Proxima: A Human Exploration of Mars

Chapter 1: The Dream is Alive
Hi everyone!

Today I wanted to bring to you a story inspired by my musings of Mars, and the nostalgia for the iconic Space Shuttle. It has been 10 years this year since the shuttle stopped flying, and I have not been able to stop thinking; what else could we have done? What if the Shuttle had been used as part of a greater effort to go elsewhere? The Shuttle performed some amazing feats during our lifetime, from launching probes to other worlds and building the International Space Station, but what if things had gone differently? What if NASA had the resources to build upon and expand the fleet, to enable humanity to go to other worlds together? That is what I aim to explore in this timeline, a notional series of missions building upon shuttle tech. To do this, I'll be using some art done across a variety of platforms, including replicas built in Kerbal Space Program and Blender. This is my first ever posted timeline, and a lot of love went into it, and I couldn’t have done it without the help of a variety of folks, all of whom I’ll link to at the end of this first part. I really hope you all enjoy this wonderful, alternate world.

Special thanks to Max, Tracker, Trystan, Cass, Jay, Vesta, Zarbon, and many more for all of your help!

Chapter 1: The Dream Is Alive

NASA’s vision of a sustainable future in space had long been driven by dreams of easy, routine access - hundreds upon hundreds of flights that could be easily repeated with a robust and reliable system. The Saturn Vs of old had been tremendous assets to the Moonshot, but expending a vehicle after every flight had felt like a step in the wrong direction. A better method would be required. To do this, a way of shuttling crew into and out of space safely would need to be developed. Hot on the heels of the Apollo Program, NASA engineers and industry partners examined several iterations of reusable vehicles before settling on the first iteration of what would be known as the Space Transportation System. This system would include some of the most complicated machines ever flown, with new cryogenic engine technology, and the implementation of solid rocket motors, the largest ever built. NASA, riding the support of the Apollo program, would end up ordering 5 orbiters, named after the great ships of exploration, to honor their heritage of discovering new worlds and boldly going. The choice to build a shuttle as the starting point of a system was seen as a move to not only learn how to live in space, but to build on itself and its capabilities. But to many, there was a worry, that after the great successes of Apollo, that a vehicle only capable of lifting itself into low earth orbit would doom NASA, and human spaceflight as a whole, to remain stagnant. For some, this seemed like a safer option, the risks taken during the Apollo program were seen as unreasonable, and the near loss of crew during Apollo 13 only reinforced the idea that humans should be kept close to home to return quickly in the event of an emergency. NASA, in their ambitious post Apollo state, had a cost to weigh, one of what to do with the capabilities of not just an Orbiter, but an entire system that could carry both crew and cargo in autonomous and crewed configurations, and build something truly incredible. These 5 orbiters, Challenger, Discovery, Atlantis, Endeavour and Intrepid would be delivered over the next two and a half years, a byproduct of the immense investment of the US Government into Rockwell and their Palmdale facility to expedite the arrival of the fleet. In many ways, the first two vehicles in the fleet, Challenger and Discovery would serve as experimental vehicles like the X-Planes before them, testing out this new technology and demoing the variety of safety systems required under the organization of the program. The early flights of the program would see a variety of safety tests, fine tuning the art of rendezvous and docking capability using Skylab, having been saved from a decaying orbit by a Titan boost module in 1978. They would then go on to demonstrate modular construction components, payload deployment and servicing, illustrating to the tax paying public just what they were getting with their government’s investment.

In many ways, the first test would be the most arduous, and would require a modification of Challenger in order to demonstrate - installing an autonomous flight control system. The choice to automate the shuttle’s systems was definitely a time sensitive one, and had delayed the maiden flight of the vehicle from 1979, but in the interest of safety, it was thought wise. These functions, however, would be rudimentary, and extensive modifications were required to equip Challenger to flight specifications. NASA engineers had originally planned on a crewed first flight which would see the vehicle perform a Return to Launch Site maneuver, but this was ultimately not selected due to overruling from the NASA astronaut office. The maneuver, tested in simulation, would also require the crew to bail out of the vehicle and be recovered by search and rescue teams. It was decided instead, to practice this bailout procedure in simulations, as well as using a modified shuttle hatch installed on the side of a C-130 carrying a replica of the flight deck, as well as aero surfaces to mimic the airflow conditions at bailout. The first orbital flight, the first of the program and the first of a dedicated spaceplane would occur on March 10, 1980, carrying OV-099 Challenger on her maiden flight. Lifting off into the spring dawn, the vehicle would arc over the Atlantic ocean in a blaze of glory, shaking Cocoa Beach and the surrounding counties with the sound of the solid rocket motors. The accelerometers onboard measured the shake, rattle and roll of the vehicle as it performed its ascent, and technicians were quick to note that the sound suppression system had not worked as adequately as intended. Also a first for NASA was the downrange recovery of the twin solid rocket boosters, by newly minted sister ships Liberty and Freedom. The vehicle performed better than expected, and despite not having a crew onboard, was able to correct minor issues in attitude during separation from the External Tank and orbit insertion. Challenger would spend two days in orbit, conducting slow, painstaking inspections with her onboard remote manipulator system, as well as using an overflying KH-11 Kennen reconnaissance satellite to get accurate images of what the arm could not see. Challenger would deploy two Hughes-built satellites for low earth orbit tests of inter-satellite communications, and a third satellite built by Massachusetts Institute of Technology students as part of an education-engagement initiative. This was, at the time, the limit of what the orbiter could do on its own, and would only spend about two and half days in orbit before sealing the payload bay and preparing for touchdown at Edwards Air Force Base in California. The entry, with its long lazy S-Turns and landing with its abrupt flair over the desert, would be a symbol of national excellence, and soon, OV-103 Discovery would find herself being readied for the maiden crew flight - a voyage to a relic of spaceflight’s past. Engineers at NASA and Rockwell were impressed, and space agencies all over the world would soon begin to scratch their heads at what would be possible with such a vehicle. Even deeper within the agency, in an arm of the Human Spaceflight Office not extremely busy since Apollo, wheels were turning, plans were being scribbled on paper, and letters being written - what were the possibilities for NASA moving towards the new millennium?

Discovery rolled out to the pad in June, carrying with it for the first time an American modular structure to be assembled in space. Within her payload bay sat the Skylab-Shuttle Interface Module, a cylindrical element that would enable Discovery to dock with the incompatible Apollo docking system, and allow for future flights to the station to approach and dock with optimal clearance. It carried fixture points for the shuttle’s robotic arm, a mount for a solar panel mast, and docking ports for additional modules to be installed on a later mission, notionally in 1981 or 1982. Onboard were the first four astronauts of the Shuttle program, Commander John Young, Pilot Robert Crippen and Mission Specialists Joe Engle and Richard Truly. In many ways, Challenger’s flight on STS-1 verified the safety systems of the orbiter, but Discovery’s flight would enable an interface between the crew and the vehicle for the very first time. Discovery lifted off in the early afternoon on the 12th of April, 1980, 19 years since the dawn of crewed space flight itself. The turnout at Kennedy Space Center was enormous, with beaches for miles crowded with visitors to see the winged vehicle rise towards space. The 8 ½ minute ascent was textbook, and the crew were free to doff their launch and entry suits and set up the orbiter for their approach to Skylab. Two days of free flight were scheduled to allow for crew familiarization with the vehicle, and the relocation of the SSIM onto the Shuttle’s docking system, a modified Androgynous Peripheral Attachment System collar. The first snag of the mission occurred on flight day 2 when data links from the cameras mounted on the top of the SSIM failed to link with plugins in the shuttle’s docking system. Docking without them was something the crew had trained for, but it was hoped that these cameras would assist the crew. It was eventually decided to disconnect the module using the RMS and reattach it, in the hope that the crew could see any potential blockage to the data ports from the flight deck rear windows. The removal was successful, and the crew observed no obstruction, before reattaching the module to find it working perfectly. Arriving at Skylab, the crew could observe for the first time what the in-space environment had done to the vehicle. From the outside, it was immediately apparent that the exposure to space had severely yellowed the external components of the spacecraft, and dings were noticeable where the Micrometeoroid Orbital Debris shielding had ripped off during launch.

The approach was… painfully slow. While the sims had trained the astronauts adequately, an abundance of care was taken to ensure that Discovery remained safe. Soon, the probe made contact with the port, and the two great vehicles would become one. The plan for the stay at Skylab would be to enter the station after the crew members would check the air quality inside, and pressure in the SSIM would be equalized to that of the workshop, much like the procedure for the docking adapter flown on the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project. Here, the crew would encounter the second snag of the mission - readings of highly toxic chemicals produced from the excessive heat in the station would require the life support to be vented, something STS-2 was not equipped to deal with. The choice was made to end the mission early, leaving the SSIM attached, and Skylab in a stable orbit, and return with a new Spacelab pallet full of additional supplies to repair the station. Undocking was uneventful, and the station faded away into the background of low earth orbit. The crew spent time servicing the vehicle, conducting materials science experiments onboard as well as enjoying the view of earth from the variety of windows. With 6 days of time on orbit, STS-2 performed its deorbit burn and committed to touchdown at Edwards Air Force Base. Flanked on final approach by a pair of NASA T-38s, STS-2’s reception was one part ticker-tape and one part Woodstock, as crowds gathered to witness this marvel of machinery. Touching down at 185 knots, the vehicle had a rollout distance of 7,728 feet, before coming to a stop. The crews exited the vehicle to much fanfare, and were well received in the setting California sun - and although the sun was setting, to many, it was the dawn of a new day, the future of not just Americans, but the world in space.

Meanwhile, at Johnson Space Center, rumors and hushed tone discussions had blossomed into meetings, and several offices of engineers and scientists had convened after hours to discuss the success of the Space Shuttle’s first crewed flight. Notes were hurriedly scribbled on chalkboards, and experts from all across the aerospace industry had been brought together. It would seem that this was the start of a new era, and confidence in the sector was high - shuttle had been delivered with only a marginal delay, and new orbiters were due to begin flying soon, within the next few years. Many seemingly outlandish ideas were discussed, an early modular space station, augmented passenger modules and space based solar power among them, but there was one thought that they continued to return to; a thought that had been lingering on their minds since the bittersweet final launch of Saturn V, a vehicle many thought would take humanity even further than it did… Mars.
 
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This is so cool, I can't wait for the next updates!

Also, I enjoy how much of a wreck Skylab is, it's hard to describe but there's something just kinda fun about it being such an absolute mess from start to finish and it'll be interesting to see what can be done for repairs with the shuttle's unique abilities!
 
This is so cool, I can't wait for the next updates!

Also, I enjoy how much of a wreck Skylab is, it's hard to describe but there's something just kinda fun about it being such an absolute mess from start to finish and it'll be interesting to see what can be done for repairs with the shuttle's unique abilities!
Yeah! We'll see how sustainable operations at Skylab remain, but for now, its a good jumping off point for the Shuttle!
 
Nice start, and I look forward to seeing where this goes. I do have a question, and a note.

The question is this. You list five orbiters (Challenger, Discovery, Atlantis, Endeavour and Intrepid), and give numbers to the first (OV-099) and the second (OV-103). Given that OV-099 is (presumably) rebuilt from the unnamed STA-099, what causes it to be ready to fly before OV-102 (OTL Columbia)? Is OV-101 simply held in reserve for conversion to a space station (joke)?

My note is on the SRB recovery ships, were originally named UTC Liberty and UTC Freedom - their original operator was a Division of United Technologies. When Lockheed received the contract for KSC processing, they took over ownership of the ships, and had them renamed to include their corporate nomenclature, and remove that of UTC.
 
Nice start, and I look forward to seeing where this goes. I do have a question, and a note.

The question is this. You list five orbiters (Challenger, Discovery, Atlantis, Endeavour and Intrepid), and give numbers to the first (OV-099) and the second (OV-103). Given that OV-099 is (presumably) rebuilt from the unnamed STA-099, what causes it to be ready to fly before OV-102 (OTL Columbia)? Is OV-101 simply held in reserve for conversion to a space station (joke)?

My note is on the SRB recovery ships, were originally named UTC Liberty and UTC Freedom - their original operator was a Division of United Technologies. When Lockheed received the contract for KSC processing, they took over ownership of the ships, and had them renamed to include their corporate nomenclature, and remove that of UTC.
This will become apparent later, but lets say there were some... issues with OV-102. That'll become clear soon!
 
Challenger would deploy two Hughes-built satellites for low earth orbit tests of inter-satellite communications, and a third satellite built by Massachusetts Institute of Technology students as part of an education-engagement initiative.
I think deployment of payload on the first flight is pretty unlikely, especially without a crew aboard. They didn't deploy a payload IOTL until STS-5, with previous flights mostly carrying addition checkout instrumentation (the DFI and IECM pallets).
 
Somebody did a Dream is Alive TL with a similar premise of Shuttle flights beginning earlier. It’s also the name of my own TL.

Of course,hopefully Mars won’t be the only focus. You’d need a decent space station beforehand (earlier ISS?). Hopefully the Moon isn’t neglected. And of course the US isn’t the only player in space.

Watched.
 
I think deployment of payload on the first flight is pretty unlikely, especially without a crew aboard. They didn't deploy a payload IOTL until STS-5, with previous flights mostly carrying addition checkout instrumentation (the DFI and IECM pallets).
These payloads were test satellites, probably of significantly lower weight than what STS-5 deployed. Maybe something like our own CubeSats?
 
These payloads were test satellites, probably of significantly lower weight than what STS-5 deployed. Maybe something like our own CubeSats?
This is kind of along the lines of what I was thinking, very experimental pieces of tech. Not really usable for much longer after the mission ended
 
Chapter 1.5: STS-2 images
Chapter 1.5: Images from STS-2
Hi everyone, I had originally planned on posting some images to go along with the first part of this narrative, but there were a couple I really so I couldn't decide. I thought I'd just put the ones I really liked in another post all together!

DiscoverySkylab.png

STS-2 is pictured here with Skylab and the SSIM, showing the damage to the station which occurred during its launch onboard a Saturn V in 1973. (The makeshift parasol is not depicted on this rendition due to the availability of parts in Kerbal Space Program.)​
 
Chapter 1.5: Images from STS-2
Hi everyone, I had originally planned on posting some images to go along with the first part of this narrative, but there were a couple I really so I couldn't decide. I thought I'd just put the ones I really liked in another post all together!

View attachment 696043
STS-2 is pictured here with Skylab and the SSIM, showing the damage to the station which occurred during its launch onboard a Saturn V in 1973. (The makeshift parasol is not depicted on this rendition due to the availability of parts in Kerbal Space Program.)​
You can actually get a parasol now in Bluedog, it was added a few weeks ago in the dev branch. The twin-pole isn't though.
 
Unless a nuclear propulsion system is developed for the vehicle intended to carry the crew on the trips from Earth orbit to Mars orbit and back, then you’ll end up with a program that is the world’s most expensive form of assisted suicide.
 
So, I'd like to request a little clarification on the PoD. Aside from automated launch/landing capability (clearly a big deal for future accident investigations), is the Shuttle stack modified in any way? Are there any other changes aside from the fifth orbiter not getting cut, and Skylab getting a boost?
 
So, I'd like to request a little clarification on the PoD. Aside from automated launch/landing capability (clearly a big deal for future accident investigations), is the Shuttle stack modified in any way? Are there any other changes aside from the fifth orbiter not getting cut, and Skylab getting a boost?
Nope, the shuttle stack is pretty much the same, and the inclusion of this new orbiter, Intrepid. The big difference is that the program got more of a jump start, allowing NASA to plan for a shuttle mission to Skylab.
 
Good start and watched :)

Do have a couple of questions and comments though and I hope not to derail anything but...

1) Ejection seats were used initially (and why only two crew flew initially) because bailout was deemed 'high-risk' and frankly an major 'point' of the Shuttle was not being able to credibly 'abort'.

2) Uhm, "Challenger" WAS 'automated' actually. Specifically because of concerns on getting the Orbiter back if something happened to the crew in flight. ALL the Orbiters were 'capable' of flying fully automated but insistence by the Astronaut Corps that the Shuttle REQUIRE a crew so the singular cable that allowed such automated operation stopped being carried once the 'test' phase was over. AC opposition was VERY strong to any use of the Shuttle that did not carry astronauts every single time. With reason as NASA HQ considered the "manned" part of "Manned Space Program" as paramount.

3) Mars was always on the minds of NASA planning but specifically Congress deleted and deferred every attempt at funding to reign NASA in. There was neither public nor political support for such a goal. (Frankly still isn't there's barely support for going back to the Moon and mostly only because it WON'T be "Apollo 2.0" in cost and complexity) The Shuttle OTL struggled to remain in budget and frankly was constantly under-supported by those same political factors. What changes?

4) A shame that there won't be more 'utility' for the STS stack :) Given I haven't yet figured out a 'plausible' means of getting more use out of it for my "STS timeline outline" I can't fault you but I sure wish someone ELSE would right what I have in mind :D

5) Getting a Shuttle up in time to save Skylab is always a win despite the probable lack of utility in doing so. Kudos! :)

Continue please :)

Randy
 
Chapter 2: No Shortage of Determination
Hello all! Thank you all very much for the kind words for Chapter 1! It has been such a blast hearing your feedback and reading your comments! I have had such a blast writing so far. Our fair fleet's exploration of Skylab has been... troubled so far. I'm sure it is causing any number of headaches on the ground, as well as for the crews onboard. With that all being said, let's jump back into the action! I'll also have some excellent KSP screenshots from my friend Jay, and I can't wait for you all to see them!

Chapter 2: No Shortage of Determination

1981 saw a rapid expansion to many aspects of NASA’s mission, as engineers and specialists worked to not only turn Challenger and Discovery around, but prepare for the third orbiter in their fleet. OV-104, Atlantis, was rolled out of the Rockwell Palmdale facility in late January and made her debut flight to Skylab soon after, now augmented with additional power and improved life support racks installed in the Orbital Workshop. Work done by Discovery and Challenger the previous year had improved conditions somewhat on the aging space station, but it was never optimal to begin with. The planned extension to Skylab’s liveable volume had not come to fruition; frustrating those who wished to expand the facility into a permanent destination for the Space Shuttle. Moreover, the new Extravehicular Mobility Units were too cumbersome to operate from Skylab's own airlock, adding time to spacewalks to augment the station. Mission planners had made the unpleasant call to merely “crew-tend” Skylab, and install experiments that could be left running - returning periodically to check the results. These included microbiology, solar physics and more, with the increased electrical power resulting in more systems that could be run. During the station’s Apollo era, the damaged solar array had severely limited how functional the station was in a scientific capacity. It was, in many ways, disappointing to those who had advocated for Skylab’s return to service as a US outpost in orbit, but Skylab was what it was, and there was only so much work that could be done. These rotating crew flights were bookended by free flights of the orbiter system, working to deploy the Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System and a series of small and medium class Earth science missions for NASA, as well as new, joint operations with the European Space Agency in their Spacelab program.

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The 3 orbiters of the fleet found themselves busy, but it became apparent rather quickly that Skylab would not be a permanent destination. Problems cropped up on nearly every flight to the station, and it was becoming clear that Skylab had its fair share of shortcomings. The most notable incident occurred on the 6th visit by a shuttle crew, the first with an international crew member from Europe, when a small fire in an experiment rack forced the crew back to Atlantis out of an abundance of caution. The crew, understandably stunned from what had happened, spent the remainder of their time on orbit troubleshooting the station, and once again venting the life support system and recycling the breathing gas onboard the station. Skylab was looking less and less like a simply malfunctioning space station, and more like a hazard. NASA management was quick to highlight the sustainability of operations from a station that had not had the best start to begin with. In early September of 1981, the last flight to Skylab took place, powering down the station and removing essential equipment and mementos. Skylab was a shell of its former self, showing considerable age even in the nearly two years of crew operations with the shuttle. The crew would undock, and a Skylab De-Orbit module, not unlike the vehicle that had saved it years ago, would take the orbiter’s place to deorbit the once great station. Skylab, after a nearly 8 year service life, re-entered over the South Pacific on September 30th, 1981, and met an honorable end. Shuttle flights carried on throughout the year, and new records continued to be set for endurance, crew size and altitude. The vehicle was performing better than expected, and already the Shuttle was becoming a symbol of American aerospace excellence.

In the immediate “post-Skylab period”, mission planners were eager to test the system’s capabilities even further, and develop techniques that could help with future activities in space. Shuttle had been used previously as a launch platform for satellites, but one of the systems’ main selling points was the ability to service satellites and assist in construction in space. Launching mid-morning on October 3rd, 1981, STS-11 would demonstrate the capability of Shuttle to service satellites. Challenger would open her payload bay doors and assume the proper attitude for flight, after a flawless 8 ½ minute ride to orbit. This would also mark the system’s first flight with seven crew members, a record number of people in space on one spacecraft. The mission’s target would be a recently launched vehicle, the first of NASA’s spin stabilized Geostationary Global Observers. Meant as an interim vehicle while planned upgrades to the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite were in development, the GGO program was capable in its own right. These vehicles, based off of a commercial satellite bus, would provide NASA with coverage of the entire globe’s weather patterns through continuous observation and imaging at geostationary altitudes. GGO-1, launched in May of 1981, had failed to achieve its intended orbit due to a kick stage failure, leaving the vehicle stranded. Rather than abandon the satellite, NASA saw an opportunity to test the mettle of both the shuttle and the crew and validate many of the design choices made in the development of the orbiters. Flight Day 2 saw the first phase of approach to the stricken satellite, and the beginnings of prep work for the complex series of EVAs required to fix it. The plan, notionally, was to retrieve the satellite using the Canadian Remote Manipulator System, secure it in the payload bay, and attach a new, non-faulty kick motor that would enable the satellite to get on its way. A series of 3 EVAs was planned, the first would be to secure the satellite, and bring it to the payload bay. The following 2 EVAs would concentrate on installing the new motor and performing final checkouts, as well as evaluating multiple types of tools for astronaut use and assembly of a testbed structure in the cargo bay.

This would not be as easy as they anticipated. The maneuvering of the orbiter, and the first step: grappling the vehicle, was fairly easy. The capture bar, designed to fit exactly within the propulsion segment of the vehicle, worked exactly as intended, and soon, GGO-1 was secure in the cargo bay. This is where the problems began. The second EVA began, and the crewmembers soon discovered that the mounting point for the new apogee motor had been damaged during the separation from the failed upper stage on it’s original launch vehicle. This meant that the planned installation would have to wait, as teams on the ground worked to remedy the situation. The new Extravehicular Mobility Units proved to be a difficult learning curve in space, as the Neutral Buoyancy Lab could only replicate so much about the conditions in orbit. The astronauts were growing tired quickly, and flight controllers had to ensure they were not too fatigued to continue servicing the satellite. A plan was quickly drawn up to pry the old mounting plate off with the inflight equivalent of a crowbar, and replace it with a spare that had been sent up with the crew. This too proved arduous, as the suits did not lend themselves well to the motion required to remove the screws. On hour 6 of spacewalk 2, the old mounting plate was off and stowed, and the new plate moved into position. This proved to be far easier, as ground controllers made the decision to move the satellite with the RMS over the middle of the payload bay to allow for installation of the new mounting plate. With hour 7 rolling around, the call was made to cut the spacewalk, and cancel the tasks for spacewalk 3 in favor of finishing the job. The third EVA would proceed much more smoothly, with the astronauts getting the new kick stage attached in roughly 6 hours, and releasing the satellite promptly.

The rest of the mission was fairly mundane, but the crew did manage to spend some time observing the Earth and talking to the press. The, understandably tired, crew gave a tour of the orbiter, showing off their flips in microgravity, and discussed the learning curve of their arduous spacewalks. The public simply couldn’t get enough - astronauts were becoming commonplace, and soon, perhaps even private citizens could fly to space and experience its majesty. The notion of repairing and servicing things in space, once a science fiction dream, was now possible with a vehicle like the Space Shuttle. Futurists, economists, scientists and engineers could now envision a world in which routine access to space would drastically improve life on Earth; perhaps bringing about a reality that was better than the one they lived in. The Space Shuttle featured prominently in media, soon transcending the realm of space launch system and becoming something of a cultural icon. At this time, NASA began to consider an option for their next astronaut class; the inclusion of non-scientists as potential astronauts. They did not have to be test pilots or hold doctorates in their field, but could be educators, artists or social scientists. NASA felt, and many within the astronaut corps reflected this, that if the Space Shuttle was to bring humans forward to the stars, than it needed to represent all of humanity. As an added bonus, a dedicated "Educator Astronaut" corps would ensure that human spaceflight accomplishments would remain in the public eye. It seemed that the overseas partners would agree, and would take similar action in public outreach. The path was laid, with NASA, their newfound international collaborators and crews headed for greatness. The road to the cosmos, a road so many had dreamt of for years, seemed to be finally open to humankind.

The question however still remained, where to? To some groups, there seemed only one logical option, one that would be reiterated by NASA’s various offices - Mars. Internally, it seemed very clear that the agency would move forward with a Mars focused program, and questions waiting to be answered from Mariner and Viking loomed large. Politically, the support was there, as the shuttle program had only expanded the contributions of various districts across the country. The will of the American people was with NASA, and many within the public sphere had hoped for a mission to Mars by 1980 with Apollo technology. Even though the Space Shuttle, kept NASA in low earth orbit for now, there was a consensus that more could be done. The people of the world looked to images of space as the next great frontier to explore. To get there, however, would require planning, and very quietly, requests for proposals were sent to contractors across the industry. Agencies around the world, many of them lifting their first crews to space on board the Shuttle such as Europe, Canada and Japan, would also show an interest in large scale political participation. It soon became clear that a mission of this scale would not be feasible alone, and that there were some unlikely connections that needed to be made.
 
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While this has my interest, this update does nothing to solve the "Where is OV-102" problem that got mentioned before. Historically, shuttles (OV-099, OV-103, & OV-104) were 'delivered' on fifteen month centers. Even as far back as 1973, the plans were for there to be a 16 month gap between OV-102 and OV-103, with further orbiters coming on line every 12 months (OV-102 in August '78, OV-102 in December '79, OV-101 in December '80, OV-104 in December '81, & OV-105 in December '82). Here however, we have OV-104 being rolled out in 1981. I sincerely hope that some explanation comes in the next update or two.
 
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