Ocean of Storms: A Timeline of A Scientific America

I: Eagle's Flight
Launching a new timeline here (hope the name isn't taken). I'll answer questions here and there as they come, but I'm hoping to tell the story, for the most part, through a series of short stories and let internal context clues do a good chunk of the heavy lifting. Still, I'll try not to leave you in suspense for too long between posts. Hope you enjoy this first installment.

Ocean Of Storms


21 January 1967

X-20 Dyna-Soar

Orbital Inclination: 80 degrees

Altitude: 220 miles

Callsign: Eagle

From the ground, even if someone was looking for it, it would have been almost impossible to spot the X-20. The black exterior soaked in sunlight like a sponge and an observer’s best chance would have been to catch a glint of sunshine off of the cockpit window as the spacecraft crossed the terminator line. The mockup that was shown to the public was emblazoned with big white “U.S. AIR FORCE” lettering, but the real one was as black as night, save for Old Glory on her dorsal fin.

Truthfully, that wasn’t really important. Even if you could spot the X-20 and even if you knew what you were looking at, by the time anyone could do anything about it, this mission would be over.

“Cheyenne, Eagle. I have the Corona in sight. Range to target is 35 feet. Requesting go order for docking.”

The X-20’s pilot was relieved to have gotten this far. He had been strapped into this seat for the past 36 hours and the interesting part of this flight was about to begin.

The headset gave its familiar beep a moment later, “Eagle, this is Cheyenne Center, you are go for receptacle opening and docking. Repeat, go for docking. Recommend you move to suit oxygen and confirm backup before commencing maneuvers.”

They’re worried I’m gonna crack the windshield when I close in, he thought. Still, no one ever died from being too careful. He closed the valves for his external airflow and sealed the helmet visor. Technically, he was now on an independent life support system, totally separated from the cabin air that moved around him. He had become, essentially, a spacecraft within a spacecraft, as his suit was vacuum rated.

“Roger Cheyenne. Suit LS is confirmed. Keying the receptacle door now.”

On his right, there was a toggle at his elbow. He pressed it forward to the OPN side and could hear the small whirring of a motor behind him. Just behind the cockpit, on the starboard side of the spacecraft, a door opened revealing a small alcove. The padded space within was designed to give a smooth ride all the way to Edwards. Half of him wondered if his cargo would be more comfortable on the way home than he was.

In the moments he was performing these functions, Eagle had drifted about 2 feet closer in to the Corona. He double checked his range and reconfirmed that his target was clean.

The Corona satellite looked like a metal cigar floating in space. Cigar being the nicer image, though a lesser observer might have used a more phallic reference. Her cameras were housed internally, but the clarity of viewing her through a vacuum made it easy to spot where their portholes were. He didn’t focus there though. The pilot’s eyes were set on the small loop at her stern. This was where he would latch on. A small hoop, which was appropriate as it was about the size of a basketball, with an empty cone to help guide in the male portion of the docking system.

Calling the device a docking arm was very generous. Even the engineers who had tacked on the system would have to admit that it was little more than a rounded steel shaft on a low support. It had but one purpose, and that was to slip neatly into the Corona’s female mount. The arm was mounted on the starboard wing. Two hours from now, it would be jettisoned and would make a small fiery trail over the Pacific, trailing behind the Eagle as she returned home.

This was the tricky bit. The pilot maneuvered within 10 feet, but the last few were critical. His RCS fuel was at 55%, which was enough to get in, but he wanted to preserve at least 35% for retrofire and any emergency that may crop up before landing. Up here, fuel was life, or so the instructors had said once a day, every day, for three years.

The Corona had been augmented with the docking sleeve, but there was no device on her frame that he could use to guide himself in. It was a matter of keeping his head turned to the right and keeping an eye on the arm, the sleeve and his rangefinder. All while wearing a space suit and maintaining vigilance over the myriad of systems that kept the X-20 functioning. No wonder the Air Force was already hard at work on a prototype that could carry 2 pilots. As far as he was concerned, it couldn’t get off the ground soon enough.

Left, down, overcorrecting right. He was thankful that CAPCOM wasn’t asking for any updates. Cheyenne Mountain was technically in-charge, but even they knew when to shut up and let him fly.

“Three feet.” That was all they were getting from him for a status report.

The docking arm’s tip slipped in front of the cone’s far end and he felt a shudder as it slid against the surface. His half a foot per second of speed took care of the rest. There was a lurch as the docking arm slid home, but when it caught, it was solid. There had been a concern that he might bounce off. After all, this had never been tried before. This was only the 3rd flight of the X-20.

He let out a long breath and checked for signs of motion. There was a slight yaw, but only a couple of degrees per minute he estimated. That was to be expected when you bring together two spacecraft of comparable size in this way.

“Cheyenne, Eagle. Capture confirmed.”

He could hear a cheer in the background as the call came back. “Roger, Eagle. We have you confirmed as locked in. Confirm that you are prepared to receive and we will trigger the transfer on your mark.”

“Cheyenne, Eagle. Prepared to receive. 10 seconds on my mark. Mark.”

He kept his eyes on the small door in what he had begun to think of as the underside of Corona. The silver cylinder slipped silently out and he felt a thump behind him as it found its way into the padded compartment of the X-20. He keyed the door toggle back to CLS and made the call everyone had been waiting for.

“Cheyenne Center. Cargo transferred.”

One hundred miles below, the Cheyenne Center Flight Director made a remark about the astronaut’s deadpan tone at such a pivotal moment.

It took a few minutes to confirm the ground track and make sure that the cargo itself was not loose in the container. After a quiet ten minutes while the ground control processed new information, the X-20 pilot got a little restless.

“Cheyenne Center, this is Eagle. Requesting permission to undock.”

It took a long moment for the call to come back. “You’re go Neil. Engineering recommends a single pulse from the RCS.”

The pilot winced at the use of his Christian name. With the redundant layers of radio security, it wasn’t likely to get back to Russia, but why chance it.

He locked the flight stick into position and switched to a push-button control for the RCS. Better to not risk a hand motion fouling the maneuver. He pushed the switch to AFT and felt a shudder. Out the right window, the arm didn’t slip from the cone. The Corona pitched down, taking the X-20 with her.

This wasn’t good.

“Cheyenne, Eagle. Negative release on the Corona. Moving to correct the pitch angle.”

He keyed the RCS back to fly-by-wire and pulsed the jets to stop the rotation. The spacecraft were stable again, but he was still attached to this thing.

Eagle, Cheyenne. FIDO is authorizing one more attempt using RCS undocking. After that, we’ll go to disengagement.”

“Copy that Cheyenne. RCS at 42%. Gonna try this again.”

He stayed with the stick this time and pulsed the RCS. The lurch was jarring, but the result was the same. The docking arm was still stuck in the Corona’s cone and the pair had begun to tumble again.

“Whoa… okay. Bringing her back to one.” The deadpan tone was gone. He was getting a bit concerned.

Eagle, Cheyenne. We’re gonna have you disengage the arm, but you’re about to have LOS as you leave the CSQ tracking station. We’ll pick you up in 5 minutes over Hawaii and we’ll have a plan for you then. Copy?”

The pilot gritted his teeth. “Roger Cheyenne. Just gonna sit here for a few minutes. I’ll be waiting for your call.

It was a tense five minutes with nothing to do but wait. During the loss of signal, he considered that Cheyenne control must have felt the same way when he was docking: a flurry of activity on the other end of the line, but nothing to be done here.

He was relieved to hear the communications beep and Jerry Swinson’s voice coming through from Colorado. “Eagle, Cheyenne. Can’t get rid of us that easily.”

The pilot was all business, “Roger that. Do you have the maneuver ready?”

“We do indeed. We want you to trigger the pyro for the arm and engineering would rather you did not do any RCS burns until after we have the ability to assess. Repeat, do not fire RCS until ground track has a read.”

“The pyro will push me away on it’s own? Over.”

“That’s the plan Eagle. Engineering thinks that the pyro fire itself will provide enough of a kick to clear Eagle. Reconnaissance confirms that the loss of the cone function is acceptable. You’re gonna leave Corona with the arm still engaged. After separation, we’ll have you back on flight plan and we’ll proceed with retro.”

“Roger that Cheyenne. Ready to disengage the arm on your mark.”

“Go Eagle.”

There was a small white flash as the explosive bolts fired on the top of the starboard wing. The docking arm separated cleanly from the X-20 and the moment arm of the force rolled the Eagle away slowly, like a tired dog settling down for a long nap.

He breathed another sigh of relief as the two spacecraft got some space between them. He looked up and saw the detached arm sticking uselessly out of the Corona’s cone. No one would ever dock with the Corona again, but that was a problem for another day.

An hour later, he was ready to come home.

Retrofire went smoothly a hundred miles over the coast of New Zealand. The engine module at the back of the ship separated smoothly and would make a nice little meteor shower twenty minutes later for anyone in the middle of the Pacific who happened to look up.

Communications blackout came and went. It was spooky to be out of contact, but it was to be expected. Reentry was simultaneously the scariest and most exciting part of the flight for him. Docking and transfer had been tricky to be sure, but screaming through the upper atmosphere with a thick metal sheet as his only protection from a fiery demise… it was enough to get the blood pumping.

As he came down through the stratosphere, the Eagle remembered that she was, at her core, still an aircraft. The wings cooled down and the X-20 began its long glide to the California coastline.

Over Port Arguello, he saw the T-38’s come in from the south. “Cheyenne, I have sighted the escorts. They are taking position on my wing. Expect touchdown in 5 minutes.”

“Copy Eagle. Safety crews are standing by. Escort flight confirms your ground track as good. You are go for landing.”

The X-20 swooped down from a clear blue desert sky. Its black silhouette looking, for all the world, like some kind of alien space bat coming in to chomp down on some unexpecting humans.

Neil Armstrong cracked a smile as he sighted runway 22R for Edwards Air Force Base. He felt the X-20’s momentum through his seat as he came down through 3,000 feet. The final turn burned off the last of that momentum and the whirr of the landing skids lowering told him there was nothing left but to fly the plane.

The skids weren’t his favorite part of the system, but they had worked on two earlier flights and the runways at Edwards were basically painted sand. Armstrong made his final alignment and heard the snap-roar of the rear skids touching down on the desert floor. He brought the X-20’s nose down like a hummingbird and could see a couple of support trucks speeding along out the left-hand window, eager to meet up with the spacecraft as it came to a stop.

Technically, he should have done a radio call to confirm touchdown, but his focus was on the stick and the task at hand. No one would blame him. After all, he was still a civilian pilot, even if this was an Air Force spacecraft.

The roar of the skids against the desert sand faded from loud to dull and when it finally reached full quiet, all he could hear was the low moan of the air pumps. It was a very tranquil feeling to know that both he and the ship had gotten home safe.

“Cheyenne, Edwards Base here. The Eagle has landed.”


In the coming days, Air Force assessments determined that the failure of the docking arm was not a drastic blow to the Corona reconnaissance system. The film packages spit out by the satellite could still be obtained by parachute snag. The X-20 had proven a limited effectiveness in achieving on-orbit objectives. Still, word among the X-20 pilots was that the program's lifespan was about to be cut horrendously short.

The X-20 would soon be grounded, not for mechanical failure, or a defect in functionality. It was to be brought down by an enemy that could never be countered by engineering or skill in a pilot's seat. Politics was about to clip the wings of the Air Force's primary access for manned orbital flights.
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DynaSoar was really the sexiest manned spacecraft ever. And it went as far as full scale mockup and only 18 month for first drop flight. Fuck you, McNamara.

I wonder about the POD. Nixonhead's Kolyma's Shadow got Dynasoar flying until 1982, at the cost of the entire NASA and Apollo. I wonder if they survive ITTL. Of course Gemini beats the pants of DynaSoar any day of the week.
I think the Air Force could say "fuck Gemini and fuck the MOL, we want DynaSoar". But you would have to throw McNamara under a bus. Bonus point if there's no Vietnam.
II: Summon the Heroes
Summon the Heroes
5 June 1968

Good Samaritan Hospital

Los Angeles, CA

34° 03’ 16” N 118° 15’ 55” W

Frank Mankiewicz was exhausted. He had been awake for over 24 hours now. This had certainly been the busiest day of his life up to this point and if anything else happened, he felt certain he would simply faint.

The façade of the Hospital of the Good Samaritan presented the name in simple block letters. It would make a decent background for the cameras, without being overly distracting. Still, he’d have preferred to get an American flag somewhere behind him. In a campaign, the image was everything, and this was an image that would be replayed quite a bit over the next 24 hours.

Frank was about to be the narrator of the biggest story in the world at the moment. He checked his reflection before stepping out in front of the three dozen reporters and cameramen who’d been waiting patiently for the last hour.

He made his approach, took a deep breath and found the even tone that had helped him so many times over the past few months.

“Good morning. I have a brief statement on the incident at the hotel, and then I’ll be taking a few questions.”

He adjusted to a more stentorian tone, “After Senator Kennedy’s speech last night at the Ambassador Hotel he proceeded through the kitchen area. On his way to the car outside, the Senator was approached by an unidentified individual. This man was armed with a revolver. Somewhere between 3 and 5 shots were fired. Accounts differ. Senator Kennedy was struck in the shoulder. The assailant was tackled to the ground by Colonel Glenn and a few other people. Senator Kennedy was responsive and did not lose consciousness. He was rushed here by ambulance and doctors have completed their initial assessment. The Senator’s wound is not considered to be life threatening and he is expected to be released later this morning. Senator Kennedy has asked me to express his thanks for the support that has been expressed in the last few hours and he has confirmed his commitment to stay in the race. Later today, the campaign will move to New York and we will, as the Senator said last night, go on to Chicago and win this. I’ll take your questions now.”

There was the usual burst of calls and after a moment Frank selected a reporter from the LA Times.

“Have the doctor’s expressed any concerns about the Senator continuing the campaign?”

“No. The Senator’s wounds are somewhat superficial. The Senator’s doctors have cleared him to continue normal activity within a few days.”

“Can you give us any information on the would-be assassin?”

“I’d like to direct those inquiries to the Los Angeles Police Department. I’m sure they’ll be issuing their own statements on this matter in the coming hours. I have nothing to offer you on the gunman at this time.”

“Can you speak to the actions of Colonel Glenn?”

“Colonel Glenn was a few steps ahead of Senator Kennedy and was able to step between the Senator and the gunman. He was able to tackle the man and ensured that he was unable to aim the weapon. At that point, several others including Mr. Plimpton and former FBI agent Berry stepped in to help disarm the man.”

“Was Colonel Glenn hurt?”

“No one else was shot. Though a few members of the Senator’s staff and security have cuts and bruises sustained in the scuffle to disarm the gunman. Colonel Glenn’s Marine Corps training seems to have been very effective and the Senator would like to thank the Colonel and everyone else who was present tonight.”

Two questions later he ended the press conference. An hour later he fell into his hotel bed and slept more soundly than he had in years.

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III: The Gravity of the Situation
The Gravity of the Situation
10 August 1968

Kennedy Compound

Hyannis Port, MA

41° 37’ 48”N 70° 18’ 8.5” W

Colonel John Glenn Jr. could have been regarded as something of an expert on both pressure and gravity. If not in the physical sense, then certainly in the psychological sense. He’d flown over 100 combat missions in two wars. He’d flown across the United States at a speed literally faster than a bullet.

And there was that time he’d been the first American to orbit the Earth.

Still, he found himself with an unshakeable level of nervousness as he approached his friend on the beach. The gravity of the situation was not lost on him. And he’d been feeling pressure ever since the question had been put to him on Tuesday.

Colonel Glenn walked towards the boat at the water’s edge. From 20 yards away he called, “Senator!” using the formality to mask his nerves.

Bobby Kennedy was all smiles on this bright summer day in his favorite spot in the world. If his guest felt at all uncertain, he was having none of it. Sporting black sunglasses and a fresh tan, he was every bit the image that the Kennedy’s had spent the last three decades cultivating.

“For God sakes, John, call me Bobby,” he said, flashing the grin that had won him so many delegates in the past few months.

Senator Kennedy stepped down from the sailboat and shook John Glenn’s hand. He covered the slight wince that came from the pain in his shoulder, but Glenn noticed. He’d been looking for it, after all.

“How’s the shoulder, Bobby?”

“It’ll be fine. Plays hell when I have to shake three hundred hands every day, but it’s a small price to pay when you consider how bad it could have gotten. Thanks again, by the way.”

Glenn put up a hand to wave off the thanks. They’d each had enough of the incident from two months ago. Bobby had had enough of other people’s concern, and John had gotten more praise than he was comfortable with.

Bobby’s tone got softer as they sat down in a pair of chairs. “Did you talk to Annie?”

Glenn nodded, “She’s nervous about the whole thing. We’ve talked about a Senate run in two years, but this? Honestly, it was always something for down-the-road. Far down the road.”

Bobby Kennedy nodded. He wanted to hear it all before he started in.

John continued, “Bobby, if we go ahead, you’re going to be getting a lot of questions about my education, my lack of experience. You could get bogged down by it and I’d hate to be the reason this thing slips away from you.”

Kennedy nodded again.

John went on, “And that’s not even taking into account the anti-war crowd. How is it going to look with you standing next to a Marine Colonel from now until November? I’m sure Steve Smith has said as much.”

“Steve Smith worries about the sun rising tomorrow morning. He sees spiders in every corner. And there’s plenty of spiders out there, which is fine. I’m not worried about all that right now. All I want to know is: Do you want this?”

John shifted in his seat, “Why me Bobby? What makes you think I’m the best choice here?”

Kennedy smiled, “I don’t want this to be 1960 all over again. Nixon is gonna fight for every vote out there and he’ll bring everything he’s got to bear. I want this to be his last election because a Kennedy will have finally beaten him outright and there won’t be any thought given to how close it was.”

He paused for effect. Ever the orator, even with an audience of one, “You’re uneducated? Hell, John, you’re an astronaut. If that’s not good enough for the American public, I’m not sure what would be. You’re inexperienced in politics? That’s great. You’ve got no scandals, no skeletons, no knots that we have to untangle. I’ll handle the anti-war kids. We’re gonna get the troops home by our first Christmas in office. And there won’t be a single voter on Election Day who won’t know as much. And you’re a Marine Colonel. What better way to signal to middle America that the Democratic Party can respect law and order and still uphold the national interest at the same time?”

He let out a long breath. “Find me any American who doesn’t think of you as a hero three times over. If you can find one, I don’t even want their vote.”

Glenn tilted his head slightly. “That’s fine, but that’s not it, is it?”

Bobby’s resolve turned to a smirk, “No. That’s not it.” He paused and let out a small sigh, “I think when God wants you to have something, He drops it right in your lap. I think He wanted me to live and so He dropped you right where He needed you. I think He wanted us to unite the country with a ticket every American could get behind. … So He’s dropping this right in your lap.”

Glenn took a breath and let that wash over him, “That’s tough to say no to.”

“That’s the idea, John.”

They both laughed and looked out over the Atlantic.

Kennedy broke the silence, “John, in all seriousness. I think we can make this a better country with you as the VP. It’s as simple as that. Can you help me out?”
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IV: Rise

18 October 1968

Apollo 7

Orbital Inclination: 31.6°

Altitude: 146 miles

Callsign: Phoenix

Thomas Wheaton paced nervously outside the MOCR, listening to the air-to-ground loop on a headset he’d borrowed. For a long beat he pondered on the irony that this, arguably one of the safest parts of the flight, was the part that made him the most nervous.

Wheaton wasn’t an engineer. He wasn’t a scientist. He wasn’t a pilot or an expert in any field that would be useful to NASA, save one.

Thomas Wheaton knew how to marshal public interest.

A degree in communications and public relations from Yale had provided him with a wealth of opportunity when he’d graduated in 1963. But, for reasons that baffled his father and mother back in New Hampshire, he’d decided to head for Houston. NASA, preparing to enter the heady days of the Gemini program had two great draws that had captured Thomas’s interest. The first was that NASA was an agency whose lifeblood was dependent on capturing the public’s attention. The second was that NASA clearly needed some assistance in keeping that attention.

Thomas had followed the flight of Gordon Cooper’s Faith 7 mission shortly after his graduation. Followed, being the operative term, as press coverage of the flight was not nearly as intensive as it had been for John Glenn’s flight. He’d had to read several scattered articles to get the full story. Cooper had set an American record for the longest spaceflight and had concluded his mission with a harrowing manual reentry that was punctuated by a flawless pinpoint landing. It was the kind of narrative that the public would have eaten up… had it been presented properly.

As it happened, Cooper’s flight had even included a TV camera whose footage had never been broadcast. It was simply incredible to Thomas that live television from Earth orbit hadn’t been of interest to the networks.

Three months later he’d come to Houston, determined to never let a program as vital to progress and the national interest as NASA, wither in the shade of bad press coverage.

As Wheaton saw it, the critical issue to capturing the public’s attention was that NASA’s public face mirrored its internal seriousness. The final missions of the Mercury program lacked a flare of the dramatic, to an outside observer, because NASA did not want the public thinking that it was putting astronauts at undue hazard. Meanwhile, the flight of Gordon Cooper could easily have been the stuff of legend. The only trick was to place it in the proper perspective for the public. A public that was, at its core, ready to be captivated by the closest mankind had come to the science fiction characters of the past 100 years.

Genuine public attention came from the press and the press would only pay attention to a flight if it was either bold, or in danger.

The Gemini program had vindicated his theory. The initial flights were all groundbreaking, (at least for America’s astronauts) and each one had, in its own way, created a spectacle that the press could not help but follow. The press’s enthusiasm for the early Gemini missions was outshone by its coverage of the flight of Gemini 8.

Though Thomas would never admit it to anyone, in terms of public attention, Gemini 8 had been about as good as a flight could go.

Commander Dave Scott and pilot Jack Crichton had docked with the Agena target booster perfectly. It was the first docking in space and there were reporters on-hand for the event. Less than 30 minutes later, a critical failure occurred in one of the Gemini’s thrusters. All three networks broke into regular programming to cover the subsequent emergency undocking and reentry. Scott and Crichton were given a hero’s welcome upon their safe return.

From the perspective of the flight controllers, engineers and astronauts, the flight was a near disaster and a heart-stopping check on NASA’s so-far spotless record. To Tom Wheaton, then a deputy in the Public Affairs Office of Johnson Spaceflight Center, it was a chance to spotlight the program. The narrative that he’d helped to craft in the days that followed was of a heroic team of engineers, scientists and the astronauts themselves.

By the time it was all over, Scott and Crichton had been on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, and NASA’s budget for the following year had gone up by 1% more than was requested.

The final flights of the Gemini program, bold though they may have been, failed to generate much interest. The lesson was not lost on Thomas: repetition leads to boredom.

Today though, none of that mattered. The fire of 20 months ago was still very much on the minds of everyone at NASA and it hadn’t strayed from the attention of the public at-large. The witch-hunt investigation by Congress had brought the program to its knees and Wheaton had felt utterly helpless to stop a press corps and a legislature that was determined to seek retribution for the deaths of Grissom, White, and Chafee.

Rather than run from the specter of Apollo 1, Wheaton, now the Assistant Director of Public Affairs at JSC, had devised a strategy to try and turn a negative into a positive. In concert with Wally Schirra, who had initially met with resistance, Wheaton had lobbied for Apollo 7’s callsign of “Phoenix” and use of the mission patch with the mythical bird rising. The story for this flight was of a triumphant “return to flight” for NASA. One that had learned from earlier mistakes and was ready to fulfill its mission to land on the moon within the next 14 months.

That was around the time things had started to get away from him.

Apollo 7, in terms of public attention, was quickly becoming a victim of its own success. The flight was going well from an engineering standpoint. The Apollo spacecraft was working as expected and had been preliminarily given a go for at least 100 orbits. The changes made over the last 18 months had clearly made the vehicle safer and the program as a whole seemed back on course. But Wally Schirra had developed a head cold and was getting irritable up there. There was something of a rebellion brewing between Mission Control and the Phoenix. Yesterday’s TV broadcast had been 5 minutes of gray-faced astronauts looking slightly miffed that something as mundane as television was interrupting their “very important work.”

Mission objectives were being met, but mission narrative was limping along, sullen and annoyed.

Wheaton was betting everything on a Hail Mary pass.

Bob Hope, America’s favorite comedian, had planned to put on a variety show a few days after the return of the astronauts to Houston. Desperate for good attention and needing to change the story of the day, Wheaton had approached Hope’s people about coming to Houston for a brief conversation with the astronauts in orbit.

It was fortunate that the comedian had such an interest in the space program. The request for a change in program had been passed along to Chris Kraft. Wheaton wasn’t present, but he’d heard that Kraft, who had a reputation for no nonsense, had given a long eye roll before assenting.

Now, on day 7, Thomas waited nervously outside the MOCR while Bob Hope was fitted with a CAPCOM headset and sat down to have a very long-distance phone call.

A TV monitor at the end of the corridor showed three tired astronauts and he heard Hope’s voice over the headset.

“Phoenix 7, this is Bob Hope down here at Mission Control. Do you read me up there Wally?”

On the monitor, Wally Schirra perked up and smiled. This was an unexpected surprise. He raised an eyebrow and a grin to Eisele and Cunningham.

“Houston, Phoenix. Yeah, we read you, Bob. How you doing down there?”

For the next 15 minutes, Hope charmed the pants off all three astronauts and managed to lighten the mood both in orbit and on the ground.

Thomas made a note to get a clip of Hope and the astronauts discussing playing golf on the moon and having that sent to outlets for wide release. He’d been concerned about an irritated astronaut talking with a beloved celebrity, but he needn’t have worried. Bob Hope could brighten anyone’s day.

Later that evening he drafted another memo on the potential media interest in another flight of the X-20 Dyna-Soar that had been transferred to NASA last year. The astronauts from the X-20 program had already begun to train in other areas, but Thomas had tried, on numerous occasions, to reiterate the public relations bonanza that more flights of the Dyna-Soar could bring. As impressive as an Apollo flight was, there was something about a spacecraft with wings that got kids interested.

Still, he knew it was futile. With the end of the decade 14 months away, every resource would be focused on that. Tomorrow he resolved to go over his notes for the December flight of Apollo 8. Jim Lovell would command the first flight to the moon, with John Young and Bill Anders. Truthfully, Wheaton wasn’t that worried about a narrative for Apollo 8. Humanity’s first flight to the moon would have everyone’s attention.
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V: The Morning Mail
The Morning Mail

1 November 1968

Washington Post Headquarters

Washington, DC

38° 54’ 16” N 77° 02’ 06” W

Well, this was an utter sack of shit. Ben Bradlee had gotten back from lunch to find the biggest story of the year had been unceremoniously dumped onto his desk. Not that he’d planned on having much of a weekend anyways, but this was about to blow it all to hell.

It was in a plain envelope simply marked BRADLEE. No postage, no return address. However it got here, (and he had a pretty good idea), it had been hand-delivered.

The envelope wasn’t the issue though, at least not for the moment. Like every bombshell, it was what was inside that was the big trouble.

A single reel-to-reel tape. Bradlee had had the forethought to get everyone else out of the immediate vicinity before playing the tape. If not for that, someone might have fainted.

The tape itself was obviously a wiretap. Therefore obviously illegal and obviously obtained without the knowledge of the two people talking on it. He wondered about the legality of even possessing it, but his conscience was clear that he’d done nothing wrong… so far.

A conversation played out in tense tones between H.R. Haldeman and Anna Chennault. With tacit, but reasonable instructions, Haldeman had directed Mrs. Chennault to “monkey wrench” the negotiations to end the Vietnam War. It had all the classic hallmarks of a Nixon operation. It had the cloak-and-dagger feel of a bad spy novel, but with enough subtlety that you had to chase it through a briar patch to get the whole story.

He didn’t have that kind of time. The election was 4 days away. It was already looking like it would be 1960 all over again, Kennedy and Nixon, down to the wire. If he could break the story by Monday, that would likely be the end of Dick Nixon. If he broke it and was wrong, that would likely be the end of Ben Bradlee.

Sighing, he lifted his phone and dialed the digits known to every reporter in America.

“White House switchboard. How may I direct your call?”

“James Jones, please. This is Ben Bradlee at the Washington Post.”

There was a long pause before he heard, “One moment, please.”

The White House Appointments Secretary came on the line a minute later, “Ben, how’s your day going?”

“It was going a lot better before you started trying to use my newspaper as the tip of Lyndon Johnson’s spear.”

“Why, Ben, I don’t have the first clue what you’re talking about.”

“Off the record, Jim. What the hell?”

“There’s not enough for a formal announcement. It’s not enough for the Justice Department to move on. To say nothing of how it was obtained.”

“And if you think I’m not going to get into that…”

“He doesn’t care. Come January, it’s someone else’s problem either way.”

“A grand jury might feel differently.”

“That’s not why you’re calling though.”

Bradlee sighed, “No.”

“It’s true. He’s trying to extend the war.”

Bradlee tone was mocking, “Oh, ‘it’s true’. That’s not exactly something I can put on page one.”

“I’ll make sure anyone you need will take your call, but it’s not going to come from the White House and it’s not going to anyone else.”

“If I were smarter, I’d dump it right in the Potomac.”

“You really think you can walk away from something this big?”

“I think this is either LBJ having one last bit of fun at Ben Bradlee’s expense, or he’s trying to get me to screw Richard Nixon just for the hell of it. Or…”

“Or, it’s exactly what it looks like.”

“Yeah… or that... Why the hell did you guys pick me?”

“Because no one would ever think that we would.”

A beat passed between them.

“He really wants to hand his office over to Bobby Kennedy?”

“No, but he also wants to make sure Dick Nixon never gets his hands on it either.”

“I’m not going to be a pawn in this game.”

“That’s fine Ben. If you can listen to that and be sure you’re making the right call. If you’re ready to deal with everything else that comes after… or not…” the thought hung in the phone line.

“Don’t put that on me.”

“It’ll be on all of us if this goes south.”

Another beat.

“Jim… tell the President that Ben Bradlee says, ‘fuck you.’”
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(after a quick wikipedia check of the people involved - Chennault and others)

all I can say is

"holly shit, it gonna hit the fan in a spectacular way"
I didn't get this one...
I'm just moving a couple of pieces on the board. You can't talk about NASA post-1969 without addressing the 1968 election too. Think of this as a filler scene. I put it next because I'm still trying (for the moment) to do this in order. Though, I'm betting at some point, I'll have to jump back and forth in the timeline.


I can see what you are doing. You want to screw Nixon to screw the space shuttle and give Apollo a shot in the arm. Best bet would be President HHH. Humphrey was a loyal supporter of Apollo.
Can anyone point me to instructions for how to put an index on these postings? I'm gonna have more to come and I'd like to make it easy to read.


Look at the bottom of your posts, the option "THREADMARKS" You have to find a title for each story post however (part 1 and the like)

Edit threadmarks reports
VI: Those Wonderful Toys
Those Wonderful Toys

19 February 1969

Project Phoebus

Jackass Flats, NV

36° 48’ N 116° 18’ W

Tom Paine wasn’t bothered by the heat. Texas summers could be much worse than this. He wasn’t really bothered by the sand and the dust. The deserts of Nevada were harsh, but he’d been prepared.

No, Tom Paine was uneasy because of the radiation.

Despite the reassurances from every engineer and physicist that all the test and observation facilities had the proper distance to avoid any nasty side effects, Paine was nervous. Conventional rockets, despite their tendency to explode, at least had the decency to be a danger only to those who rode them or had the misfortune to be underneath them. But this NERVA (they were really going to have to come up with another name) was a very different beast altogether.

The principles of the system were easy enough to grasp. Hydrogen gas, superheated by a nuclear reactor, is fired through a rocket nozzle at high speed and high temperature. Paine had listened to a couple of lectures on the inner workings, but the bottom line was, it was more efficient than the SIV-B and would probably wind up being as good or better in most other categories.

The problem was still the radiation.

Paine went through the arguments in his head one more time. If even he was uncomfortable being within a mile of this thing, how could he ask the good people of central Florida to have one firing near their homes? The early numbers indicated that the most dangerous areas to be in were anywhere behind the engine itself, which, unfortunately, meant that it would probably never fly anywhere outside of this desert basin.

He’d been discussing it with Anderson on the flight out here.

Clinton Anderson, the senator from New Mexico, has long been one of NASA’s strongest allies on the Hill. He’d been instrumental in securing the funding for all the new priorities of late. After the fire, Anderson had helped to call off the attack dogs and gave enough political cover for the agency to pull itself together and get moving again.

At the moment, the idea that was being floated around headquarters in D.C. was to push ahead with the NERVA, but to concede two main points. First was to provide assurances that NASA would never let the engine fire within Earth’s atmosphere. Any firing of a nuclear engine would have to be done above, say, 100 miles. That was a psychologically satisfying number to the American people. The second assurance was to Congress, not the public, saying that NASA wasn’t going to use the engine as the start of a manned Mars mission.

The Republicans were worried sick that, what with the new President Kennedy and a VP that was a former astronaut, America was about to cross the finish line of the space race, just to launch another one, even more costly than the first. NASA had been living high-on-the-hog since 1961 and there were a lot of people who were starting to ask why. Space exploration needed to get a lot cheaper, or a lot sexier very soon.

Still, the program had been well-defended, thanks to Anderson, and with the first test flight of the LEM coming up, it was time to start putting NERVA on the radar screen for long-term planning.

The hot fire test had gone smoothly enough, all things considered. There was a 24-minute delay during the countdown due to a faulty pressure sensor. Truthfully, that kind of thing was to be expected. This was a new engine after all, nothing quite like it had been built on this scale before. During the delay, Paine had a chance listen in on the engineer’s huddle as they handled the situation. It struck him as a pretty professional operation. They weren’t there yet, but, within the next couple of years, they’d have an article ready for flight.

Paine was shaking hands with a few of the administrators and had begun wondering about the arrangements back to Houston when one of the junior engineers came out of a backroom and pushed his way through the small group gathered around him. The kid couldn’t have been much over 25 and he looked like he’d seen a ghost.

“Doctor Paine, sir, there’s a call for you.”

Paine was surprised. This facility wasn’t exactly well-known, and his trip out here even less so.

He pulled the young man aside, “Did they say who?”

“It’s the Vice President, sir.”

Paine nodded. “Okay, take me to the phone.”

Down a wood-paneled corridor and into an office that could have belonged to a factory foreman, or a high school assistant principal. Paine picked up the phone.

“Mr. Vice President.”

The warm-natured gravelly voice of John Glenn filled the earpiece, “Tom. Hey, how are you?”

“Doing well, sir. Is everything all right?”

“Yes, yes, still getting settled in here. I’m glad I caught you before you got out of Nevada.”

“Certainly, sir. What can I do for you?”

“Tom, I need you to take a look at one more project while you’re out there. Something came across my desk that I’d like your opinion on.”

This was strange.

“Mr. Vice President, I’d… I’ll be happy to take a look at whatever you need, sir. Can you tell me what this is about?”

“It’s not something I want to get into on the phone, Tom. These days, you never know who’s listening in,” Glenn gave a small chuckle. A passing reference to the wire-tapping aspect of the Chennault Affair, which had been all over the news. It was a scandal that was ruining Richard Nixon and the wire-tapping aspects had chased Lyndon Johnson from the White House.

“Yes, sir. What do you need me to do?”

“When you get back to the airport, the flight plan will already be filed. We’ll try to have you home by tomorrow.”

Paine was thoroughly confused now.

“Absolutely Mr. Vice President. I’ll be happy to do whatever I can.”

“Oh, and Tom, they tell me you’re out at the NERVA site. How does it look?”

“Very impressive, sir. I think we’ll be able to put this to good use if we keep it going a couple more years.”

“Fantastic. Over the next few weeks, I want to get a plan for the president about where we go from here, after the first landings. I don’t want the program to become a political football for the next decade."

“I couldn’t agree more, sir.”

“Okay, Tom. Have a safe flight.”

3 Hours Later

Restricted Area 4808 North

Groom Lake, NV

37° 14’ 06” N 115° 48’ 40” W

The flight out was… awkward.

There was a very stern looking Air Force colonel who had greeted them on the plane. In polite, but direct language, he asked them for their identifications and proof of their level of security clearance. Then there was a series of calls and checks as the colonel verified that information. Then there was a 10-minute sequence where the covers on the aircraft windows were sealed shut and locked.

Tom Paine was quickly moving from intrigued to annoyed, with a side of paranoia to boot. Senator Anderson was in a similar frame of mind.

They had taken off and Paine, as planned, had no idea which direction they were traveling in.

On the way out, Paine and Anderson talked about the next steps for the program. Paine explained the details of the integrated program plan to the Senator. He was quite proud of the plan, which outlined the details for everything NASA could do all the way until the year 2000. A space shuttle, space stations in Earth and lunar orbit, a moon base and missions to Mars. It was grandiose but do-able. Paine could not have been more excited about the future.

Anderson had the unenviable task of reigning him in as he started talking about the prospects of a base on Mars.

“Tom, it’s a beautiful dream, but you have to understand that’s all it is, right? I mean, Congress isn’t wild about your current funding now, let alone after we land on the moon.”

“But we have the ability to…”

“But the public sentiment for this is softening by the day. Congress isn’t made of dreamers, Tom. It’s made of lawyers. Lawyers who pay attention to the people when they have to, and the money all the rest of the time. You guys are doing great inspiring kids and engineering professors, but, this time next year, the landings will be old news and people will want to know how the economy of the 1970’s is going to work for them.”

“So, what? We just abandon the new frontier because it’s expensive?”

“No, but have you ever met a kid who asked for a pony and actually got it?”

“What do you think we can get?”

“Honestly… not much, unless you can get it cheap, or make it so impressive that the public will demand more.”

“If you can’t impress the American people by landing on the Moon, then what the hell do they want?”

“That’s the question asked by everyone in Washington for the last fifty years.”


The flight lasted less than an hour, but, on landing, the plane proceeded for a very long taxiing to a hangar. He only knew this based on the amount of light that managed to peek through the window covers and how it noticeably dimmed just before the aircraft came to a stop.

Thirty minutes later, Tom Paine, Senator Anderson and a pair of upper-level engineering managers were finally allowed off the plane.

Paine stepped down from the ladder and was greeted by an Air Force General this time.

The general spoke in clipped tones, “Gentlemen. Welcome to Area 51.”

Paine and Anderson exchanged a look that could have easily accompanied their having seen a ghost.

Flabbergasted, Anderson, was the first to recover enough to reply.

“General… why are we here?”

The general stifled a grin and quipped, “Officially, sir, you’re not here. No one is. Having said that, we got word that you were to be shown one of our unmentionables. A briefing has been prepared for you, after which, you’ll fly off and, with any luck, none of us ever have to speak of this again.”

Paine nodded, only barely maintaining his composure.

“Lead on then, General. We’ll be glad to take a look at what you have.”

In a windowless room, Paine and Anderson were seated and three unassuming looking engineers walked in. One had a box, one had a stack of drawings and the third was empty handed.

Empty-handed spoke first, “Senator, Director Paine. We’d like to tell you about the X-28 Kestrel.”

Over the next two hours, both men sat, riveted, and listened to the presentation.

The Outer Space Treaty of 1967 had compelled the United States, along with every other signatory, to immediately cease any offensive military projects designed for use in outer space. The most visible result of this was the transfer of the X-20 Dynasoar project over to NASA and the acquisition of eight astronauts who had been trained to fly that spacecraft. While the agency was still evaluating the spacecraft for any use as a training or research craft, it was unlikely to see another flight.

The Air Force had been busy in the meantime. While, officially, no such program could be flown, the Air Force’s black budget for 1967 had already been decided. One section covered the development of what was then considered Dyna-Soar II. Now it had a new name: Kestrel.

Where Dyna-Soar was the Air Force’s first foothold into a military space program, Kestrel was a military dream made real.

Kestrel looked like an X-15 had had angry sex with an F-4 Phantom. It was a 2-man spacecraft with smooth delta wings like the Dyna-Soar. The wings themselves had a shorter upsweep, but where the F-4 carried missiles underneath, the X-28 had detachable pylons on top which could carry anti-satellite weaponry. Behind the cockpit, there was a small cargo area, barely big enough for a VW Beetle. Kestrel, they explained, could carry missiles to orbit, and could bring a payload down.

The implication was clear. Kestrel had 2 mission types. The first was to shoot down Soviet space assets. The second was to snatch satellites from orbit and bring them back, for repair, analysis, or God-knows-what else.

Once that was understood, Paine was able to form his first question. “The cargo area on this thing isn’t big enough for most surveillance birds. How would you get one in there?”

The Air Force general replied in lieu of the engineers, “We have a training program that would instruct crews on how to disassemble extraneous parts and leave the intelligence assets safe for return to Earth.”

Paine nodded, “Just grab a wrench and tear apart a satellite?”

The general looked troubled, “It’s a bit more complex than that.”

Paine rolled his eyes, “It’d have to be.” He muttered under his breath, “Space cowboy nonsense.”

The engineers continued. Kestrel could, theoretically, deliver small payloads to orbit, but, economically, that would be a bad use of a launch vehicle. Its goal was to confound Soviet space assets, should a shooting war begin, or potentially to discourage any major Soviet developments that would present a danger to MAD.

For all the obscenity of such a blatant military use of outer space, (a prospect that Tom Paine found abhorrent), he had to admit that the Air Force had used the knowledge gained from the three Dyna-Soar flights very well. They had taken the lessons from the X-20, which, to be fair, was little more than a demonstration vehicle, and had come up with a design that would serve their needs very well.

What was still unclear was why they were telling any of this to the director of NASA.

Paine was exhausted enough to ask the question straightaway.

The general was surprised, “Dr. Paine, the new administration is unhappy with the very existence of this project. The President was informed about it within a few days of the inauguration and shortly thereafter demanded a full halt to any Air Force activities that would be out of compliance with the Outer Space Treaty. We are on a full hold until directed otherwise. I expect that, in the coming weeks, this project will be phased out and disavowed, if not completely obliterated. Having said that, Vice President Glenn demanded that we present the program to NASA for evaluation before anything was mothballed.”

Paine snapped back, “I’m not looking to shoot down Russian satellites.”

“Sir, you’re in the market for a space shuttle. The Air Force wants something that we can use if things turn hot. Don’t you think there might be a way we can help each other out?”
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VII: The Spider Cannot Fly

The Spider Cannot Fly


Design Credit: Allen Stevens

7 March 1969

Apollo 9

Orbital Inclination: 32.6°

Altitude: 146 miles

MET: T+ 93:50:06

Callsign: Spider

The high-pitched beep was followed by the grim voice of Jim McDivitt, “Flight, confirm loss of helium pressure. We’ve had a burst disc.”

A silence hung through the Mission Operations Control Room. It seemed to stretch all the way into Earth orbit.

Krantz took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. He sighed and finally broke the silence, “Copy, Control. CAPCOM, have them secure the descent engine.”

Jack Swigert was CAPCOM at the moment. He relayed the instruction to Commander McDevitt. Krantz took his seat and listened on the air-to-ground loop as they safed the descent engine.

“GNC, confirm the range between the 2. Fido, start figuring out the burn for the new rendezvous.”

From the trench at the front of the room, confirmations came in and slide rules were broken out.

Chris Kraft stood at the back corner of the MOCR, watching Gene Krantz manage the situation. It was a devastating setback on a flight that had been full of them. He could sense the frustration in his protégé as the calls went back and forth, confirming that the most important part of this mission had failed.

Kraft gave it ten minutes, to let the situation stabilize and all the reports come back, then he stepped over to the FLIGHT console.

“Gene, can we have a word? Glynn, can you cover him for 2 minutes?” Kraft said, directing his second request to Glynn Lunney who was on-hand for the maneuver.

Lunney nodded and Krantz took off his headset. Kraft led him out into the corridor and found an empty room a couple of doors down.

Krantz didn’t need to be asked. He slammed down a legal pad onto a desk and let out a frustrated growl. “Just fucking bullshit! Tom Kelly said we’d be fine for the burn. They cleared it at pre-launch checks. They cleared it after docking. They cleared it an hour before separation. And all of it was bullshit. They were just guessing.”

Kraft had no outward display of emotion, frustration or otherwise, “The helium disc?”

“Yeah, the tank’s pressure was high, but still within the margin. But they’re the ones who wrote the margin rules. They barely got the thing up and running in the first place. We should have known they might not know what they were talking about.” His tone shifted as the anger vented, “Ugh… goddamn it. I’m sorry Chris. This is on me. I’m flight when the disc burst. It’s unacceptable.”

Kraft continued his even tone, “Hey, an untested engine fails in its first manned test. Who’d have thought, huh? And after everything else had gone so well on this one.”

Krantz let out a wry laugh and sat down.

Even before the burst disc, this flight had been an embarrassment. The LMP, Schweickart, had gotten very ill early into the flight. McDevitt didn’t report it until a couple of days in, just before the first EVA was to take place. This had meant that the transfer, from Spider to Gumdrop wasn’t able to be practiced. Schweickart was feeling better now, but, if there was a problem with the ascent stage, then they’d be relying on an untested EVA maneuver just to get the crew home.

Drawing Krantz’s attention, Kraft smiled and continued, “We all agreed on the burn. What the hell were we supposed to do? Abort without even trying it? Half the mission profile involved the LEM free-flight. Brass would have killed us for not trying.”

Gene nodded and sighed, “We’re into down-moding now.”

Kraft nodded back, “Yeah. Yeah. We’ve still got the ascent stage. Do you think it’s worth anything to try to do an out and back with it?”

Gene pondered for a long moment, “I’m not sure. I hate bring them back so soon. We’re only,” he checked his watch, “what, an hour separated? That’s not much. Still, I don’t think we can let the distance open more than a couple hundred feet or so.”

Kraft agreed, “Talk it over with the team. Maybe we can do paired burns with the ascent and SPS. Let them fly a bit, but keep the distance close.”

Gene looked skeptical, “We’ll work on some options, but I doubt that’s gonna fly.”

Kraft nodded, “It’s a long-shot, but, the longer we have them in free-flight, the easier it’ll be the next time we put men in a LEM.”

Krantz began to consider the far-reaching implications, “Jeez, Chris. What’s this gonna do to us in terms of delays?”

Kraft sighed, “It’s not gonna be good. We’ll have to bump the F mission back a bit until we figure out what the hell went wrong and how to keep it from going wrong again.”

Krantz nodded as they started to walk back to MOCR, “There’ll be a review board.”

Kraft nodded, “There’ll be a review board, yeah. But it’ll have to be fast. We’ve got launch windows for, what? May, July, November?”

They paused outside the MOCR. Gene sighed, “If it’s November, we’ll have one shot. That’ll be it for the decade.”

Kraft’s voice was resigned, “When the dust settles from this, we’ll put everything we’ve got into landing sims.”

Krantz opened the door. Kraft thought he should hear something a little more encouraging before he walked back in, “Gene? Forget all that for now. Get as much as you can out of the ascent engine, bring ‘em home and we’ll sort out the rest after they’re on the ground.”

Krantz gave a slight nod, mostly for courtesy. He had no need for the reminder.

He resumed his position at the flight console with a polite nod to Glynn Lunney. Once the headset was on, he was back into “director-mode.”

“Okay people. Let’s go around the room real quick. We’ve still got an ascent engine. We are into downmoding but we are not in an abort mode and, for the moment, we do not have an emergency situation. What we do have is an opportunity to run the EVA emergency egress that we scrubbed the other day. GNC, what’s the current range between Spider and Gumdrop?”

The reply came quickly, “Three hundred feet, flight.”

Krantz nodded. “Three hundred feet. We’re going to open up that distance a bit with the ascent to simulate a proper rendezvous. Then we’re going to bring them in close and we’ll do the crew transfer. We can still squeeze out some mission objectives here folks, so that’s what we’re gonna do.”

9 May 1969

Manned Spacecraft Center

Houston, TX

29° 33’ 47” N 95° 05’ 28” W

Bob Gilruth knocked on the door to Gene Krantz’s office. It was 10pm on a Friday, but he knew that Gene would still be working.

“Gene, the final report is coming out Monday, but they sent over an early copy,” he held up a thick folder of papers, hot off the printer.

“Can you save me the 300 pages Bob?”

Gilruth didn’t have to find the quote, “Hardware specifications and procedures were ill-defined, but were based on the best data known to both Grumman and NASA officials. The redefined parameters have been accepted and LEM 4 is officially cleared to fly on Apollo 10 in July.”

Krantz leaned back in his seat, “About as good as we could hope for, I suppose.”

“Gene, it wasn’t your fault. You gotta let this one go. Everyone got home safe. We got a lot of objectives met. I’d have gone for the burn, so would everyone else. The review board made a point to say as much. We’re gonna need the White Team in November for 11. You have my every confidence.”

Gene Krantz allowed himself to crack a small smile. “I appreciate that Bob. Thank you. It means a lot.”

“Sure, sure. Get some rest. What time are you running the first sim tomorrow?”

“0800. Borman and Bean will be in the loop too.”

Gilruth nodded and stood up, “That’s good. I’ve got to see how things are going at the cape.”

Gene raised an eyebrow, “Are they still checking tanks down there?”

“Yeah, every tank on every bit of hardware that we’ve got. Schweickart is down there with a clipboard himself. He volunteered to head up one of the teams.”

“Have they found anything?”

“Apparently there was some kind of issue with O2 tank number 2 on AS-508. They’re swapping it out for a fresh one.”


A few hundred yards away, in a small office near the edge of the campus, Thomas Wheaton was busy. He’d spent the afternoon talking to a technician from Westinghouse. He’d gotten just the answer he’d wanted to hear.

By Monday morning, the Director of the Public Affairs Office would have something to read besides the report of the Apollo 9 Review Board. Wheaton chose a title for his memo:

Potential Programs to Maximize the Use of Color Television on Apollo 11
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In Other News: 16 November 1969
In Other News: 16 November 1969


Image Credit: Tim Gagnon & Jorge Cartes

16 November 1969

Apollo 11

Day 3

MET: T+ 44:12:06

Callsign: Columbia

Frank Borman craned his neck to snag a bacon square out of the air in front of him. He was feeling much better after the events of the past 2 days.

He squeezed the bag of grape juice and caught most of what came out. Wiping off his chin, he stowed the containers and concluded his breakfast. As he settled into the left-hand seat of Columbia, the voice of his old friend Jim Lovell came over the radio from 100,000 miles away.

Columbia, Houston. How are you reading me this fine morning?”

Borman cracked a smile, “Houston, Columbia. 5 by 5. Jim, you’re CAPCOM this morning?”

“Roger that. You boys about done with breakfast?”

“Affirmative. Mike and Al are finishing up now. I got done a couple of minutes ago. You can let everyone know that bacon up here is basically just as good as bacon on the ground.”

“Well Frank, I’m sure America’s pork industry is gonna appreciate that endorsement.”

The three astronauts chuckled slightly before Lovell went on.

“I brought in my Sunday paper today. Figured you guys might want to grab some coffee and I’ll read you the headlines. Seeing as you’re out of town this week.”

Borman checked his watch and nodded. They would have a few hours before they were scheduled to move over to the LEM to check out Freedom’s systems.

“Copy that Jim. What’s in the Chronicle today?”

“Well, for starters, you guys are the top story again. Which isn’t much of a surprise since you’re basically the top story everywhere they have newspapers.”

Borman gave a tight smile to his CMP and LMP. They’d known months ago that the press would follow this flight like none before or since. One of the few comforting thoughts during the harrowing launch on Friday had been that, one way or another, they’d done their last interview for at least a week.

“Forget all that. What else is in the paper Houston?”

“Let’s see. The final stages of the troop withdrawal have begun. Army officials are stating that at least 60% of American forces will be back home in time for Christmas.”

“That’s good to hear. I think everyone in the loop today has someone they’re looking forward to seeing again.”

Lovell piped back, “No doubt.” After a moment’s pause, he continued, “The first formal charges have been filed in the Chennault Affair.”

Mike Collins chimed in from the middle seat, “Haldeman or Nixon?”

Lovell continued, “Haldeman. The indictments cover criminal conspiracy and violation of the Logan Act.”

Borman let out a mournful whistle. What a mess that whole scandal had become. Richard Nixon, flawed though he was, had served his country, both in uniform and as Vice President. While Borman hadn’t voted for him last year, he was sorry to see a public servant brought so low.

He couldn’t get into that over the radio though since the whole world might hear it. He limited his comment to, “Bad bit of business there.”

Lovell was equally tactful, “Indeed. Also, looks like Wall Street is starting to recover from what they were calling the ‘Summer of Peace.’ The stocks of the major defense contractors are starting to recover. And commercial stocks are on an uptick as we’re moving into the holidays. Unemployment is declining.”

Alan Bean’s soft tones came up, “Always good news.”

Lovell continued, “Heh, this is funny. There’s apparently something of a run on color televisions over the past month or so in anticipation of the landing. The word is out that you guys are going to be broadcasting from the surface in living color. Folks want to see that. They’re even low on color TV’s in Europe right now. And there are several towns around the country that are going to hold viewing parties.”

Borman smirked, “Oh thanks, Jim, easing of the pressure. Nice to be reminded that now not only will the whole world be watching, but plenty of them will be doing it in color.”

Lovell came back, “Sorry, Frank. Tell you what, let’s go to sports.”

A moment passed as Lovell flipped to the page, “Okay. President Kennedy, after his return from watching the launch on Friday, welcomed the New York Mets to the White House. The Mets were there to celebrate their victory over Baltimore in the World Series last month. The President apparently remarked that New York needs to stop upsetting Baltimore for the rest of the year.”

Borman tilted his head. Collins answered his unspoken question, “Ah… cause Joe Namath beat the Colts in the Super Bowl and that was an upset too.”

The comm beep came back, “Not the best year to be a sports fan in Baltimore.”

Al Bean smiled, "You could always root for the Senators. Especially now that Bob Hope bought them up."

Bob Hope had been part of a group that bought the team 2 years ago.

Collins laughed quietly, "I love that he changed the uniforms to green and gray."

Borman laughed too, "He said that was the color of a dollar bill, which was all Senators really cared about anyways."

A hearty chuckle filled the small spacecraft.

Borman had a question, “Hey, whatever happened to those new teams they threw into the National League this year?”

Lovell replied, “The one up in Montreal, the Royals, they came in 6th in the league. The other new squad is the one out in San Diego. The San Diego Tides. They finished dead last.”

Al Bean spoke, “There’s gonna be two new AL teams next year, right?”

Lovell’s call came back, “Roger that. The Seattle Pilots…”

Collins said, “Love that name.”

Lovell chuckled and replied, “Yeah, I’d have to agree. The other new team is gonna be in Kansas City.”

Borman keyed his mike, “What are they calling that one again? Over.”

Collins answered instead, “Apparently, they wanted to be the Kansas City Royals, but Montreal beat them to the punch. Now they’re gonna be the Blue Sox.”

“Blue Sox?” Borman asked.

Lovell answered, “Why not? We’ve already got Red and White.”

Borman nodded, “Red, white, and blue? Well, on behalf of the crew of Columbia and Freedom. We approve. Are the Oilers playing today?”

“Umm… yeah. They’re on the road in Denver. I’ll come back with that score tomorrow,” Lovell said.

A beat passed and Apollo 11 went 100 miles during the pause.

Lovell’s voice came back, “Okay fellas, we’re gonna start the day now. We’ve got a couple of housekeeping procedures here for you…”

Image credit for patch
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“Apparently there was some kind of issue with O2 tank number 2 on AS-508. They’re swapping it out for a fresh one.”

I guess Apollo 13 has been butterflied away. Nice to have Apollo 11 in color, I often wonder why it did not happened OTL.