NASA's Waterloo: A Realistic Mission to Mars Post Apollo

NASA's Waterloo

October 2, 1983

Kennedy Space Center

A crowd had gathered at Kennedy Space Center, larger than any seen since 1969. They cheered as the countdown timer approached the final minute. Miles away, on the pad, a white and black rocket glistened on the pad. Though larger, and more complex, the rocket was, at its core, very similar to its brother, the one who had propelled the mission years ago that had gathered so many. The journey it was a part of, however, was one grander, and more complex than any previously embarked on by man.

Just a few moments before the clock struck zero, the rocket was lit by a massive burst of light. It took a moment for the tremendous sound to reach those watching it, but when the sound arrived, it was overwhelming. Those that had witnessed the launch of the Apollo missions were shocked by how much louder this rocket was. It made even that godlike sound quieter. As the countdown hit zero, and the rocket began to rise, a cheer arose from the audience that for a moment, almost drowned out the noise of the rocket. An announcer boomed over the microphone:

“And Ares II is off!”

Author’s Note: This is my timeline about a realistic NASA manned Mars Mission in the 1980s. I know that that concept on its own is kinda ASB, so I will attempt to present it as plausibly as possible. Part of my attempt to be plausible is to explore in detail, the lead up to and factors in NASA deciding to follow that path. Part one is going to be almost entirely set up. Due to one of my POD's requiring it, the early steps of this timeline will have some similarities to SpaceGeek and Bahamut255s fantastic Red Star timeline. Also this timeline is obviously inspired by Stephen Baxter's wonderful book Voyage. I will approach it differently than Voyage, but similarities are inevitable. I was also inspired by the fantastic timelines and space community on this site, especially E of Pi, Workable Goblin, Polish Eagle, Shevek23, Michel Van, Tonyq, Nixonshead, Methuselah, Astheltane, and everyone else. I hope you forgive the somewhat cliche concept.
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Part I Chapter 1
Part I Chapter 1:

“Earth is so beautiful, it almost makes me wish we weren't leaving”

-Vladimir Komarov, Zarya 1

1968 was a big year for the Apollo program. First in January the Apollo 5 flight flew the first test of the LM lunar lander. It went off perfectly, leading to NASA cancelling any further unmanned LM tests. In October, Wally Schirra and his Apollo 7 crew restored public faith in the space program after the tragedy of Apollo 1. However, between these two launches, a slight hitch occurred. The Apollo 6 flight, the second and planned to be the final, unmanned test of the Saturn V suffered serious damage from Pogo oscillations during ascent. Three J-2 engines on the S-II second stage failed to ignite, and due to this lots of thrust, the rocket failed to reach orbit, splashing down in the Ocean. This failure threw a wrench into NASA's plans. Obviously a third Saturn V test would be needed, but the Apollo 8 flight, planned for December, was to be a manned Low Earth Orbit test of the LM, and the first crewed launch aboard a Saturn V. This would need to change, and that would have knock on effects on the rest of the program. It was decided that the Apollo 8 mission would proceed, but with the CSM and LM launched separately on individual Saturn 1Bs. The crew apparently was fine with this, with LM pilot Rusty Schweickart reportedly saying: “I don't care what I go up on, as long as I get to fly the thing”. NASA officials initially still tried for the December 1968 launch date, but problems with the LM, and crew training needs pushed the flight back to January 1969.

Meanwhile, engineers were trying their hardest to make sure that the Apollo 9 Saturn V test went smoothly. SA-503, originally intended for Apollo 8, was pulled apart at the Cape, as engineers and technicians examined every component. Still other engineers pored over the telemetry from Apollo 6, trying to pinpoint exactly what had happened. By the time all the checks were complete, and all the fixes implemented, surprisingly, it looked like they would be able to make Apollo 9 fly by the original December launch date of Apollo 8. Since Apollo 8 would use Launch Complexes 34 and 37, the big pads at LC-39 would be open, so the close mission timing would not be an issue. Annoyingly to some, this would mean that the Saturn V would fly before the LM test, which kind of negated the whole idea of using the Saturn 1B for Apollo 8, and that, numerically, Apollo 9 would fly before Apollo 8. The first concern could not be helped, as no one at NASA wished to change the schedule AGAIN, and risk incurring further delays. However, the second concern was rectified in November of 1968, when NASA decided to swap the names. Apollo 8 would be the Saturn V test, Apollo 9, the LM test. In order to further save time, program managers decided to cut the planned High Earth Orbital CSM + LM test, and forgo the suggested Lunar Orbital flight, and instead skip right to the landing dress rehearsal flight for Apollo 10. This they hoped would help keep them on track to meet Kennedy's “end of the decade” goal. Frank Borman, Michael Collins, and Bill Anders, the prime crew for the original original Apollo 9 (the high orbit test) found themselves without a mission. The crew of Apollo 10 had already begun training for dress rehearsal landing. NASA eventually decided to appoint Borman, Collins, and Anders to the Apollo 14 backup crew, which meant that according to how schedules usually worked, they would fly three missions later on Apollo 17. The crew accepted that, hoping that they would in fact get the chance to land on the Moon.

NASA management was optimistic. After Apollo 8 in December, Apollo 9 in February, and Apollo 10 in April or May of 1969, NASA would be able to land men on the Moon by mid 1969, fulfilling Kennedy's promise, and cementing America's number one status in spaceflight. However, in November of 1968, a rocket blasted off from the deserts of Kazakhstan that would shock the world.
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So. Basically NASA is a bit less lucky, the pogo's worse, the Soviets have much better luck with the N1, and they get the first around the moon mission? I don't see them managing the first actual landing...
So. Basically NASA is a bit less lucky, the pogo's worse, the Soviets have much better luck with the N1, and they get the first around the moon mission? I don't see them managing the first actual landing...

Well, like in Red Star, the Soviets started the N1 program earlier, which combined with some other factors coming up, makes the program much further along by the time it really matters. As for who's going to be first, well just wait and see.
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Part I Chapter 2

Part I Chapter 2:

Zarya-1 kicked all our asses out from under us, up until then, we had know idea what those Ruskies were planning.

-Jim Lovell, In the Shadow of Ares, 1992

The N11 rocket that blasted off from Baikonur on November 10, 1968, had a lot on its metaphorical shoulders. Like the other launches of the N11 before it, it was proving the technology and stages for it's much larger brother with every flight. However, this time, it was different. For the first time in history, Cosmonauts were being carried to orbit aboard a rocket that was not derived from Sergei Korolev's R-7. However, Vladimir Komarov, and Valeri Kubasov were not just going to Earth Orbit. They were traveling beyond.

As the Block BA of the N11 burned out, the Block V ignited, pushing them to orbit. The N11 was essentially the N1 minus the first stage, with the N1s Block B second stage being modified to serve as the N11s first stage. As such, each flight of the N11 helped to develop the N1. The N11 had flown over a dozen times already, mostly military missions, but also test flights for this mission right here. The N11 had beaten out Chelomei's UR-500 to fulfill the need for a super ICBM, and more practically, a space launcher in the 20 ton class. Korolev's had successfully pitched his rocket as safer and more reliable, due to it not using toxic hypergolic fuels, and also that it's development would help to support the Moon program. Ultimately, Korolev's reputation and Soviet desire to beat the Americans to the Moon won out, and the N11 was selected. Chelomei's arguments that his rocket would be cheaper, and it's storable propellants more applicable for a missile were very persuasive with the military, and he was given approval to develop his UR-500 as a missile, which he hoped to spin off into a launcher eventually.

The Block V and Block G worked as they were supposed to, and after a checkout orbit, the Block D ignited, propelling the payload to escape velocity. Atop the Block D sat the Zarya 7K-L1 spacecraft. It resembled a Soyuz, but with the Orbital module removed, and a large antenna in its place. Aboard the cramped capsule Komarov and Kubasov felt the acceleration of the Block D cut out as it placed them successfully on track. Their fate was in the hands of Isaac Newton now. If all went to plan, and the math was right, they would fly by the Moon, who's gravity would launch them back towards the Earth. This was not the first flight for the Zarya spacecraft, but the half dozen test flights before this had been shrouded in secrecy, and had been launched under the generic “Zond” name. Only after it was confirmed that Komarov and Kubasov were on track was it announced to the world that two Soviet Cosmonauts were on their way to the Moon. Komarov and Kubasov announced to Pravda, in a live radio interview given on the way to the moon, that their Zarya spacecraft was to be named “Korolev”, to honor the late designer of much of the Soviet space program. While the name held special meaning to the Cosmonauts, the public had not learned who Korolev even was until his sudden death in 1966, as prior to that, his identity had remained a secret.

The flight crew for Zarya 1 contained two of the most experienced Cosmonauts in the Soviet Union. Komarov was an experienced Cosmonauts, having made his debut on Voshkhod 1 in 1964. He had served as the backup pilot for the ill fated Soyuz 1 mission, which had killed his friend Boris Volynov and had later flown the test flight Soyuz 5. Valeri Kubasov had flown on Soyuz 6, and had been training for this mission for over a year. Together, the two men were being taken on a ride farther than any man had ever gone. And a ride it was, for the Zarya spacecraft was completely automated, and after the trans-lunar injection was complete, not much would be done anyway. The crew watched as the Earth grew smaller and smaller from their tiny window. They were the first people to see the Earth as a globe, floating in space.

Komarov was reportedly so captivated by the beauty of the Earth, that he nearly exhausted the film on his camera snapping photos. Luckily, Kubasov was a bit more conservative, because the most spectacular views came three days later.

As Korolev approached the Moon, the craft adjusted it's attitude so that the crew could see the Earth's natural satellite up close for the first time. They saw the Moon as a world of its own, with craters, and ridges, mountains and valleys. As they flew around the far side of the Moon, they saw the side of the Moon that no human had ever seen with their own eyes. Though Zarya was more of a prestige and technological development program than a scientific one, the Crew used their cameras and an infrared imaging device literally pointed out the window by hand, to document the lunar far side. The crew would later lament that they had to spend a few precious minutes of their brief encounter pointing a clunky device out the window and obscuring their own view. As they passed around the far side, they lost contact with the Earth, becoming more detached from humanity than any other human in history. After a few tense minutes, the Earth came back into view, and contact was reestablished. As they saw the Earth rising over the lunar horizon, Kubasov photographed his homeworld, capturing one of the most iconic photos in history.

After their encounter, Kubasov and Komarov began the long trip back home, falling back towards the Earth. This was the part that engineers on the ground were most worried about. The complicated “skip reentry” procedure that would be used to return had been the most difficult part of the testing program, taking five unmanned flights to get right. As they approached Earth, the cosmonauts donned their pressure suits, jettisoned the antenna and the service module, and braced for reentry. Thankfully, it went off without any issues. It was a rough reentry, especially by American standards, but the crew successfully touched down and were picked up by the rescue crews within an hour. The heroes were given a welcome as great as Yuri Gagarin had gotten in 1961, and Premier Brezhnev gave a speech claiming that the Soviets had maintained their status as “Leaders in Space”, and that this mission “was only the beginning of what was to come”. Across the Atlantic, many worried that the Soviets were right.
Fascinating TL here, even though Mars in the 1980's is stretching credibility to the limit to be generous, I'll be keeping an eye on this nonetheless.

And yeah, an earlier N1 development is the single biggest requirement for any Soviet Lunar Mission to work IMHO, not least because it allows the Lunar Race to actually properly be one - given that IOTL the late start all but doomed Korolev's efforts right at the beginning. The N11 effectively enabling flight testing for the upper stages and the NK Engines without needing to wait for the Block A to be ready - after all the Soviet Test Philosophy at this point was design, build, test in flight, and improve later IIRC, with failures constituting lessons to be learned.

As I see it, the simple fact that the USSR is much closer here, and publicly so, should provide an extra kick for NASA at least in the near-term.
Part I Chapter 3
Part I Chapter 3:

Zarya means ‘Dawn’ and the crew of Zarya captured an image of a dawn unlike any seen by human eyes, our own world rising above the horizon of another.

-Caption below the Zarya-1 “Blue Dawn” photo in Time Magazine, December, 1968

The Zarya 1 flight generated outrage in the USA not seen since the launch of Sputnik. The Soviets had leaped ahead like it was 1961 again. The flight of Zarya 1 was the top story across the country, despite it being only a week after the presidential election. Though those in the know did not believe that the Soviets had a rocket large enough to send men even into lunar orbit, to the average layman, it seemed like the Soviets could land on the Moon tomorrow. The New York Times published a cartoon that showed a hammer and sickle emblazoned across the face of the Moon while an American rocket exploded in the foreground. Congress called a commision, demanding to know why A) No one had seen this coming, and B) Why America had been beaten to the Moon when the landing itself was now less than a year away. NASA officials called to testify carefully explained that they were doing everything they could, that an American circumlunar flight would have had have had little value to the landing program, and that they did not want to rush forward recklessly and cause another Apollo 1. One NASA official even asked contemptuously during the hearing if he could get back to Florida and keep working on putting men on the moon, or if the committee had more questions for him. Despite NASA’s insistences that this had changed nothing, there still was some dismay within the agency. Some Astronauts and officials noted that there had been concepts floated during the Gemini program that could have led to an American Lunar flyby as early as 1966. Nevertheless, NASA stuck to their schedule, marching towards their goal.

Apollo 8 lifted off from Cape Kennedy on December 21, 1968, and gave the ground controllers a Christmas present by performing perfectly. Each stage of the massive Saturn V flew just as planned, and pogo oscillations were kept to an absolute minimum. Everyone breathed a collective sigh of relief. The unmanned CSM of Apollo 8 flew by the Moon just as Zarya 1 had just a month earlier. Some Astronauts had semi-seriously offered to fly on Apollo 8 after the Zarya fiasco, but NASA was not risking any crew on a rocket that had yet to perform completely nominally. Two months later, the crew of Apollo 9 lifted off in their Saturn 1B to meet their LM in orbit, it having launched three days prior. They rendezvoused with the LM, and James McDivitt and Rusty Schweickart transferred into the vehicle. They separated from the CSM and performed tests of the lunar lander, simulating a landing abort and returning to the CSM a few hours later. The LM passed every test with flying colors. Schweickart commented on its maneuverability, comparing it to a fighter plane. After a week on orbit, the crew returned to Earth. The Apollo 9 mission was declared completely successful, but the public at large took little notice. NASA was really pushing for the Apollo 10 mission in May, as that would not only carry the first Americans to the Moon, but pave the way for the landing of Apollo 11 in July.

In March of 1969, the Soviets once again rubbed the noses of the Americans in their defeat with the launch of Zarya 2. Cosmonauts Yevgeny Khrunov and Viktor Gorbatko flew by the Moon again, essentially repeating the previous flight. After their capsule, named for the late Yuri Gagarin, landed, the Zarya program was declared officially over. However, this finality would not be made public, and the rest of the world continued to wait in anticipation for the next Soviet lunar flight.

Finally, after months of preparation, the Saturn V for the first American manned flight to the Moon was rolled out to the pad. On May 18, 1969, Gordon Cooper, John Young, and Gene Cernan boarded the Rocket, and at 4:49 PM, Apollo 10 launched them towards the Moon. The Astronauts could feel the power of the Saturn V as it carried them to orbit. After the first two stages burned out and dropped away, the S-IVB ignited to complete orbital insertion. The combined mass of Apollo 10’s CSM, LEM, and S-IVB made it the heaviest object ever put into orbit. After three orbits, ground control cleared Apollo 10 for trans-lunar injection, reigniting the S-IVB and propelling them towards the Moon. After TLI, Command Module Pilot John Young maneuvered the CSM in the transposition and docking maneuver that was required to extract the LM from the S-IVB stage. After the docking was complete, the crew of Apollo 10 settled in for the ride. Shortly after setting off to the Moon, they announced that they, inspired by the movie 2001 A Space Odyssey, that they had named their CSM “Discovery” and their LM “Aries”. NASA, hoping to be taken a little more seriously, issued a press release explaining the great ship of exploration, and constellation behind the names respectively, but both Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C Clarke reportedly found the situation amusing. Clarke even wrote a letter to NASA asking that if any “Anomalous Objects” were discovered on the Moon by Apollo 10, that they be publicly disclosed.

Like their Soviet precursors, the American astronauts marvelled at the Earth shrinking behind them and at seeing the Moon up close. However, after they passed into the shadow of the Moon, the SPS engine of their CSM ignited and placed the spacecraft into lunar orbit. After contact was regained and lunar orbit was confirmed, a massive cheer erupted in ground control. After a few orbits, a few hours to marvel at the beauty of the Moon, and to snap hundreds of historic photos, the “Dress Rehearsal” aspect of Apollo 10 began. Cooper and Cernan boarded Aries, and undocked, leaving Young alone. They began performing a descent, just as the crew of Apollo 11 would in a few months. However, late in the descent, the would simulate an aborted landing. The descent engine would stop firing, the ascent stage would separate, and they would fly back up to meet Discovery. To reduce the temptation, especially since this was Gordo Cooper’s last flight, the descent stage was specifically short fueled to make a safe landing impossible. Though the crew were experienced professionals, astronauts are nearly universally hotshots, and there was no way NASA was taking chances.

The descent went nominally, however, when the ascent stage separated, it began to spin out of control. The astronauts were caught swearing as they struggled to regain control. Luckily, after just seven rotations, the crew wrestled control back, and continued the flight. It was revealed later that the crew had forgotten to take the LM out of abort mode before performing the maneuver, which confused the computer, and led to the loss of control. After their crazy ride, Cooper and Cernan flew back up to join John Young once more. After the crew were all aboard Discovery, the ascent stage of Aries was restarted to crash it into the lunar surface. The crew would orbit the Moon for a few more days, waiting for the phase angles to line back up so that they could go home. The greater mass of the Apollo missions meant that unlike the crews of the Zarya flights, the crew of Apollo 10 could carry a TV camera aboard. The crew made live TV broadcasts from Lunar Orbit, while the Zarya 1 crew could only give a brief radio interview. The press lapped up the footage, which played on the nightly news across the globe. The Soviets issued a statement congratulating the Americans, but reminding them that, due to the free return trajectory used, the crew of Zarya 1 had traveled further from Earth than any other human beings. In addition to the public relations stunts, the crew of Apollo 10 also carried out scientific observations of the Moon from orbit, far superior to the meager gains of the Zarya program.

After a few days, Apollo 10 prepared to begin the Trans Earth Injection maneuver. This was a tense moment. If the SPS engine failed to ignite, the crew of Apollo 10 would be trapped in Lunar Orbit and left to die. Thankfully, it performed nominally, and the crew were launched on their way home, in the home stretch. The crew took photos of the Earth, and gave a live TV interview. Before they had even returned, the crew were heroes.

Just one day out from home, the crew was instructed to perform a small trajectory correction maneuver. They oriented the spacecraft and fired the RCS thrusters. Inside the service module, helium pressurised the propellant. Helium was used to pressurize the propellant, removing the need for any pumps, simplifying these essential engines. However, on the fuel tanks supporting one RCS quad, the teflon bladder that protected the Unsymmetrical Dimethylhydrazine propellant from the cold of the helium had a small imperfection. Some of the UDMH had frozen in the fuel lines. When the thruster was fired up, the propellant began to thaw, expanding, putting strain on the fuel lines, pushing it close to rupturing…

John Young slowly adjusted the trajectory of Apollo 10. He moved the stick ever so slowly. Suddenly a massive bang sounded through the spacecraft.

What the hell was that?” Young asked.

I don’t know” Cernan responded, “meteoroid?

The electrical buses began going crazy, and lights started flashing all over the cabin. Cooper grabbed the radio and keyed up ground control.

Houston, ten here, uh, we might have a situation up here.
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Not good. Blowing an RCS Thruster Quad if I read it right. What happens next I suppose depends entirely on if this situation is recoverable or not.
Part I Chapter 4:
Part I Chapter 4:

We have figure something out to get those boys home. I don’t care if they would have to get out and push, just something needs to be done to bring them home! Failure is not an option!

-Gene Kranz, during the Apollo 10 crisis

In Houston, panic threatened to shatter the unnatural, omnipresent cool that was synonymous with mission control. Their readings began to go off the charts. Just a minute after the problem was first reported, the power levels in the CSM began to drop. Whatever had just happened, it had damaged the fuel cells in the service module, threatening both the life support and power supply of the spacecraft. Houston ordered the crew to begin shutting down systems in order to save power. The crew had to act fast, or they could die before they got home. Discovery was a damaged ship.

Using both the crew’s own accounts and the readings available to them, mission control began to diagnose the problem. They first determined that the explosion had been caused from something aboard the ship, not a meteoroid. Next they figured, both by the specific systems that were failing, and by process of elimination, that it was an RCS thruster that had exploded. Once the problem was identified, another team began looking into what was affected, and what needed to be done. The most critical issue was the loss of power and life support. Two of the three onboard oxygen tanks had been breached, quickly leaking their contents into space. When those ran dry, so did the fuel cells that they powered, compounding the problem. Miraculously, one oxygen tank remained unscathed. The “incident” as it was called within Mission Control had also both interrupted the course correction maneuver, and provided an impulse that had thrown it further off course. Quick calculations run by the team determined that the crew needed to impart 13 m/s of Delta V to change the course sufficiently so that the crew would not skip out of the atmosphere upon reentry. The problem was that because the source of the issue had been an RCS thruster failure, ground control was extremely wary of using any of the thrusters at all, for fear of triggering another, possibly fatal, failure.

The press was made aware of the crew’s situated only a few hours after the incident began, once the astronaut’s families were informed. The most covered spaceflight in history so far became the number one news story worldwide once it became known that the crew were in peril. Just days after issuing a snarky statement undermining the Apollo 10 mission’s success, the Soviets quickly issued a statement offering their full support if needed for any kind of rescue operation. By the time the nightly news rolled around, every station in the country was covering the crisis live. The President addressed the nation, assuring the people that everything possible was being done to bring the astronauts home safely.

Back in Houston, mission control began narrowing down their course of action. Thanks to the one remaining oxygen tank, by shutting down some systems and managing others, the remaining resources would be stretched until reentry. If the accident had occurred a day earlier, the crew might not have made it home, but thankfully, they were already in the home stretch. Once the engineers had stabilised the power and life support situation, they began to focus on correcting the trajectory. Concerns over the RCS thrusters were so great, that CAPCOM had ordered the crew to stop using them in the middle of the maneuver to stabilise the spacecraft. As a result, the CSM was still tumbling as it approached the planet. The engineers had no idea how they were going to perform maneuvers in a spacecraft that they couldn’t control. There was no way to tell how much damage had been done to the Service Module, the RCS, or the SPS. However, something had to be done, or the astronauts would not make it home. It had seemed that, in the brief period after the incident, that the crew had fired the RCS thrusters for a few seconds without further incident. Therefore, engineers got to work trying to figure out a way to perform a maneuver that could be executed in the craft’s current state, without exacerbating the issue.

They determined that the zenith quad, the one that had been the source of the explosion, could not be fired, no matter what. Wiring damage from the explosion also caused the Nadir thruster to cease functioning. Therefore, a maneuver would have to be performed using only the starboard and port thrusters. Any prograde or retrograde firing would command all thrusters to fire, including the problem one. Also, the tumble could not be completely corrected, without requiring a roll that would involve the damaged thruster. The only maneuver that could be accomplished using only the “safe” thrusters was translation in the “up down direction”. So ground controllers radioed their solution to a disbelieving John Young. He would have to fire the thrusters in bursts when the spacecraft tumbled into the correct orientation. Because no such maneuver could be executed by the computer, everything would have to be done manually. The firings would have to be timed by hand by Cooper. Difficult or not, the crew were the best of the best, and after a few tense minutes, the maneuver was performed, correcting the trajectory.

Discovery approached Earth, still tumbling, and the crew got ready for reentry. The Service Module separated and the tumble was corrected using the Command Modules on-board thrusters. There was some concern over if the heat shield had suffered damage from the explosion. However, as there was nothing that could have been done, they would just have to wait and see. As the plasma of reentry caused a communication blackout, the tense wait for reestablishment of contact began. Finally, after a few minutes, the voice of commander Cooper responded to the calls, and cheering erupted in the control room. Apollo 10 was home safe!

The world was thrilled that the heroes had returned home safe. A ticker tape parade was thrown for them, and they were treated like the best thing since Charles Lindbergh. The crew of Apollo 10 were flown across the country, and the world and were all honored in a White House ceremony. People the world over celebrated the astronauts safe return. Some however, were celebrating for other reasons…
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Oh boy, quality control at North American Aviation will be reexamines by NASA after Apollo 10 Review Board
i wonder of a certain LOX tank for Apollo CSM-109 is now Label as "NOT FOR USE - to be scrapt"
This will delay the program also, the Apollo 10 Review Board will take around three months of investigation.
follow by modifications on Apollo CSM but this delay Apollo 11 into begin 1970 !

And I wonder what the Soviets are Up to during that time ?
Oh boy, quality control at North American Aviation will be reexamines by NASA after Apollo 10 Review Board
i wonder of a certain LOX tank for Apollo CSM-109 is now Label as "NOT FOR USE - to be scrapt"
This will delay the program also, the Apollo 10 Review Board will take around three months of investigation.
follow by modifications on Apollo CSM but this delay Apollo 11 into begin 1970

It's possible, most likely due to NA & NASA deciding not to chance a tank that had been dropped and doesn't empty properly following these events.

It feels to me like NASA may try to 'Shift the Goalposts' by having the Decade referring to the 10-year period since Kennedy made his Pledge. Though there's almost no chance of that ever working given that everyone refers to that timeline as meaning no later than 31/12/1969.

And I wonder what the Soviets are Up to during that time ?

Most likely trying to get the Block A working properly.

IOTL that was the part that never worked in the four test flights, given the issues with controlling 30 engines at once. Not impossible - as OTL has (to all intents and purposes) proven via F9H - but extremely difficult at this point in time.

I would say, that the Soviets are less celebrating, and more sighing in relief, with Apollo 10 effectively buying them the extra time they appear to need to sufficiently debug the N1.

Who'll win the Lunar Race, however, still appears to be able to go either way at this point in time.
IOTL that was the part that never worked in the four test flights, given the issues with controlling 30 engines at once. Not impossible - as OTL has (to all intents and purposes) proven via F9H - but extremely difficult at this point in time.
Controlling 30 engines was possible then for NASA. The Soviets didn't have good enough electronics. Also, NASA had much better quality control...
Controlling 30 engines was possible then for NASA. The Soviets didn't have good enough electronics. Also, NASA had much better quality control...

Ohh yes one of Problems I and SpaceGeek face in 2001: a Space-Time Odyssey
I increased the thrust of NK-15 to 2120 kN. and installed 16 of them in Block A, and no center engines to decrease the Pogo effect on rocket.
Part I Chapter 5
Part I Chapter 5:

Suddenly, then all at once

-Unknown Apollo program manager, when asked how the Soviets had caught up to them

The Apollo 10 disaster and subsequent stand down was a godsend (ironic in an atheist country) for the Soviet lunar program. Begun in 1962 as a response to the American Apollo program, the Soviets were lagging behind. Like at NASA, the Soviet space designers had trouble deciding how exactly to get there. Korolev proposed building the lunar spacecraft in orbit with 2-3 launches of his 70 ton N1 rocket. Chelomei proposed a single launch, direct flight to the Moon atop his massive UR-700 rocket. Korolev had the edge, because of his experience and influence, but the single launch architecture proposed by Chelomei was appealing. Also hindering Korolev was the fact that Glushko, the main Soviet engine designer, refused to work with him due to Korolev's staunch opposition to storable fuels. Korolev was forced to turn to the Kuznetsov design bureau to build the engines for his rocket, which meant smaller engines, which meant that more were required.

In the end, two factors worked to tip the scales completely in Korolev's favor. First, inspired by the Americans he adopted the Lunar Orbit Rendezvous mission mode. This would split the lunar spacecraft into an orbiter/return craft, to be derived from the planned Soyuz, and and a small lander. Combining the LOR plan with an improvements to the N1, a single launch lunar mission was possible. The margins would be razor thin, and a single man lander would be used, but it was possible. The selection of the N11 rocket in 1962 also favored Korolev, as his N1 would essentially just be an N11 on top of a large first stage.

The task of designing the lander, named the LK, was given to Yangel's development bureau. The tiny one man lander would mass in at under 7 tons. It was a single stage design, only leaving it's landing legs on the lunar surface. The Block D crasher stage would provide most of the Delta V for the lunar descent. The LK was also to be almost completely automated, with the occupant only taking control in an emergency. The test program began in February 1968, when a prototype LK was launched aboard a Soyuz rocket. The unmanned test performed spectacularly, and three more very similar flights would take place over the next year.

The LOK orbiter, based on the Soyuz, took a bit longer. The LOK would have a longer service module, containing more propellant, and use fuel cells instead of solar panels. Several design changes were forced after the Soyuz 1 tragedy in 1967. Finally, in May 1968, the first unmanned LOK was launched atop an N11 rocket. The unmanned tests went according to plan, and a second unmanned test was launched in July. The second LOK was used as a rendezvous target by Gregory Beregovoy of Soyuz 3, in October, who imaged the spacecraft, documenting it's condition. After this, every N1 test flight carried an LOK, and starting with the fourth flight, an LK as well.

The N11 first flew in 1965, and after a few failed attempts, successfully delivered it's payload to orbit. The first few launches of the N11 carried the Proton scientific satellites, and, in Soviet tradition, the N11 gradually became known as the Proton. Right away, on just the third operational launch, the N11 was testing what would later become the Zarya capsule.

The N1 program was not as smooth. Part of the changes needed to boost the payload of the N1 enough to accomplish the lunar mission included increasing the number of first stage engines from 24 to 30. This introduced a whole host of new problems, and development of the N1 was a nightmare. Nevertheless, the first test flight of the N1 occurred on July 13, 1967. The rocket however, exploded spectacularly just 30 seconds into the flight. Massive pogo instability tore the first stage apart. The second launch in October of 1967 failed similarly. However, the third N1 was rolled out to the pad in March of 1968, and this one was at least partially successful. At T+ 90 seconds, the center 6 engines were shut down to reduce structural loads on the vehicle. However, the abrupt shutdown triggered a cascade of failures. The decision was made to shut down the first stage, and fire the second stage early. The upper stages, based on flight proven N11 hardware, performed perfectly, placing the test payload into orbit. The payload, consisting of a prototype LOK, was intended to fly by the Moon, but the launch anomaly prevented that. Instead, the Block D upper stage and LOK were tested in Low Earth Orbit. In June of 1968, the fourth N1 lifted off, performing nominally, and launching it's payload to lunar orbit. The LK lander was tested unmanned in lunar orbit, and the LOK fired it's engines to return home. Unfortunately, the reentry profile was still in development for the Zarya flights, and the capsule entered on a ballistic trajectory that exposed it's occupants (which included mice and frogs) to over 20 gs of acceleration, not survivable by a human crew. The fifth N1 test flight, in October of 1968, experienced an engine anomaly in it's problematic first stage, which caused the whole rocket to crash into the Kazakh desert, creating an impressive fireball. A sixth N1 test flight in February of 1969 and a seventh in May were both successful, with the LK performing an automated landing on the Moon on both flights. The Soviets applied minor improvements between each flight, learning from the last.

The N1 was still a work in progress, but the Soviets still wished to fly a manned test of the LOK. Therefore it was decided to fly an LOK and an LK, to Earth Orbit atop an N11 proton. The flight was initially advertised as Soyuz 9, but after cosmonauts Vladislav Volkov and Pavel Popovich reached orbit on June 1, 1969, the flight was announced to the world as Rodina (Motherland) 1, the first flight in the Soviet manned lunar program. The Soviet program was exposed to the world and their own people in one fell sweep. The Rodina 1 flight tested out the procedure the Cosmonauts would need to fly a lunar mission. First, Popovich would need to perform a spacewalk to reach the LK, a pressurised docking tunnel being one of the things dropped to save on mass. Then, the LK separated from the LOK. Popovich tested out the manual controls of the LK, and maneuvered the space craft into a series of tests. He simulated a manual landing and a manual abort. Popovich reported that the craft was not easy to control, but this hardly mattered, as in a nominal scenario, everything would be automated. Despite the jumpy controls and cramped cockpit, Popovich confirmed that a Cosmonaut could fly the LK. Volkov performed a rendezvous test, and verified that the “Kontakt” docking system worked. After the docking, Popovich once again climbed out of the lander and space walked over to the LOK. After ditching the lander, Popovich and Volkov would spend an additional three days on orbit to test the life support systems of the LOK, before returning to Earth.

Another successful test that seemed, on the surface, to be unrelated to the lunar program, was the successful landing of Luna 16 in August of 1969. The Luna 16 lander successfully deployed the Lunokhod 1 lunar rover to the surface of the Moon. Though it was advertised by the Soviets as just another lunar probe, the Lunokhod design would be essential for exploring the landing sites of any future Moon missions. Lunokhod 1 explored the lunar surface for 121 days before contact was lost.

After the success of Rodina 1 shocked the world, the Soviets followed it up with another major shock. They unveiled the N1 rocket in October of 1969. For it's official unveiling, the N1 was given the official name “Herakles”. The special occasion was the flight of Rodina 2, the first manned flight of the N1. On September 21, 1969, Pyotr Klimuk and Valery Bykovsky were lifted towards the Moon. Once there, they performed a landing dress rehearsal mission, similar to the Apollo 10 crew. After testing the LOK and the LK in lunar orbit, they managed to return home without any incident on the way there. However, during reentry, the skip trajectory was imprecise, and the crew landed unexpectedly in the Indian Ocean. They were recovered after almost a full day of bobbing around in their cramped capsule.

The rapid success of the Soviet lunar program caught everyone off guard. Pressure mounted on NASA to return to flight. Apollo 11 was presently scheduled for a December 10 launch. This was NASA’s last chance to both keep Kennedy’s deadline, and to beat the Soviets.
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