The year is 1966. Something has changed. One single man decided not to get drunk. The name of this man is unknown, but after an uncharacteristically good night's sleep, he drove to the hospital he has been assigned to. Today is different however. The operation room is guarded by 4 armed KGB agents, and army officers can be seen roaming around. His patient today he only knows as the Chief Designer.
The operation goes well, and the Chief Designer begins his lengthy recovery from the removal of tumors and repair of his large intestine. While he is recovering, he tells his doctor that his real name is Sergei Korolev, and he is the designer of the spacecraft the motherland has sent to the stars.
Due to his health, Korolev stayed in the Moscow area without any trips to the Cosmodrome to see the launches he so enjoyed. He spent his time completely focused on his projects, namely the N1 rocket, LK lander, and LOK lunar crew vehicle. After 18 months of straight work, he is cleared to visit the Cosmodorme to see the first true launch of the Soviet Manned Lunar Program.
The 2nd test of the LK lander was an all-up test, with a fully fueled lander. The vehicle lifts off on October 4th, 1967, the 50th anniversary of the October Revolution. It was yet another perfect launch for the Soviet space program, which strangely had many successes in a row after the many failures earlier in the decade. After 3 days of check-out, it was followed by another launch, this time Soyuz 5, the first test flight of the LOK lunar crew system (note, Soyuz 1 didn't fail in this timeline, as the program was better invested in earlier on and is farther ahead.
Consisting of Vladimir Komarov and Vladamir Shatalov, Soyuz 5 lifts off and docks with LK-2 after 19 hours on orbit.
Commander Komarov does a spacewalk to the LK, and does a full systems check on the engines and control systems. After 2 days of testing and 28 orbits, Soyuz 5 re-enters and successfully lands in the Kazakh Soviet Republic. The Soviet propaganda machine quickly hails it as a victory of the worker's ingenuity, and the Soviet space program celebrates. They are finally back in front of the Americans in the race to the moon.
-- One Year Later --
December 28th, 1968: Red Star 1 lifts off from the Baikinour Cosmodrome. Launched mere days after the upper stage failure of Apollo 8, causing the Americans to cut their mission short, the mission is crewed by Gherman Titov and Pavel Popovich, veterans of the original Vostok program. Despite a first stage engine cutting off 2 seconds early, Red Star 1 is injected into a lunar transfer orbit and becomes the first manned mission to flyby the moon.
While the launch of Sputnik and Vostok scarred the American public, this launch and the year at large absolutely horrified them. How had America fallen so far behind in space? How was America loosing Vietnam? How in the world did the red's recover from Stalin? And how long would it be until instead of seeing the moon at night, they saw they greatest failure in the history of the species?
While America was reeling and NASA raced to fix the Saturn V and test all their systems for the landing mission, Korolev and OKB-1 had begun to roll out their masterpiece for the grand finale
Thanks for reading, and I hope to continue this soon! Just to be clear, this isn't 100% realistic, but mostly just for fun and a little bit of drama.