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Project Astra: America's Next Small Step (CHAPTER 5)


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On 2/7/2021 at 2:14 AM, AeroSky said:

Interlude 1 - The Conversation

The following is a transcript of the conversation that occurred between LEONOV, ALEKSEI and KUBASOV, VALERY during the Soyuz-19 space mission. The following has been declassified by [REDACTED].

LEONOV - "I'm bored"

KUBASOV - "Alright then. So am I. I hear you just got assigned to the N-1/C mission?"

LEONOV - "Yeah. I was hoping to be left out."

KUBASOV - "What? Why?"

LEONOV - "That N-1 rocket isn't safe. 30 experimental engines that have never been tested in flight condition before. I know the N-1/A mission will be flying soon unmanned, but still."

KUBASOV - "We truly are polar opposites, aren't we, old friend? I was hoping to get assigned."

LEONOV - "I guess we are. Did you hear the news that Premier Kosygin is planning to open spaceflight to the Soviet population? He just recently passed a resolution that is moving our motherland towards a brighter future."

KUBASOV - "Yeah. He's opening it to Chinese, European and Japanese citizens for around $50 million I believe."

LEONOV - "God, that's cheap. Maybe I'll see my daughter up here in space with me after all."

The remaining portions of the conversation is undergoing review by [REDACTED] and will be released if [REDACTED] wishes so. Long Live the Soviet Union!

 

  Reveal hidden contents

Did you like it? Tell me your thoughts. If people really want it, I'll add in a second Interlude that will leak more things. :) 

 

I loved it. I like how it is like 2 old friends talking to each other.

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10 hours ago, Mikenike said:

I loved it. I like how it is like 2 old friends talking to each other.

Awesome, cause a second one is coming soon!

The second conversation will take place between Premier Kosygin and Sergei Korolev.

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Hello, everyone!

Due to slow internet connections and an important event happening on February 18, I will be delaying Chapter 4 and 5 for the final time to next weekend. I need time to work on a special video that needs to be done this weekend, so I hope you all understand!

Just a hint to Chapter 6:

Spoiler

As Lovell turned around upon stepping onto the Lunar surface for the first time, he saw two things - the LSRV standing in all its glory nearby, and what seems to be another astronaut - or is it cosmonaut - in a white spacesuit with red accents. 

 

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Hello, everyone!

Chapters 4 and 5 are confirmed for a February 20 release, finally! Interlude 2, which will be a conversation between Soviet Premier Aleksei Kosygin and Sergei Korolev should release sometime this week, hopefully before Wednesday. Finally, I would just like to bring to everyone's attention the project I've been working on: A Mars 2020 Rover recreation! Part 1 is out, and Parts 2 and 3 is on the way. This project is short-term and will end with Part 3, leaving me time to continue Project Astra and bring it out of its hiatus. As a little side note, Chapter 4 and 5 will have more politics in the story because its really the driving force behind NASA's future programs.

Stay safe, everyone!

Mars 2020 Rover recreation: 

 

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Interlude 2: The Future of the Soviet Space Program

Soviet Premier and Communist Party Chairman Aleksei Kosygin had been sitting in his chair peacefully, reading through KGB intelligence reports of American military assets and contemplating whether the USSR would be able to conduct a prolonged war with the West when Soviet Space Administration Chairman Sergei Korolev entered his office.

Premier Kosygin would look up from his papers, place them on his desk, then stand up to shake Korolev's hand.

Premier Kosygin - "Chairman Korolev! I was not expecting to see you until the Committee hearing on Monday."

Chairman Korolev - "Indeed, Your Excellency. I just wanted to discuss the general future of the Soviet space program, considering the first N-1 launch is already this weekend."

The Premier would stare at him then glance at the clock for a few moments before answering.

Premier Kosygin - "I guess I have the time. Take a seat, Chairman."

Chairman Korolev - "Thank you, your excellency. Here are the documents that I have in mind."

Korolev would drop a book-sized stack of documents on Kosygin's desk, which was then picked up by the Premier. The Premier would then skim over the documents.

Premier Kosygin - "Guards! Lock the doors and conduct a perimeter check as soon as possible."

The two Red Guards standing at the open doors saluted, locked the doors and radioed for a perimeter squad to conduct a security check. The Premier would then look up to Chairman Korolev.

Premier Kosygin - "How will the people afford this?"

Chairman Korolev - "Your new Finance Minister, Mikhail Gorbachev. He's pushing privatization efforts to better the economy. Maybe its time to change, Sir."

Premier Kosygin - "That's against the law, Chairman."

Chairman Korolev - "You are the law, Your Excellency. You decide if you want the Soviet people to suffer, or if you want the Soviet people to generate progress."

Korolev would pick up his papers, turn around and exit the room. The doors slam behind him -unintentionally.

The Premier would stand there, staring at the door, considering the proposal. He would shake his head in disbelief, chuckling to himself.

Premier Kosygin - "Private cosmonauts? Tourists? It could prove to be ludicrous."

The Premier would turn around, facing the large wall-sized window in his office.

Premier Kosygin - "It's time for change."

---

Days later, Soviet Finance Minister Mikhail Gorbachev is made Vice Chairman of the Communist Party. He pushes privatization and semi-capitalism in the Soviet Union.

 

 

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  • 2 weeks later...

Hello, everyone!

I am very sorry for the inactivity, but I was focusing on other things and my laptop's fan began whirring loudly so I had to give it a rest. Chapter 4 will release either tomorrow or on Monday, as I have a video to record tomorrow. Chapter 5 will follow suit on March 7, with Chapter 6 on March 8. With my time freeing up, I will now be able to focus on Project Astra once more. I would also just like to thank you all for supporting the project so far! I promise that more content will be rolled out soon, as well as more interesting ones.

Stay safe, everyone!

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  • 1 month later...
On 3/30/2021 at 12:26 AM, Maria Sirona said:

March is almost over and no new chapters :I

I plan to hopefully have one chapter out tomorrow. A mix of delays and schoolwork have caused repeated delays. Don't worry, the next few chapters are written and ready :)

On 3/30/2021 at 4:37 AM, NPT156 said:

Is this being continued? The story is great!

It certainly is, and thank you! As explained above, I'm just having trouble getting time to film.

Chapter 4: A Scarlet Moon will be releasing tomorrow, April 4 (hopefully).  Stay safe everyone!

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  • 2 weeks later...
  • 4 weeks later...

Once more, delays occurred and the Chapters continue to be pushed back. 

Not all of this is bad news though, as the school year has ended and my focus now turns to Project Astra! I expect to release a new chapter at least every two weeks, maybe more frequently. With a lot of time on my hands, my new goal is to release new chapters to all of you guys!

Some changes will be made to the coming chapters, notably the elimination of certain NASA programs to allow for a more ambitious goal. The tables will also turn against the Soviet Union in the coming chapters.

I expect Chapter 4 release by Saturday, May 15. I understand that people are affected by my rapidly changing timeframes, but I really am optimistic for this one. Hope all of you are safe, and thank you for your continued support for a story that I plan to move forward in the coming days! 

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Chapter 4: Reach for the Stars

The date, November 1, 1974. The location, Baikonur Cosmodrome’s Heavy Launch Pad Delta. The star of the show that day, the Soviet Union’s fifth N-1 rocket standing proudly on the pad. Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin and Chief Designer Sergei Korolev were in attendance, watching the N-1 from five kilometers away in a fortified concrete bunker, through television screens. 

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“This better work, Chief Designer” said Premier Kosygin, his mind drifting towards the amount of money the Soviets had spent on the space program. In the end, he thought, it was all worth it. The supremacy of the motherland over her capitalist enemies in the West was the most important thing in the Soviet’s space agenda. The recent Soyuz-19 flight that flew Aleksei Leonov and Valery Kubasov into Low Earth Orbit to test the Soviets’ Soyuz 7K-L1 long-range capsule had no major effect Western publicity due to its regularity.  

“Of course, Comrade. We have no 100% guarantee though.” responded the Chief Designer, whose identity had been concealed, his name never credited. He had pioneered Soviet Russia’s novel achievements in space, designing the R-7 Semyorka, the Sputnik satellite, and the Vostok capsule that carried Gagarin into orbit. Because of his momentous achievements for the Soviet Union and humanity as a whole, his identity was kept secret for fear of American attempts to assassinate him to one-up the Russians. Now, he stood in the concrete control bunker, the officers inside sworn to secrecy to keep his identity hushed up. He now watched the screens as the N-1 neared its launch. 

“Comrade Chief Designer, the launch vehicle is ready for liftoff” said one of the officers facing the controller, announcing that the N-1 was ready for launch. Korolev looked around, nodding at the Soviet Premier, before pulling a silver key out of his pocket and inserting it into the key module.  

“Go for flight” said Korolev, before letting go of the key, and moving backwards, as if afraid of the control module in front of him. His heartbeat began pumping faster as the tension in the room grew steadily. A bead of sweat fell down Korolev’s cheek as he gave the green light to launch. 

“Go launch. Cleared. Engine ignition....” said the chief flight engineer, his thought trailing as he awaited confirmation of engine ignition from his console. “...ignition confirmed, velocity rising.” the engineer finished.  However, some observers in a different control room could see something was off.....

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The rocket began to climb upwards at a dismally slow speed, its 30-ish engines burning their hardest to push the behemoth of a rocket into the air. Premier Kosygin smiled as the rocket pushed upwards, albeit very slowly, its launch escape tower leading the way. Smiles and cheers erupted in the concrete bunker that served as Mission Control, and Korolev relaxed himself. He turned to Premier Kosygin, who congratulated him for the success. 

Not all was great, however, as the rocket began experiencing issues that would most probably change Korolev’s future forever. As the rocket cruised past the 50-meter mark, 5 NK-15V main engines on the first stage, out of the 30-ish total, reported thrust deficiencies that caused the rocket to slowly start coming down. 

Red alarms blared in Mission Control, as the Premier’s smile faded and his arms crossed his chest, obviously showing his annoyance. Korolev scrambled to the console to find the cause of the issue. The N-1 continued to fall downwards, the nose now tipping towards the side. 

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The Chief Designer ran to the announcement speakers which ran to speakers all over the Cosmodrome, and shouted, ‘Evacuate Heavy Launch Pad Delta, large Rapid Unscheduled Disassembly imminent. Repeat, EVACUATE, EVACUATE’ before he moved towards the back of the room, where he whispered to his deputy, Vasily Mishin, to leave and get to the N-1 assembly plant as fast as possible. 

“Go, and fix this problem before the Premier scolds us” said Korolev, before turning to a nearby engineer and requesting for a status report.  

Before Mishin could leave the bunker, however, massive rumbles erupted throughout Baikonur, causing powerful shaking equal to that of an earthquake. The N-1 had failed again, and as the Premier turned around to face Korolev, it was clear that no more failures could be accepted.  

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--- 

On November 2, 1974, President Gerald R. Ford of the United States of America was notified of the N-1 failure, as was Project Astra Administrator Arthur Tombaugh and NASA Administrator James Fletcher. The President called for an emergency meeting of top NASA and budget allocation committee officials to discuss the renewed hope for Americans that the US might once more beat the Soviets in space. 

The aftermath of the N-1 crash resulted in budget cuts for the N-1 program and Korolev’s plans for a Lunar base by 1990, with Premier Kosygin pushing for civilian flights on the Soyuz, as well as large orbital space stations. Soviet Russia’s Salyut 1 space station was nearing completion, while designs on a larger, modular space station called Mir was in the works. 

By November 5, all plans for a Soviet moon landing took a backseat as the Premier, and other top Politburo members, toured the Salyut 1 plant to publicly show their support for the Salyut program. Aleksei Leonov, Valery Kubasov, and Yuri Gagarin would be the crew of Soyuz 20, the first Salyut crewed launch to take place in June 1975. 

On the 7th of November, President Ford announced NASA’s new vision and focus for the next ten years, or as many speculated, for the remainder of Ford’s term. News correspondents and NASA astronauts gathered at the Capitol building to hear President Ford’s ‘America’s Future in Space’ plan that would encompass 1975-1985. 

“Following the tragic and devastating Soviet N-1 rocket accident at their Baikonur Cosmodrome, the United States has decided to modify and expand NASA’s goals and aspirations for an American future in space. While the Soviet Union lacks behind in technology and success, the United States will push onward for the benefit of all humanity.” 

“I have directed National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) administrator James Fletcher and Project Astra Administrator Arthur Tombaugh, supplemented by a board of certified scientists and aeronautics engineers, to design and implement NASA’s ‘For All Humankind’ space initiative.” 

“In order to make way for these new programs under For All Humankind, or FAH, the United States Congress has decided to honorably terminate Project Apollo to allocate more funding towards future-minded and sustainable programs such as our Space Transportation System. Apollo 18-21 will be cancelled indefinitely in accordance with this new decision. The Neptune family of launch vehicles will also be cancelled indefinitely, for the same reason.” 

“Project Astra will serve as NASA’s main goal, with the Skylab and STS programs residing and continuing nominally underneath it. Astra’s main goal will be to develop a sustainable future for humans on the Moon, as well as to launch a Mars flyby mission by 1990. I assure the American public that the US government here on Capitol Hill will dedicate all resources possible to enable these dreams to come true, for all Humankind.” 

“Project Astra will attempt to: One, land men – and women – on the Lunar surface once more by 1975, in a sustainable and achievable manner that does not compromise the safety or scientific harvests of such a mission. Two, launch the Skylab orbital laboratory aboard a Saturn V launch vehicle into Low Earth Orbit by 1975. Three, launch the first Space Transportation System (STS) shuttle, named Columbia, into low earth orbit by 1975. The Space Shuttles will have the capability to launch every two weeks, to Skylab and back, enabling the United States a continuous and permanent human presence in space for the first time in history.” 

“The National Aeronautics and Space Administration will also open up Project Prospera, a currently top-secret joint space venture between NASA, the US Air Force, and the newly founded US Space Force. I assure you all, Project Prospera will bear great fruit for the United States and humanity as a whole in the near future. Its goal is set for an estimated achievement date sometime in the 1980s.” 

“Finally, we are sad to disclose that all previously announced planetary exploration missions, and any NASA-organized or NASA-included space missions have been cancelled per order of the Congress of the United States. The only missions Cape Canaveral shall be conducting will be those I have listed today. Thank you and God bless America!” 

The President’s speech came as a surprise to many, but most scientists and those actually involved with NASA, JPL, or the US government were actually pleased by the result. NASA’s budget had been overflowing by almost $20 billion dollars in the months prior, causing the United States to begin to enact policies to force economic growth in the country, to the expense of foreign nations.  

NASA Administrator Fletcher announced the completion of the Skylab orbital laboratory at the Stennis Space Center, with the Saturn V set to launch it being assembled at the historic Vehicle Assembly Building at the Kennedy Space Center. Skylab is set for a launch in April 1975, with a crewed Astra launch aboard a Saturn IB also in April. 

The Space Transportation System (STS), more commonly known as the Space Shuttle program, is also approaching completion with one Approach and Landing test being conducted by the Columbia and Discovery space shuttles every two weeks. The four-segment reusable SRBs to be used by the Space Shuttle, being developed by Martin Marietta, was already undergoing static fire testing at their Utah test site. The big external tank, to be painted white, was also approaching completion at Lockheed Martin’s assembly facilities. 

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The Space Shuttle would serve as ‘America’s Ride to Space’ for the coming decades, promising to be a cheap and reliable orbital launch system. While some doubted the rhetoric used by NASA and the US Congress to support the STS program, President Ford and major proponents for the Shuttle program continued to voice their support for the project, as it supported hundreds of thousands of jobs across the country. 

--- 

The month of January for the United States, and NASA in particular, had been weirdly interesting. One of NASA’s Mariner probes, Mariner 11, was reportedly found at a US military installation, supposed to be launched to Jupiter but was cast aside and hidden away at a military storage outpost in favor of more modern equipment. NASA decided to, with the White House’s nudging, use the Mariner spacecraft and prepare it for a Lunar orbital mission to scan for smooth areas capable of holding “large manmade Lunar surface bases”, such as the Sea of Tranquility.  

Mariner 11 was re-designated Astra-1, and would be Project Astra’s first actual space mission since its inception. The mission’s official goal was to launch a Mariner-style spacecraft into Lunar orbit, where it will then survey the Lunar surface for suitable landing sites for future Astra lunar surface missions. The Mariner 11 spacecraft was stripped of unnecessary components such as excess solar panels, and was fitted with the highest definition, highest resolution cameras of the time capable of flying aboard the mission. 

The Astra-1 mission was rushed into integration and testing, and now it stood atop a Titan IIIE launch vehicle at Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, in mid-April 1975. NASA prepared to once more launch the newest iteration of their planetary – in this case lunar – exploration missions to the Earth’s neighbor. 

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“Ignition sequence start” reported the Flight Dynamics Officer, as Mission Control watched the Titan rocket cruise through the sky and into the cloud layer. The eyes of the controllers turned downwards to their screens as the Titan IIIE disappeared through the clouds, and into the stars.

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After almost fifteen minutes under the pressure of the burning engines below, the Titan IIIE achieved low earth orbit, and prepared for a trans-lunar injection. 

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The systems of Astra-1 were checked, double checked, and triple checked, and the Titan’s transfer stage was prepared for its final burn. 

At 7:37PM Florida time, the evening after the launch, the engine of the transfer stage relit and the probe made its way to the Moon, just as previous Ranger missions had done. 

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--- 

“Administrator Fletcher!” said Project Astra Administrator Arthur Tombaugh, sitting in his NASA office in Houston. NASA Administrator James Fletcher entered the room and took a seat extremely rapidly, before placing a brown envelope on Tombaugh’s desk, labelled ‘CLASSIFIED: BOEING ACCORD’. 

Tombaugh smiled as he opened the envelope and skimmed it, before asking Fletcher, ‘Its confirmed then? President Ford approved it?’. Fletcher only nodded as he pulled out a voice recorder and left it on Tombaugh’s desk. The Project Administrator looked at it, apparently pleasantly confused, as Fletcher left the office. 

Arthur moved his seat forward, and reached for the voice recorder. He placed down the other paper, sourced from the brown envelope, and pressed the red play button. 

“Sirs Fletcher, James, and Tombaugh, Arthur. High-ranking officials for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. This recording and all its contents are to remain classified and secured within the minds of those addressed in this message.” 

“I, President Gerald Rudolph Ford, of the United States of America, hereby permits the execution of all Project Prospera initiatives. You are go to develop Mars 1979. It is of utmost importance to the United States and the Western World that the United States reach Martian orbit by 1985, with crewed spacecrafts.” 

“We are under the belief that the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics are developing their own crewed Mars capabilities, as they have successfully launched their Salyut 1, a long-term crewed space station that could serve as a precursor to Soviet Mars plans.” 

“We will not be outpaced this time, make sure of it. Terminating message, here.” 

Tombaugh placed the voice recorder on his desk gently, and glanced around the room, which stood eerily quiet, as if the furniture were listening in to the recording of President Ford’s voice. He sighed before placing the envelope on his desk. Tombaugh proceeded to grab and put on his jacket as he left his office, locked the door, and turned off the light. 

The title of the prologue document in the envelope stayed in his mind for the remainder of the evening, even as he ate dinner with his wife and went to sleep. 

“Project Prospera, Sub-Program Alpha: Mars 1979. Crewed Martian flyby to be executed by December 1979 AT THE LATEST” 

Could it be done, or would the Soviets beat them to it? Tombaugh shook of his thoughts the next morning as he arrived at a suburban house in Houston, belonging to the world’s most famous rocket scientist. A German who had moved to the States, who had pioneered the Saturn family of rockets. Von Braun sat in his porch, awaiting his visitor. 

--- 

On the other side of the Iron Curtain, Sergei Korolev had been summoned to the office of the Premier of the Soviet Union and the Chairman of the Communist Party, Alexei Kosygin. The briefing was as short as it was vital to the survival of the Soviet Union. 

“Comrade Chief Designer, this will be short. You have received funding for your N-1 and N-2 programs, as well as for your Project Apec. Your order, should you choose to accept it, is to beat the Americans to Mars. We have reports of their Mars 1979 program, indicating they plan a crewed Mars flyby by at the latest December 1979.” 

“Beat them to it, Comrade, and make the Union proud.” 

Korolev only nodded.  

As he left, he wondered, could it be done, or would the Americans beat them to it? Korolev resolved to seek assistance from Soviet Russia’s most experienced rocket engine designer, Valentin Glushko. 

 

---

Chapter 5 scheduled for release on Sunday, May 16, 2021!

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Hello everyone! Chapter 5 has been delayed to a Sunday release due to complications with a certain spaceplane that will be used in the coming chapters, detailed below.

I have experienced issues with landing the Space Shuttle from a space trip, so I hope you all understand the final approach will not be displayed on any Project Astra chapter. The launch, mission in orbit, re-entry, and touchdown will be the only parts of an STS mission shown in photos. Hope you all understand!

In other words, development on the coming chapters are going rapidly! Chapter 5 will focus more on a political problem that comes up for the Soviet Union, that temporarily delays (but not cancels) their upcoming missions. To my memory, only one or two missions total will be displayed in the chapter due to its large focus on the USSR thing.

For Chapter 6, just a small hint. Well, it's not small. Sort of. Basically, from Chapter 6, NASA's main ride to space will be the Space Transportation System (STS), whose development has been accelerated thanks to stacks and stacks and stacks of government funding.

Once more, hope everyone stays safe and thanks for reading!

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  • 1 month later...

Well, this has aged quite a bit, hasn't it?

This story has been really great fun to write, but has spanned several months now (nearly a year) and only has four chapters under it. I've really appreciated the support from all of you, and I'll most certainly be continuing to write here. However, due to the multi-week separation between chapters, I've sort of lost where I originally planned to go with this story.

As some of you may have seen, in the recent chapter I've had to wipe all past programs as, frankly, I've lost track of them all. I am also not that much of a fan of the idea of landing on a new planet (???) in a story that I had originally meant to focus on returning to the Lunar surface sustainably and for long periods of time (sounds like a certain NASA project, doesn't it?)

Anyways, I have decided to change things up as I enter a new and exciting stage in my life by announcing that I will only be doing one or two more chapters of Project Astra before officially ending this thread, sort of.

No, I do not plan to stop writing. This story in my opinion is to good to be cut short like this. In order to ensure that my storyline stays organized and true to its original aspirations, I plan to end Project Astra within the next two chapters (I have a really, really, cool ending in mind), and then continue the storyline in a new thread, with a new title, and a much grander goal. Expect this new storyline to begin sometime in late July to early August.

And yes, that does mean the last two chapters will be releasing in that time period. I'm sure you've all seen that this story will be advancing with new rockets (STS and a revitalized [REDACTED] family) and a new goal for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. These chapters will not be that significant, but will pave the way for a story on a much grander scale.

Anyways, that's my update for now. Hope y'all are staying safe!

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  • 1 month later...

Hello, everyone!

Again, sincere apologies for the delay, but finally, Chapter 5 is coming in less than an hour! I am about to wrap up proofreading, and I hope to finally get this Chapter out ahead of the Grand Finale some two chapters down the line. (Yes, I will be extending Project Astra quite a bit)

 

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Chapter 5 – Refocus 

“Mr. Speaker. Senators, Congressmen, and fellow Americans. The year of 1975 is upon us. This year, the United States must and will continue to develop her spaceflight capabilities in order to ensure the peaceful exploitation of space and the maintenance of the status quo. Last year, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration continued efforts to bring into operation the Space Transportation System (STS), or Space Shuttle, with the goal of increasing American human space launch capacity tenfold. This could not have been done without your support, and the hard work that the American public has undergone. Skylab experienced numerous delays in 1974, but the space station is now on track for launch and is expected to be ready by June of this year. 

The plans to launch additional humans and land them on the Moon continue at a rapid pace. Project Astra, using the remaining three Saturn V rockets and the three Lunar Landing Modules, will attempt to establish Moon Base Camp Alpha on the surface of the Moon, as planned in Apollo 18 and Apollo 19. This Base Camp will receive crew rotations every three months, and will serve as a vital stepping stone to the establishment of the Lunar orbital space station. 

Thirdly, the United States is moving steadfast towards its goals to launch a Mars flyby mission by the year of 1990. Although this date remains far, NASA moves rapidly to achieve our goals at a right pace. Design and development on our Mars Transition Vehicle is ongoing, and the launch vehicle for these Mars missions, the Neptune, is undergoing tests and early engine manufacturing. The Neptune family will be modelled after the highly-successful Saturn family of launch vehicles. 

That is all for today, I thank you all, and God bless the United States of America.” 

-Excerpt from President Gerald R. Ford during the 1975 State of the Union Address 

---

President Ford’s speech outlined the future of American spaceflight goals, ranging from getting the Space Transportation System up and running as soon as possible to launching rapid preparations for the Mars flyby mission, slated for 1990. The President also confirmed, to the delight of Saturn scientists and one Wernher Von Braun, who had recently been re-added back to the ranks of NASA’s scientific research and development arm. 

In early 1975, NASA’s launch schedule died down a bit due to government insistence that the STS and Skylab programs be prioritized over normal satellite launches, resulting in only one satellite being launched into space by NASA in February of 1975, that being a US Air Force satellite launched from Cape Canaveral. 

--- 

Over the Iron Curtain, things were not going the way Sergei Korolev wanted them to go. He had recently been turned down by Valentin Glushko on a proposal to unite forces once more to repair the N1 damages and start utilizing it for Moon and Mars missions by 1976 at the latest. Although Glushko had refused to assist him on the grounds that he was too busy, Korolev was not the man to give up that easily. 

He knocked on Glushko’s front door, grasping a letter with the seal of the Premier of the Soviet Union emblazoned on the top. Documents carrying that seal were usually written by or on the behalf of the Premier of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics or the General-Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU). 

Glushko opened the door, his clothing ruffled and his eyes droopy. Korolev guessed he had been sleeping. “What do you want, Korolev?” said Glushko, his voice harsh and obviously not pleased by the sudden interruption of his nap. 

“Comrade Glushko. From the top office.” stated Korolev firmly, before handing over the letter to Glushko. As the engine designer’s eyes skimmed the letter, his eyes grew progressively wider and wider, his posture slowly straightening and his facial expressions changing from annoyed to surprised. As Korolev observed all this, he smiled faintly. 

“I- Comrade Korolev, please do come in.” Responded Glushko, before opening his door wide enough and beckoning for Sergei Korolev, the famed Soviet rocket designer, to enter his lovely abode in Moscow. 

--- 

The sounds of construction work and welding rung all over the facility as a group of men, clearly from Administration, walked about the facility wearing dull sky-blue polos and ties with a bright yellow hard hat on top. At the forefront was a tall, late-sixties to early-seventies, yet firm in his stance German-American, and he was Wernher Von Braun. 

“Marion, how’s progress on the tank going?” asked Von Braun, looking and referring to a young woman in a white lab coat and dull blue hard hat, who was reading through her checklist thoroughly, as if confused by something.  

“Marion?” asks Von Braun again, a bit annoyed but still pleased at how focused the young scientist was on her work. “Oh, Mr. Von Braun! The uh- the tank is going well, it should be raised up rather soon- Hold on, in fact its being raised up now!” responds Marion, her eyes now turned upwards, looking up into the dizzying height of the Vehicle Assembly Building, or VAB

As if on cue, the rest of the delegation looks skyward, or should I say roofward, to see a massive orange tank being hoisted into the air by a bright yellow crane attached to the ceiling of the VAB. As the gigantic front doors of the massive building were open, allowing sunshine to enter the building, the group had to shield their eyes from the sunlight in order to see all the way. 

“Good job, Marion, the rest of you. I’ll be back on Friday to check up again. Keep up the good work!” said Von Braun, before checking his watch and bading goodbye to the group, who continued to look roofward at the spectacle of a gigantic orange fuel tank being moved a few meters. 

It was clear in everyone’s mind that the Americans had the lead over the Soviets now. But, unbeknownst to them and most of the public, the Russians had a big event coming up, and it would shift both American views of Soviet technology and the tables of the Space Race, which is just heating up. 

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