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One Giant Leap | An Alternate History of Space Exploration


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Hi all, this is my first post on the forums but I'd like to bring to you something I have been working on for a while. This is One Giant Leap, an alternate history of not only the Space/Moon Race, but into the Shuttle era and Space Exploration as a whole. KSP is the medium through which I'm telling this so I felt putting it here was more suitable. I'll start at the beginning and try to keep this updated (hopefully).


August 7th, 1964: The Giant Has Better Things To Do.

By 3 votes, the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution is blocked in Congress, thousands of protestors had gathered on Capitol Hill to protest the fact that this bill had even made it this far. But their efforts were not in vain, President Johnson would not get the authority  "to take any measures he believed were necessary to retaliate and to promote the maintenance of international peace and security in southeast Asia." In other words, the United States will not intervene in Vietnam, instead, the United States will look upwards, to the stars, peaceful exploration, for the good of mankind.


Although the Soviets had a head-start, placing Yuri Gagarin into space on April 12th, 1961, the US was quick to respond, sending Alan Shepard into space not a month later on May 5th, 1961. Despite the delays and setbacks, NASA is hopeful the fledgling Gemini program will finally pull the US ahead of the Soviet Union, shifting the balance of power in the Space Race. But in the distance, Apollo looms, the late President Kennedy's goal has not been forgotten, the United States will put a man on The Moon before the end of the 1960s. 




Dawn of Gemini: The Titan II GLV launches the first Gemini spacecraft on Gemini 1, marking the beginning of NASA's new crewed spaceflight program.


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 Gemini, Voskhod, and the Moon Rocket(s)


Gemini 3 launches on March 23rd, 1965, the first crewed flight of the Gemini program. Virgil "Gus" Grissom and John Young are the 2 astronauts aboard the Gemini spacecraft, which they have named "Molly Brown", after a debacle in which NASA considered the name too informal for the program. Molly Brown lifts off into the skies of Cape Canaveral, the 2 astronauts orbit the Earth 3 times, and splash down just under 5 hours after launch.


Molly Brown soars into the skies of Cape Canaveral on the first crewed Gemini mission, Gemini 3.


Gemini 3 orbiting above the Earth.

But the Soviets were not taking this lightly, they too had developed a multi-man spacecraft, Voskhod, although it would debut several months after Gemini, it's 3 crew capacity made it clear the Soviets weren't giving up on their lead just yet. Voskhod 2 would make this point clearer as Alexei Leonov became the first human in history to exit his spacecraft in space, on a so-called "Extra-Vehicular Activity" or EVA. The US would strike back 3 months later on Gemini 4 in June of 1965, as Ed White became the first American to perform an EVA.

The US would finally score a big victory on Gemini 5. setting the on-orbit duration record at 8 days. The mission's slogan "8 Days or Bust" held true as the 2 astronauts orbited the Earth for just over a week. And more repeated success was to come on Gemini 6A, which performed the first rendezvous between two crewed spacecraft with its sister mission, Gemini 7. Although Vostok had managed to establish radio contact, no true rendezvous was achieved. And it seemed to many that Gemini was finally pulling the United States ahead of the Soviet Union in the space race.

But as 1965 wraps up, and 1966 begins, there's an even bigger development.
The first S-IC stages of the Saturn V rocket are completed. America's Moon Rocket is nearing it's debut. But it's not alone.











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13 minutes ago, pTrevTrevs said:

The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution is blocked, huh? 

Sounds like an ideal timeline to me. Looking forward to see what comes next!

Thanks! I'm trying to keep this updated while continuing to develop the story so more parts should be coming soon!

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 We Choose to Go to the Moon.


"We choose to Go to The Moon, we choose to Go to the Moon... We choose to Go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win, and the others, too."

 The immortal words of John F. Kennedy from his speech at Rice Stadium on September 12th, 1962. Although the late President was tragically assassinated just over a year later, the goal he set forth will live on,NASA will make darn sure of it. The Apollo program, the culmination of Mercury, and Gemini, will realize Kennedy's goal. To put a man on the Moon, and return him safely to Earth. The technical challenges are just one part of it, the development process has been stricken by issues, and tragically, the loss of 3 American heroes during the Apollo 1 disaster. Their sacrifice will not be forgotten, nor will it be in vain. Steady as she goes, the Apollo program is finally pushing onwards, as Gemini wraps up with its final flight, Gemini 12.

The Saturn I has been the workhorse of Apollo up to this point, giving NASA experience with larger launch vehicles and allowing for lessons to be learned, the Saturn IB has now taken its place with the primary purpose of testing the S-IVB upper stage, which will be used to send the Apollo CSM and LEM to a "Trans-Lunar Injection" or TLI trajectory, where they will intercept the Moon. Following the Apollo 1 disaster, the Apollo CSM is taken into a design review, and changes will be needed before crew are allowed to fly on it again. 


The second flight of the Saturn IB, testing the behavior of the S-IVB in orbit to assist in the development of the 500 series S-IVB, which needs the capability to restart for the TLI maneuver.


1967 was a rough year for NASA, but finally, in November, there is a chance to bounce back, for triumph. The SA-501, the first Saturn V rocket, is on the new Launch Complex 39A, preparing for the maiden flight of the Saturn V rocket.
The Saturn V dwarfs all other rockets, using 5 F-1 engines, which were originally developed in a US Air Force program, but revived for NASA's moon rocket. Wernher Von Braun and his team at NASA's Marshall Spaceflight Center in Huntsville, Alabama are the leading team which develop this mighty launch vehicle.  

November 9th, 1967: The Mighty Saturn V


"Our building's shaking here, our building's shaking! Oh it's terrific... the building's shaking! This big blast window is shaking! We're holding it with our hands! Look at that rocket go... enter the clouds at 3,000ft! Look at it going... you can see it, you can see it..." - Walter Cronkite of CBS News as he spectates the launch of the first Saturn V Rocket.




The inaugural flight of the Saturn V goes off flawlessly, a massive victory for NASA, something the agency really needed. The rocket that will bring America to the Moon is here. But what NASA doesn't know is, the Saturn V is not alone. 

Nevertheless, Apollo 4 is a major triumph for NASA, rebuilding the agency's confidence, as preparations begin for the next Saturn V mission, and Apollo 5, which will test the Lunar Module on its own in Earth orbit. The Moon is feeling ever closer, and maybe, to robotic spacecraft, the other planets are too.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Pogo and Probes


While manned exploration is taking many leaps forward, you certainly shouldn't count out the robotic explorers that explore those distant worlds that we too hope to someday explore ourselves. The Ranger and Mariner programs have demonstrated the ability to explore Mars, and Venus, and with plans in the works for Mercury. But those distant gas giants out there remain unexplored: Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. Until now, in 1964, NASA created the Outer Planet Explorer program, to send 2 dual probes to Jupiter.  The Pioneer program will make the flyby spacecraft, intended to launch in 1972 and flyby a little over a year later just before the Orbiting Spacecraft arrives, giving it an idea of how to approach Jupiter and early data. Pioneer 10 is selected as the flyby spacecraft, and the orbiting spacecraft is given the name Perdix.

Perdix will be launched on a Saturn IB, practically the only American rocket that is operational with the capabilities. A Centaur Upper Stage will perform the injection maneuver to Jupiter.


Overview of the Perdix Spacecraft.


But before all this, the second Saturn V is ready to launch.

Apollo 6 is the second test of the Saturn V and planned to be the final uncrewed test flight of the Apollo program. The primary objective is to test the S-IVB's capability to send the Apollo spacecraft to a Trans-Lunar Injection trajectory, and then the spacecraft will perform a direct-return abort to return to Earth after about 10 hours. The launch, however, is less than optimal, to say the least, into the flight, a phenomenon known as "pogo oscillation" begins occurring within the launch vehicle, it begins to rupture fuel lines and leads to 2 of the S-II, the second stage, engines shutting down early, burning longer compensates for this, but still the S-IVB fails to light for the TLI maneuver, and thus Apollo 6 repeats the profile of Apollo 4.

Nevertheless, NASA is confident that the Saturn V is capable of safe crewed flight, and preparations begin for its first crewed flight, Apollo 8.

Now, the launch of Perdix on July 28th, 1968.



The launch of Perdix aboard a Saturn IB Centaur.

An incredibly successful launch, Centaur boosts Perdix to begin the chain of gravity assists which will boost the spacecraft towards Jupiter, destined for an arrival in 1974. NASA now shifts focus to Apollo 7 and 8, which will test the Apollo Command Module on its own in LEO, and in the case of Apollo 8, due to many defects in its LM, the CSM will be flown to Lunar Orbit on its own with 3 crew, destined to be the first crewed spaceflight beyond Earth orbit.

Meanwhile, the bear has plans of its own.

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On The Way


While Perdix is on its way towards Jupiter, NASA prepares for another big step. Apollo 7. Apollo 7 will be the first crewed flight attempt by NASA since the Apollo 1 tragedy, lessons have been learned, and improvements have been made, to ensure it will never happen again. The Apollo Block II is much improved, and will be used on this mission to test the CSM in Low Earth Orbit with crew. A Saturn IB will be used as the launch vehicle. Wally Schirra, Donn Eisele, and Ronnie Cunningham are the 3 astronauts assigned to the mission, and at 11:02 AM, the crew lift off into the skies of Cape Canaveral, sights set on Low Earth Orbit.



The mission is a great success, and is a major reboost of confidence for NASA, 1 year, and 9 months after the Apollo 1 tragedy, Americans have returned to space, sights set on The Moon, and to show the world that America is first in space.

And as this mission kicks off and returns, the next Apollo mission prepares on LC-39A, the third Saturn V, is set to launch Apollo 8, destined to send the first humans beyond Low Earth Orbit, and to orbit The Moon.

Apollo 8 will see the CSM fly solo towards the Moon and enter orbit, and then return home, on a new mission type designated C Prime. This will be the first crewed flight of the Saturn V, after 2 months sitting on LC-39A, the Saturn V rocket lifts off the pad on December 21st, 1968, on a voyage bound for The Moon.








Frank Bormann, James Lovell Jr., and William Anders become the first humans to ever leave Low Earth Orbit, and the first to orbit another celestial object other than Earth. After orbit the Moon for about a day, the crew depart, and on December 27th, 1968, they splashdown in the North Pacific Ocean, and are recovered by the USS Yorktown.

If Apollo 7 was a confidence boost, Apollo 8 is a monumental confidence boost, and shows that NASA is up to any challenge. The Apollo program is building up, and as 1968 comes to a close, 1969 is planned to finally be the year that JFK's goal is fulfilled, America will land on the Moon.


However, the Bear is not that far behind.

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  • 2 weeks later...

The Bear and the Eagle


While Apollo dwells in the limelight, the whole world watching on. The Soviets are desperate to regain their lead in the Space Race. The death of Sergei Korolev severely hampers their efforts, and issues with the development of the N-1 Moon Rocket set the Soviets back many times. But finally on February 21st, 1969. The N-1 lights its engines, and de-thrones the Saturn V as the most powerful rocket ever.





Aaaaand it's a failure... yeah.... thankfully this was an uncrewed flight.

The cause is rooted to a series of very unfortunate events, as described below:

A few seconds into launch, a transient voltage caused the KORD to shut down Engine #12. After this happened, the KORD shut off Engine #24 to maintain symmetrical thrust. At T+6 seconds, pogo oscillation in the #2 engine tore several components off their mounts and started a propellant leak. At T+25 seconds, further vibrations ruptured a fuel line and caused RP-1 to spill into the aft section of the booster. When it came into contact with the leaking gas, a fire started. The fire then burned through wiring in the power supply, causing electrical arcing that was picked up by sensors and interpreted by the KORD as a pressurization problem in the turbopumps. The KORD responded by issuing a general command to shut down the entire first stage at T+68 seconds into launch. This signal was also transmitted up to the second and third stages, "locking" them and preventing a manual ground command from being sent to start their engines. Telemetry also showed that the power generators in the N-1 continued functioning until the impact with the ground at T+183 seconds.

As per usual with the Soviet space program, blame is thrown around, but eventually it is realized that there are.... quite a few flaws with the N-1 rocket. KORD is flawed in many ways, and the NK-15 engines having pyrotechnic valves prevents them from being tested at all. With some pushing, many engineers get things underway to solve these issues, with a second test flight aimed for the fall.


Meanwhile, the US preps for the next round of Apollo flights before Apollo 11 is the first lunar landing. A one-two punch of Apollo 9 and 10. First up Apollo 9, which will test both the CSM and LM in LEO together. This is the first time a crew has named their spacecraft(s) since Gemini 3. The CSM "Gumdrop" and LM "Spider" are prepared for launch aboard the fourth Saturn V rocket.










A successful mission, and the first with the CSM and LM together.

Apollo 10 comes shortly after, practically the same mission is performed but this time around the Moon, as a sort of rehearsal for Apollo 11. To ensure the crew of the Lunar Module didn't get any bright ideas, the LM was underfueled so that it could not return to Lunar Orbit, discouraging a sneaky attempt to be the first on the surface.

Both missions set the stage for Apollo 11, just mere months away, and already on the launchpad.


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One Giant Leap(hey that's the name of the timeline!)

Standing proud atop LC-39A, the 6th Saturn V rocket, SA-506, is poised for the launch of Apollo 11. This is the mission, this is the first attempt to land humans on the surface of The Moon. With the N-1 not even ready for a first crewed flight, the US has done it, in the prime position to beat the Soviets to the Moon, assuming Apollo 11 goes according to plan.

The crew:

Commander: Neil Armstrong

Lunar Module Pilot: Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin

Command Module Pilot: Michael Collins

Armstrong and Aldrin will be the first humans to land on the surface of the Moon, or any other celestial object, Armstrong will be the very first. Collins will remain in Lunar Orbit aboard Command Module Columbia, as the duo of intrepid explorers land aboard Lunar Module Eagle.

July 16th, 1969: The world is watching.



"T-15 seconds, Guidance is internal."


"12, 11, 10, 9, Ignition sequence start, 6..."


"5, 4, 3, 2, 1, 0, All engines running! Liftoff! We have a liftoff! 32 minutes past the hour, liftoff on Apollo 11!"




"This is Houston, you are GO for staging."

"Inboard cutoff."



"And ignition."

"11, Houston, thrust is GO, all engines, you're looking good."

"Roger, you're loud and clear, Houston."

"We've got skirt sep."

"Roger. We confirm. Skirt sep."

"Tower's gone."

"Roger. Tower."


As Neil Armstrong would put it: "They finally gave me a window to look out."



"And ignition."


"Ignition confirmed, thrust is GO, 11."

The S-IVB propels the CSM and LM into the initial parking orbit, and then later ignites for the TLI maneuver.


After TLI is completed, a short coast of roughly 45 minutes occurs, before the SLA panels are jettisoned, and the CSM is released, to being Transposition, Docking, and Extraction.



4 days later, on July 20th, CSM Columbia brought itself and the LM Eagle into Lunar Orbit. Neil and Buzz boarded the Lunar Module, and undocked. And beginning the descent to the surface.

However, during descent, 2 alarms were triggered, 1201 and 1202 respectively, these indicated overflows in the computer, while it was enough to raise an alarm, it ultimately posed no issue, and the landing continued.

At 20:17 UTC, or 4:17 PM local time, Lunar Module Eagle touches down on the surface of the Moon, and 6 hours later after a rest period, Neil Armstrong prepares to become the first human to set foot on the surface of the Moon.

Hundreds of millions of people were watching. At the time it was the most watched event in human history. All eyes were on NASA, and the intrepid duo of astronauts.

"Okay Neil, we can see you coming down the ladder now."

Stepping onto the lunar surface, Armstrong would utter a simple, yet profound sentence that would go down in history:

"That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind."

The quote that has inspired so many, and from it comes the name of this timeline.

Buzz would arrive on the surface about 19 minutes later, becoming the second person in history to set foot on the Lunar Surface.

The 2 would spend around 2 and a half hours on the surface, in 1 EVA, and deploy 2 fixtures on the surface. The Passive Seismic Experiment, and a laser reflector system, as well as a disc containing goodwill messages from the leaders of 73 countries.

A little under 24 hours after landing, the ascent stage of Eagle would lift off the surface of the Moon, and return to Command Module Columbia.

And on July 24th, 1969, Columbia would successfully splashdown in the Pacific Ocean, and be recovered by the aircraft carrier USS Hornet.

Walter Cronkite would deliver these remarks at the end of his hosted coverage of the splashdown.

“Well, man’s dream and a nation’s pledge have now been fulfilled. The lunar age has begun. And with it, mankind’s march outward into that endless sky from this small planet circling an insignificant star in a minor solar system on the fringe of a seemingly infinite universe. The path ahead will be long; it’s going to be arduous; it’s going to be pretty doggone costly. We may hope, but we should not believe, in the excitement of today, that the next trip or the ones to follow are going to be particularly easy. But we have begun with ‘a small step for a man, a giant leap for mankind,’ in Armstrong’s unforgettable words."


“In these eight days of the Apollo 11 mission the world was witness to not only the triumph of technology, but to the strength of man’s resolve and the persistence of his imagination. Through all times the moon has endured out there, pale and distant, determining the tides and tugging at the heart, a symbol, a beacon, a goal. Now man has prevailed. He’s landed on the moon, he’s stabbed into its crust; he’s stolen some of its soil to bring back in a tiny treasure ship to perhaps unlock some of its secrets."

“The date’s now indelible. It’s going to be remembered as long as man survives — July 20, 1969 — the day a man reached and walked on the moon. The least of us is improved by the things done by the best of us. Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins are the best of us, and they’ve led us further and higher than we ever imagined we were likely to go.”

And with that, I can say that this timeline has truly begun. Some of you may know some of the events that have already happened, but my plans for this timeline are still being formulated, and I still have a ways to go.

Thank you to all that have read so far, stay tuned for the next part which will hopefully come soon. I'll try not to leave you hanging for another 2 or 3 weeks this time.


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Back to Reality

With 165 days left on the clock, NASA had done it. They'd put not one, but 2 men on the Moon, and returned them safely to Earth, before the end of the 1960s. President Kennedy's goal had been achieved. But this wasn't a one-and-done type deal. NASA had even greater plans, that would make Apollo 11 look like the simplest of sightseeing tours. The current strategy had plans for up to Apollo 20, with increasingly more advanced missions, with at some point a new "Advanced Apollo" type of mission, leading to weeks or even months of surface time, with massive scientific returns. The funding was still there, and Congress was, at least for the next few years, willing to tolerate NASA's lunar ambitions.

Plans were already under formulation for the so-called "Phase 2", which would bring a new variant of the Saturn V, the "Block II", increasing capabilities, and allowing for up 1 week or maybe even 10 days of surface stay. But this did come at a cost, leading to other parts of the Apollo program getting severely downsized to continue the main line of lunar missions. The Apollo Applications Program was downsized into the Skylab program, however, they were left with sufficient funding to formulate plans for a much larger Skylab, building onto the current OWS design, for a large modular space station that would hopefully operate well into the 1980s.

The rest of AAP was spun-off into the Apollo Projects Agency or APA, which would coordinate what was left of AAP's funding into new projects that would utilize Apollo and Saturn hardware in some form. 

Meanwhile, for the main line lunar missions, Apollo 12 was next up on the manifest, with the crew of Pete Conrad (CDR), Alan Bean (LMP), and Richard Gordon (CMP), with CSM "Yankee Clipper" and LM "Intrepid". This would be a major upgrade over Apollo 11, carrying the full ALSEP system, and spending closer to 2 days rather than just under 1 day on the surface, with 2 much longer EVAs planned.

Apollo 12 would also be interesting because it would land incredibly close to the Surveyor 3 lander, which had landed 2 years prior in 1967. Commander Pete Conrad and Lunar Module Pilot Alan Bean would retrieve several components from this lander, and return them to Earth for study.

Apollo 12 also experienced a massive issue on liftoff, that of lightning, the launch stack was struck not once, but twice by lightning, the CSM endured most of the failures and errors due to this, although the Saturn V's IU recorded some errors within its systems.


Apollo 12 lifts off from an overcast and rainy Kennedy Space Center on November 14th, 1969.

Nevertheless, another successful mission for Apollo, just 4 months after Apollo 11. The next lunar mission was slated for the spring of 1970. 

Over in the Soviet Union. Teams had finally certified the upgrade of the NK-15 which removed the pyrotechnic valve systems, dubbed now the NK-16, and verified an improved version of KORD. As well as many other small improvements to the N-1 rocket. All systems were go, and now the second N-1 rocket lifted off from Baikonur Cosmodrome.

December 10th, 1969: The second flight of the Soviet N-1 Moon Rocket.



All systems are remaining in good shape, despite some odd readings, but tensions rise as MECO and stage separation approaches.


And it's... successful! Blok B separates and ignites, propelling the behemoth rocket further towards orbit.


However 2 engines do experience loss of pressure and are shutdown, Blok B was however designed with the capability to continue even with 2 engines out.


Blok V separates and ignites, propelling the mission into orbit, and later Blok G successfully performs TLI. The second flight of the N-1 is a success. 

The Soviet propaganda machine comes to life, detailing of the massive Soviet moon rocket, more powerful than the Saturn V (although they conveniently ignore its inferior payload capabilities), and that plans are "well underway for crewed flights and a manned lunar landing".

Issues with Blok B needed to be sorted out, and many flaws are discovered throughout the missions that nearly cause it to be a failure at several points. But Soviet engineers are optimistic that the first crewed flight can be achieved in the spring of 1970.

All of a sudden, signs of dwindling support for NASA vanish, the Soviet threat is far from gone, and NASA needs to continue with Apollo, and ensure US superiority in spaceflight.

With this, NASA ramps up its efforts for Phase 2 of Apollo, and begins conceptual design work on the so-called "Advanced Apollo", setting the stage for long-duration lunar missions, and maybe even an outpost at some point. Things are looking up for Apollo, and NASA as a whole.



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There Goes Gravity

Apollo 13 started out like any other Apollo mission, rollout, preparations, and then launch. A successful TLI and CSM Odyssey alongside LM Aquarius were bound for the Moon. Until a stir of the tanks caused an explosion in Odyssey's CSM. A rapid rescue operation ensued, considered by many to become NASA's finest hour, as they worked around the clock to safely bring the crew of Apollo 13 back to Earth. And they would succeed, on April 17th, 1970, Apollo 13 splashes down in the Pacific, having safely returned to Earth.




NASA's finest hour is over, and the scramble to resolve the issues begins. There will be no moon landings again until at least early 1971, many fear that the Soviets will have landed maybe 3 times by the time Apollo has returned to the surface. The root cause is found to be the oxygen tank and flammable insulative materials inside the SM, the redesigns are approved and built, allowing for a much safer Apollo spacecraft.


In the aftermath, NASA would make a promise that all 3 men would get to land on the surface of the Moon in future missions. Haise was already scheduled to command Apollo 19, so nothing had to be arranged. NASA was currently planning to announce an extension of Apollo, to mission #25, which would be the final Phase 2 mission, before "Advanced Apollo" began.  The primary objective now was regrouping and preparing for the return to the Moon, on Apollo 14.

Meanwhile, the Skylab program finally issued a request for designs of an "Enhanced and Improved Skylab Station". The requirement was that the existing Skylab Orbital Workshop had to be included as the primary module of the design, the rest was pretty much "go crazy". There were a handful proposed, but 2 of them specifically stood out amongst the rest.

Skylab B: An improved version of the station certainly, upgrading with a larger solar array, and the addition of 3 new modules, as well as changing to allow for the LOX tank to be converted into more habitable space rather than waste storage. But the story of how the design came to be is even more interesting, as I'll explain later.


Skylab 80, otherwise known as "Big Skylab": Just look at it, an absolute unit, and the largest proposal for an upgraded Skylab. Adding not one but 3 massive solar arrays, and several new modules. Truly an upgraded and enhanced version of Skylab. Many critics of this design appeared as soon as it was submitted, as it was seen as "unnecessary, and a waste of the budget". The Big Skylab team disagreed, arguing such a large station would provide exponentially higher capabilities for on-orbit science, and a station that could last well into the 1980s, maybe even the 1990s. The team says the station could be assembled over half a decade, with the OWS being launched first and serving as the core module, allowing for instant crewed operations, with new modules being added over time to enhance capabilities.


Skylab 80's team originally consisted of those from the now Skylab B team, but they broke off after disagreements on how large the station should be, which is why both designs have some common features, like the giant solar arrays and the large insulated research module.

The program still expects the OWS to launch sometime in late 1973/early 1974 with these designs, and the decision on an extended design has to be made before the summer of 1973.

And over in the Soviet Union, the first crewed N-1 mission takes flight.


2 Cosmonauts orbit the Moon in an Apollo 10-style rehearsal mission, before safely returning to Earth and landing in the Kazakh desert.

Many had already called it, while Apollo was grounded back on Earth, the Soviet moon program was inching ever closer to landing on the surface. It was unclear to NASA when the Soviets would actually do it, but internally, the Soviets planned for the first lunar landing in the summer of 1970.

The Space Race is far from over.


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The Red Moon

"I take this step for all of us, all peoples, all who have sacrificed so much for the Motherland. This is just the beginning, the start of exploration further, into the cosmos, for the benefit of mankind." - Alexei Leonov

They did it... 





June 19th, 1970: the Soviet Union becomes the second nation to land a man on the Moon.

"Just as we thought it was done, that we'd won, the Soviets reminded us why they are far from out of the Space Race." - New York Times on June 20th, 1970

Leonov's words, while maybe not as inspirational as Armstrong's, would go down in history, not only for what they meant, but for what they did. It was clear Apollo had to continue, no matter what, this was clear to everyone, including Congress. If the N-1's uncrewed and crewed flights being successful had ensured the safety of NASA's budget, the successful moon landing would increase it. NASA's plans would meet practically no resistance within the Congressional chambers, all for the sake of ensuring American superiority in spaceflight.

How long this wave of support would last? It depended on how long the Soviets could keep this up, because behind the curtain that Soviet propaganda created, Luna 2 (unofficial but de facto name for the Soviet moon program) was a nightmare.

The LK nearly crashed and was only saved by the calmness and skill of Leonov, and the operations on the surface themselves proved... minimal to say the least.

The Apollo Lunar Module was far larger, and allowed for far greater surface operations, while the LK could only seat 1 person, and was very compact, with little room for storage of surface hardware or experiments. So in reality, all Leonov was able to do was plant the Soviet flag, walk around a little, take some photos, and collect some rocks.

But now the stage is set, the new chapter of the Space Race has begun, not about getting to space, but utilizing it.




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Back At It Again

We take a bit of a fast forward now, to see how things have changed since the summer of 1970. It is now early 1971, as Apollo 14 is poised for launch. 289 days after Apollo 13 splashed down, the Apollo program is up and running again. CSM "Kitty Hawk" and LM "Antares" are atop the the Saturn V SA-509. 

The Crew:

CommanderAlan Shepard, the first American in space.

Command Module Pilot: Stuart Roosa

Lunar Module Pilot: Edgar Mitchell

Apollo 14 would be rerouted from it's original landing site at Littrow crater, to Apollo 13's intended landing site at Fra Mauro, as it was consider a higher priority than Littrow.

January 31st, 1971: The Return of Apollo, and the Return of Shepard



Apollo 14 would be the success NASA needed to get back on its feet, despite some issues on EVA, as Shepard and Mitchell just barely missed Cone Crater after getting somewhat lost on the surface. Despite this, Apollo was back on its feet, and a revitalization of confidence in the agency.

Meanwhile, the Soviets were dealing with their own problems. In October of 1970, Luna 3 set out towards the Moon to become the second Soviet crewed landing on the surface, however the LK's engine failed to fire for the descent maneuver, and the mission had to be aborted, both cosmonauts safely returned to Earth, but it was a clear sign that the Soviet moon program was still problematic in many ways.

The Soviets simply spun the failure as "an orbital test similar to that of our first crewed moon mission", but regardless it was a sigh of relief for America.

Luna 4 was slated for the summer of 1971, around the time of Apollo 15, but still a few weeks apart.

Meanwhile, Europe wasn't taken this whole "spaceflight revolution" lying down.

The Europeans had agreed to a collaborative launcher known as "Europa", where Britain would provide the first stage, a converted "Blue Streak" missile, the French the second stage, and the Germans the third stage, and then launched from Australia, truly a Mr. Worldwide alliance, however this project had been plagued with issues, practically all of its flights ending in failure, so a redesign is in order, from the ground up. Hopefully launching by 1975 or 1976.


A Europa 1 rocket launching on a failed test flight in 1970.

With the Space Age in full swing, who knows what is to come, but NASA is always reaching for the next goal, the next giant leap, and it's clear where that will be.



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A Lawsuit, A Moon Landing, And The Extension of Apollo

As Apollo gets back up and running, NASA is preparing for the future of the program. The branch out into Skylab will require the return of the Saturn IB, but in an upgraded form. The Saturn IB's upgraded variant, now designated the Saturn IG, will need to be more powerful with a higher payload to LEO, to allow for the delivery of modules and the planned ARV (Autonomous Resupply Vehicle). The main way this will be accomplished is getting rid of the Clustered first stage, which earned the Saturn I and IB the nickname 'Cluster's Last Stand', and replacing it with a so-called 'Monotank', or a single rigid fuel tank carrying the RP-1 and LOX propellants (there was no changing the fuels as layed out in the proposals request).

Chrysler, the original manufacturer of both the S-I and S-IB, proposed a design.

Rockwell did as well, alongside North American Aviation.

And surprisingly, Martin Marietta.

Martin Marietta's history of launch vehicles primarily was with the Air Force, they had created the Titan missiles that eventually became the launchers for Gemini and now the Titan III series.

The idea was for the new S-IG stage to use new engines, derived from the cancelled E-1 engines, and actually named the E-1, while still using hardware from the H-1 engines already used. The new monotank would be heavy, and so this engine upgrade was necessary. The tanks would be made out of aluminum, and then sprayed with a copper anti-corrosive protective layer, giving it a distinct copper color.

In the end, to everyone's surprise, NASA would select Martin Marietta to build and design the S-IG. This would prompt Chrysler to file a lawsuit, because they suspected that there was some nefarious stuff going on, because no way they could've just lost because Martin had a better design, right... right?

Within a few weeks the lawsuit was waved off, and a very disgruntled Chrysler was forced to accept that they had lost the contract.

The new S-IG would be paired up with the S-IVC, a stretched version of the S-IVB using 2 J-2S engines, an upgraded variant of the J-2. The Saturn IG would also require for MLP-3 to be modified with the structure nicknamed the "milkstool", which would hold the rocket much higher than normal so that the existing umbilicals could be modified to fuel the Saturn IG.


For all of this, NASA would have a new launch vehicle which would be the workhorse of the Skylab program.

Shortly before all of this however, Apollo 15 takes to the skies.

The first of the 'J-class' missions for Apollo, with an extended surface stay and utilizing the new Lunar Roving Vehicle. The scientific gain from the J-missions is far beyond the previous 'H-class' missions.




Meanwhile, the Soviets were now planning for Luna 4 in the fall, after many issues with the assembly of the mission's N-1 rocket.

And finally, NASA makes it official.

On August 20th, 1971, NASA officially announces the Apollo program is extended until mission 25.

In some way, NASA could thank the Soviets for getting it together, because if they hadn't, it is likely that announcement would've been a mission cancellation, rather than a program extension. 

Regardless, things continue to look good for NASA, and the future of space exploration as a whole, regardless of who is doing the exploring.

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19 minutes ago, rockettime03 said:

congrats on 1k views

Thank you!

And I'd also like to take this time to thank everyone who has read, I was optimistic but I had no idea this many people would read my alt history. The support has kept me motivated and thank you all for that support. :D

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The New Kids On The Block

As 1972 dawns, it has become clear to NASA and the USAF that some new launch vehicles are necessary. As payloads get heavier and the ambition of both groups increase, larger, more reliable, and more capable rockets are necessary for this new decade. Thus on January 2nd, 1972, NASA and the USAF announced the Future Launchers program, which would select 3 new launch vehicles for NASA and USAF purposes.

North American Aviation would submit the "Neptune" rocket, which utilized a new upper stage powered by 2 Sea Level J-2 engines, some strap-on SRBs, and Centaur as the upper stage.


Rockwell would submit a largely clean sheet design, known as Mark 1, they didn't have time to come up with a name for it. Or really give much info.

But the 3 main ones that stuck out amongst the rest were the proposals from Martin Marietta, Lockheed-Convair, and Grumman.

Martin Marietta's Hercules: Which is simply put, Tri-Core Titan III. Yes, Tri-Core Titan III. But no longer with the antiquated and old Transtage for its upper stage, now featuring the new Centaur D-1T upper stage!


i love this rocket so much

Lockheed-Convair's Atlas Centaur Heavy: Do I even need to explain? It's Tri-Core Atlas-Centaur, what's not to love?


Grumman's Valkyrie: A beautiful rocket for the launch of smaller payloads. Uses 1 LR-79 with a quad of verniers and interestingly, aerodynamic fins which have liquid-fueled verniers. The upper stage is powered by a single J-2.


By the middle of 1972, Rockwell would be eliminated. North American Aviation was eliminated in the fall, and by the end of 1972 and the start of 1973, NASA and the Air Force would select Martin Marietta, Lockheed-Convair, and Grumman for the Future Launchers Contract.

Now for Apollo, after 9 months passed since Apollo 15, Apollo 16 takes to the skies on April 16th, 1972. 

The Crew

Commander | John Young, fourth spaceflight

Command Module Pilot | Ken Mattingly, first spaceflight

Lunar Module Pilot | Charlie Duke, first spaceflight

This is the penultimate J-class mission of Apollo, before Phase II transitions to the new G-class missions. Overall the mission is a fantastic success, and discovers lunar rocks with volcanic origins, which was one of the mission's primary questions at its landing site in the Descartes Highlands.


Luna 4 also went off well for the Soviets, launching previously on November 19th, 1971, and deployed a few small science instruments at its landing site in the Mare Crisium.

But NASA is ambitious as ever, and with this massive wave of support, the time is now to be ambitious.



Edited by track
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