dependent upon a publically declared budget were determined to generate as much interest as they could to ensure taxpayers could see that the Columbia project was money well spent. Having faced a similar or greater level of interest following DS-16, Jones was far more at ease in dealing with the press than his reticent commander, and quickly became identified as the public face of the mission.

    Columbia-3 launched on-schedule from Cape Canaveral on 11th March into a low, circular orbit staying well below the Vernov Belts. Despite conditions more cramped than they were used to on Dynasoar Mk.II flights, both Merricks and Jones reported no significant problems with the ship. They performed several large orbit adjustments to demonstrate the manoeuvring capabilities of the capsule, including multiple re-starts of the main engine, a critical feature for a return from lunar orbit. On the second day Mission Control detected that one of the three redundant fuel cells in the service module began exhibiting voltage fluctuations and ordered Merricks and Jones to shut down the unit, but apart from this there were no significant problems encountered. Following an uneventful service module separation, Columbia-3 re-entered the atmosphere and splashed down in the Atlantic a few hundred kilometres west of Florida to await retrieval by the USS America, where several TV crews and newspaper reporters waited eagerly for a first-hand report. “She flies well,” Jones told the assembled press. “She might not be as pretty as the ‘Soar, but she’s solid and reliable. She’ll get us to the Moon alright.”

    In the Soviet Union, Mishin and Chelomei looked on jealousy. Although the day-to-day running of the country was carrying on as the Council of Ministers gradually took more and more responsibility from the paralysed Politburo, big decisions on budgetary expenditure were still being delayed indefinitely. Nevertheless, both TsKBSO and OKB-1 pushed forward with their competing circumlunar programmes as best they could. January 1975 had seen Mishin finally launch his Zarya-V capsule on an unmanned flight around the Moon, a free-return fly-by ending with a double-skip re-entry that returned the vehicle to Earth 60 kilometres from its aim point. This was an impressive feat of celestial navigation, and was noted with concern in the United States, but Chelomei was less worried. Although Zarya-V had now completed its nominal mission profile unmanned, the OKB-1 head knew that Mishin had still not completed ground testing of the extended life support and power systems for the craft’s service module. Still, Mishin had shown before a willingness to skip testing if he thought the risk worthwhile, so Chelomei could waste no time in pushing forward his own response; a manned flight of Sapfir.

    By early May, Chelomei was ready. The Sapfir capsule and its Raketoplan-derived service module were secured atop their Proton launcher on the pad at Baikonur and the countdown proceeded smoothly down to an mid-morning lift-off on 7th May, before disaster struck. The Proton had barely cleared the launchpad when it began tilting to one side. The rocket appeared at first to correct itself, rotating back to vertical, but then began to spin and heel over once more. Finally, just as the Safri’s launch escape rocket fired and carried the two-man crew to safety, the first stage exploded, engulfing the rest of the stack in a brilliant fireball.

    With the Sapfir project knocked back at least six months by the failure of its launcher, and Mishin still struggling with Zarya-V’s technical and programmatic issues, the field was left clear for the Americans. June 1975 saw the launch of Columbia-4 on a five-day mission in Low Earth Orbit. Commanding the mission was veteran Air Force astronaut Albert Crews, but his pilot was a civilian geologist, Dr. John Kaminski. Formally a leading scientist on NESSA’s Lunar Surveyor mission, Kaminski was one of four scientists selected by NACAA in 1972 in an effort to broaden the appeal of Columbia by promoting its scientific and civilian nature. Kaminski had already held a private pilot’s license prior to his selection, and had since undergone intensive training on high-performance jets to alleviate Air Force fears of their astronauts being used to “bus civilian dead-weight around”. With Columbia-4 he finally earned his astronaut wings - although an initial bout of space sickness meant that he was unable to fully appreciate the honour for several hours.

    Aside from checking out Columbia’s essential engineering systems on a full-length mission, Kaminski’s main task was to test out the scientific instruments that would be carried to the Moon. Columbia’s service module contained a small bay to carry up to 200 kg of scientific instrumentation, which would be used to characterise the cis-lunar space environment and to image the surface of the Moon in a number of wavelengths. The readings of these instruments would be transmitted to the crew module via cable and recorded on magnetic tape for return to Earth, both via telemetry playback over radio and physically following the mission’s splashdown. On Columbia-4, Kaminski tested these instruments by imaging areas of the Earth, in an echo of some of the early Dynasoar missions (though most of those results were still classified in 1975).

    Following the successful splashdown of Columbia-4, the next flight in the sequence was to be an unmanned test of the hardware on a full dress-rehearsal of the lunar flyby mission. As well as ensuring the spacecraft was up to the task of a round-Moon voyage, Columbia-5 would also mark the first use by the project of the uprated Minerva-B24c. This long-planned upgrade involved a switch to the new E-1A engines on the first stage and boosters, bringing an increase in specific impulse from 290s to 310s, with each engine providing 20% greater thrust. The J-2 engines of the upper stage also received an upgrade, whilst the new, squatter Centaur-B sported upgrades of the RL-10. All this added up to an increase of over 2 tonnes in the payload that could be delivered into a Lunar Transfer Orbit, a capability that was critical in enabling Columbia to carry the propellant it would need to orbit the Moon and return home.

    Columbia-5 lifted off in October 1975 and worked through the entire mission sequence, coming back to Earth six days later to the satisfaction of everyone involved in the project. In particular the critical Lunar Orbit Insertion and Trans-Earth Injection manoeuvres, carried out by automated systems whilst on the far side of the Moon and out of contact with Mission Control, went exactly as planned. With over six months left before President Muskie’s deadline, NACAA felt confident that Columbia was ready.

    Finally, in January 1976, commander Dave Merricks and pilot Gary Jones once more climbed into a space capsule together for Columbia-6, the first manned mission to the Moon. As with Columbia-5, this mission would use the uprated Minerva-B24c. Although upgraded versions of the Minerva-20 had been used on Dynasoar missions for over a year, Columbia-6 would be the first manned mission for the larger four-booster-plus-Centaur configuration of the launcher, and ground crews treated the rocket with the appropriate respect as a result. This caution was demonstrated when a hold was called at T-17 minutes to investigate a spurious pressure reading from one of the lines topping up the liquid hydrogen of the Minerva’s upper stage. This hold was especially concerning given the extremely tight launch window imposed by the mission’s trans-lunar trajectory, but after a tense five minutes it was decided that the error was in the sensor and the countdown re-commenced. With no more holds called, the first stage and booster engines ignited, then the clamps released and Columbia-6 lifted from the pad in Florida on the first stage of its journey from the Earth to the Moon.

    Columbia-6 prepares for launch, January 1976.
    Last edited: Sep 27, 2017
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  18. Bahamut-255 Space Lover

    Jul 28, 2010
    From the Earth to the Moon? Now where have I heard that name before? ;)

    And since are really looking bad for the USSR at this time, given that their various competing factions are practically starving themselves of vital resources to keep pace with the US, the power vacuum not helping matters any. So while Mishin's Zarya experiencing difficulties with attaining the Life Support Requirements needed for a Manned Circumlunar Mission, and Chelomei's Proton LV showing issues with reliability, and neither willing to pool their resources, they're just going to fall further behind.

    All the while as NACAA push ahead to meet Muskie's goal which for them is now a very real possibility, even with all the various changes made with regards to crew safety (or perhaps happening because of them). Btw, what are the Minerva-B's performance figures? And what are the specs for the Columbia Spacecraft?
    Dlg123 likes this.
  19. Kirk Kerman Kerbal Rocketeer

    Feb 14, 2015
    No picture this time?

    EDIT: also, I'm currently working on making Chasovoy-1 in KSP.
  20. Shevek23 Spherical Cow-poke

    Aug 20, 2010
    Reno, Nevada USA
    No picture, I'm guessing, because Columbia is a completely different design than anything OTL, not something scaled up or down.

    I'm just going to guess the capsule itself is between 3 and 4 tons--why? Bigger than a Gemini I hope--lots of people say that the Gemini was a great spacecraft and that the Apollo capsule was actually too big--but I say that's nuts. I just don't think it is optimal to crowd people that tightly, not for many days on end. True, the Gemini missions that went on for a week or so worked out OK I guess. Whereas people cite the fact that space sickness afflicted many Apollo astronauts--because now they had enough room to move around, and could experience and realize, on an, um, gut level--that they were in zero G, and reacted to it.

    Well, I figure if people are going to be in space, they should learn to adapt to zero G, and space sickness rarely went on more than a day or so.

    However the astronauts say they are more cramped than in a Dynasoar, which is pretty amazing, so perhaps they are in a Gemini-sized volume after all.

    If so--that tends to support the idea that the capsule has similar proportions to a Gemini, at least the main cone of it--because the shape has to provide for leg room.

    Even if someone at NAACA were to suggest that actually the headlight shape of a Varya capsule were optimal, I suppose it would be rejected out of hand as looking like an imitation of the Soviet program. That means we are stuck with cones, unless perhaps it is a somewhat more sophisticated shape, biconic or whatever, that Faget might have gotten to if he were to wait to 1970 to design a capsule. So--something like a Gemini I guess, massing perhaps less than 3 tons.

    This tells us nothing about any sort of service module, except we know it has one--really it has to. No mission module though or the astronauts would not say it is tighter quarters than a Dynasoar.

    I started writing this trying to convince myself it would look nothing like a Gemini but that's where logic and minimal evidence seem to point. After all, the Americans have, other than Dynasoar, only ever flown Mercury capsules, and Gemini OTL started out as "Mercury II". Here, the sheet of paper is much fresher but, given the somewhat surprising to me decision to go tight with habitable volume, I know Gemini was considered very satisfactory by OTL astronauts and if you want to make the space tight, there probably aren't a lot of other ways to do it right--given that Mercury is the only data point they have, a good design seems likely to parallel Gemini. Darn it!

    Given that six tons is what the Soviets can send around the Moon, and that they won't have hydrogen rockets to boost them with its high efficiency, whereas the biggest American Minerva version can boost rather more than the Proton and then use a hydrogen-fueled Centaur to do the TLI more efficiently, I would have guessed Columbia to have a much greater mass all up--11 tons or so. That's too small for any sort of landing--anyway if after the hiatus (thanks for the cliffhanger, nixonshead:eek::D;))it turns out there is a landing this early in the program, I'm definitely going to have to ask author and advisors to show their work...I'm betting we won't have to do that because 11 tons is too little by far, even I suspect for such a stunt as the one-man, unpressurized flying walker thing that some proposals for a minimal manned landing came up with. But much bigger than we'd need for a mere flyby. I wonder if the rest of the mass is largely accounted for by fuel to enable braking into Lunar orbit and then escaping it and returning to Earth.

    So--Gemini with a scaled down version of the Apollo SM attached to it, is becoming my guess. (But visualize the engine bell as much smaller in proportion; OTL it was much bigger than needed for its LOR mission because it was originally intended to be the engine for a direct ascent from the Lunar surface of the whole Apollo CSM, and so it had about twice the thrust it needed.)
    Chelomei's disaster is the whole Soviet program's disaster. Even though the failed launch of his Safir test article (surely it wasn't a manned attempt, was it?:eek:) might be seen as vindicating Mishin by some, that's an irrational way of looking at it--for Mishin's Varya-based lunar flyby is also scheduled to be launched by a Proton, and it was the Proton rocket that failed; not the payload.

    Unless in the longer run--by which I mean over the next three years at worst--the current turmoil and confusion in the USSR somehow leads to a miracle cure by someone too fantastic for OTL stepping up out of nowhere, it looks to me like the Soviet tailspin will not be reversed or even arrested; the regime cannot afford rising costs or much innovation.

    Too bad as I can imagine Mishin really making something of the elements he has already produced, and so might Chelomei.

    But if the Americans even still do nothing beyond a Lunar flyby--that was the most the Soviets could accomplish and if the Americans do it first there's going to be those who want to cut their losses right there.