In 1957, NASA launches Project Achilles. Named after the invulnerable warrior from Greek legend, Achilles is intended to find a way to make the U.S. invulnerable to Soviet ICBM attack. Privately, some space agency staff consider the name ill-chosen, as Achilles the warrior, infamously, had a fatal weakness. Cynically, they suggest the project's real purpose is to make the space agency invulnerable to budget cuts.
In 1957, NASA launches Explorer I, its first satellite to be placed into orbit as part of the International Geophysical Year. Explorer carries an instrument package which detects the presence of previously unsuspected belts of ionizing radiation around the Earth. The radiation belts are an unwelcome surprise. Their discovery raises fears that humans may not be able to survive trips beyond low Earth orbit, as passage through the radiation fields might prove fatal. Science fiction movie writers will seize on this finding to produce a number of bad films featuring humans and other earthly creatures transformed into monsters by traveling through this radiation. The same idea is used in comic books, where it inspires the creation of the giant gorilla 'Titano the Super-Ape,' a gigantic mutated chimpanzee with death-dealing radioactive vision.
In 1969, Soviet cosmonaut Alexei Leonov becomes the first human being to set foot on the moon, planting a hammer-and-sickle flag in the Sea of Tranquility along with a plaque bearing the image of Soviet premier Leonid Brezhnev and the inscription (in Russian), "The earth is the cradle of mankind. But one cannot stay in the cradle forever". The words are quoted from Russian space visionary Konstantin Tsiolkovsky.
|Gerard K. O'Neill|
In the United States, there is consternation. The frantic acceleration of the U.S. lunar landing program ordered by President Lyndon Johnson following the Soviets' successful lunar orbit mission in November 1967 has failed to get America to the moon before the Russians. The nation which launched the first artificial satellite, on Nov. 24, 1954, has now seen its geopolitical rival outrun it in the so-called 'space race.'
As recriminations fly, some begin looking about for a new goal which will allow the United States to retake the initiative. One proposal is to continue the U.S. moon program with the goal of establishing a permanent human presence there after a successful landing is achieved. Another, from Dr. Gerard K. O'Neill, is the construction of factories and residential colonies in orbit, in the so-called 'L-5' region where the gravities of Earth and the moon exactly cancel out. Dr. O?Neill notes that in this region, little or no fuel would have to be expended to keep an installation from drifting out of orbit, and that the microgravity conditions would lend themselves to a variety of specialized manufacturing efforts difficult to carry out on Earth. Still another suggestion is that the U.S. refocus its efforts toward a Mars landing, for perhaps sometime in the early 1980s.
In 1968, Richard Milhous Nixon is elected the 37th president of the United States of America, narrowly defeating Vice-President Hubert Horatio Humphrey.
Nixon's victory is attributed to a pervasive sense that under the Democrats, the country has been moving in the wrong direction. The escalating opposition to the Vietnam War is one factor; another is the sense that America, which has grown accustomed to thinking of itself as leading the world in science and technology, is falling behind in those areas.
The successful lunar orbit of the previous Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 23, 1967, had been overshadowed by the Soviet orbital mission of three weeks earlier, pointing up the way in which the U.S. has lost the early lead in space it achieved by launching the orbital sateliite Mickey in November 1954.
In his victory speech, Nixon deliberately quotes his hated rival John F. Kennedy, promising to "get America moving again".
In 1975, an attempted docking between a U.S. Apollo spacecraft and a Soviet Soyuz went wrong, resulting in an orbital collision killing everyone aboard both vessels.
Watch the Youtube Clip
The tragedy dealt the U.S. space program a blow from which it would never recover. In the aftermath, those who had been arguing that putting humans into space was a dangerous and pointless stunt would prevail in Washington, leading, among other things, to the abandonment of the ongoing Space Shuttle program, launched by President Nixon soon after the first moon landings. A single shuttle, named the Enterprise thanks to a lobbying campaign by fans of the television series Star Trek, would be built and would fly cross-country on the back of a cargo jetliner, but it would never go into space. The U.S. would continue to send unmanned probes into space, but with decreasing frequency as public interest in the space program waned.
Apollo-Suyuz Tragedy by Eric LippsThe Soviets would continue to send men into space for years, but the increasing fragility of their economy and political system would lead them, too, to abandon manned spaceflight by the early 1980s. Buran, the proposed Soviet version of the Space Shuttle, would never make it off the drawing boards.
In the 1990s, Japan and China would reignite the space race with their own first successful manned orbital launches. By then, however, the Soviet Union would have collapsed and its successor, the Commonwealth of Independent States, would be far too preoccupied with fending off complete economic collapse to think of resuming its own program. As for the United States, while a vocal minority continued to call for a resumption of manned spaceflight, most space scientists favored automated missions as faster, cheaper and better. "Cheaper" was without doubt the most important priority: year after year, NASA would face either stagnant or declining budgets, forcing the elimination of one program after another. Some space advocates insisted that private enterprise would step in - someday - and open a new Space Age far beyond what the government-run space program had achieved, but efforts in that direction have been slow to progress. If anything, advances in cable and fiber-optic transmission threaten to undermine one of the few remaining justifications even for unmanned orbital launches, the lofting of communications satellites. Only the space efforts of the military and intelligence establishments have so far remained vigorous, as there is presently no substitute for the observation satellites they maintain in low Earth orbit.
In 1991, on this day Iraqi Dictator Saddam Husseini caught Coalition Forces by complete surprise when his Special Forces launched a wave of mobile Scud Missiles at the North African bases of the Anglo-French Project Hermes space program.
A teaser by Ed & Chris OakleyDue to complex long-standing interests in the Middle East, and a history of independent thinking, the French Government had steadfastly refused to provide Ground Forces to support the US-led alliance. And yet after much persuasion, George Bush had finally convinced François Mitterand to participate in the Coalition of the Willing. Because of the advanced capabilities of her Space Platforms, France was able to assist the Allies with satellite surveillance of Scud missile deployments deep in the Iraqi desert.
Unfortunately for the West, those satellites had been launched from bases in the former French colony of Algeria. And when Iraq struck back with an anti-imperialist blow that resonated on the "Arab Street", he created a dangerous rupture at the heart of the Christian-Islamic alliance against Saddam's rule. More of a propaganda blow rather than a potent military strike, the operation would create huge problems at a key moment when Operation Desert Storm was "running on rails".
You can read read all parts of Chris Oakley's timeline at Aux Etoiles! at Changing the Times Magazine.
In 1997, the following story was released by the Associated Press: City Found on Mars
City Found on Mars
written by Eric LippsWASHINGTON - Stunning proof of the existence of extraterrestrial intelligence was released today by NASA. According to NASA chief Dan Goldin, the Viking II probe dispatched to Mars in May 1996 has sent back unmistakable evidence that the Red Planet was once inhabited.
Exclusive photographs obtained by the Conspirer clearly show the ruins of a massive city. NASA sources insist there is no possibility that these formations are of natural origin. In addition, the Conspirer has learned that the Martian ruins show evidence of radioactivity well above the "background" level for the portion of the Martian surface where they were found. Experts speculate that this may mean the city was destroyed by nuclear weapons.
Dr. Goldin told this reporter that he has urged President Clinton to ask Congress for an immediate increase in NASA's budget to pay for a program of manned Mars exploration. He indicated that he had advised the President to press for long-term funding aimed at establishing a permanent human presence on Mars to study the ruins and look for other evidence of alien visitors. "When we went to the moon," he said, "we made a mistake: once we got there, we just turned around and left. It's as if Columbus had landed in the New World, poked around a little, and gone home - and nobody had ever come back. We need to do better with Mars, especially since we've found proof of extraterrestrial intelligence there".
Dr. Goldin was asked whether he believed there were any living Martians. He responded that he believed there had probably never been any true "Martians" - the aliens who built the city, he said, were almost certainly space travelers from some other world. Asked where such travelers might have come from, the NASA administrator said he had "no way of knowing at this time," but believed they most probably came from some planet in another solar system. "Other than Earth," he noted, "there is no place in our solar system known to be capable of naturally sustaining life".
Questioned as to whether the creatures who built the Martian city might be responsible for such things as UFO sightings in modern times, a visibly-irritated Dr. Goldin flatly denied the possibility. "There has never been the slightest evidence that UFOs, or flying saucers, or whatever you want to call them, are extraterrestrial spacecraft," he stated. "And even if there had been, there would in all probability be no connection with the Martian relics". Dr. Goldin noted that preliminary indications are that the city had been constructed at least half a million years ago, and may have been abandoned for hundreds of thousands of years. When asked by this reporter what might be found in the city, Dr. Goldin said that the most likely discoveries had to do with the aliens themselves: what they looked like, what their biology was like, and - if enough artifacts remained intact - something of what their civilization was like. He cautioned, however, that any major findings would most likely take years, even after people arrived on Mars to search first hand, one reason he had asked the President to press for establishment of a permanent Mars base.
The "Mars Underground" Speaks
Dr. Robert Zubrin, noted physicist and vigorous advocate of Martian exploration, held a press conference following NASA's announcement to call for an immediate effort to send humans to Mars as soon as possible.
Dr. Zubrin is a long-time member of the so-called "Mars Underground" - an informal alliance of scientists who lobby for intensive Mars exploration. He is best noted for having proposed an innovative "live off the land" approach to a manned Mars mission which, he says, would make a manned mission possible within ten years at a cost of $10-$20 billion overall. (By contrast, NASA estimates run upwards from $180 billion.) Dr. Zubrin relies on use of advanced technologies to manufacture fuel and oxygen for the return voyage on Mars itself, rather than carrying them from Earth (which greatly increases the weight of the spacecraft and therefore the total fuel required).
In 1967, on the fiftieth anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution, a three-man Soviet crew orbits the moon.
Two of the astronauts read out parts from the concluding dialogue of H.G. Wells' Things to Come, which featured a lunar-orbit mission. (Wells, although not a Communist, was an avowed socialist and so "respectable " to the Soviet regime.)LBJ Orders NASA to do what you have to doIn the U.S., there is near-panic at the USSR's achievement. America had launched the first artificial satellite, Mickey, on Nov. 24, 1954, as the culmination of the Minimal Orbital Unmanned Satellite of Earth (MOUSE) project under the leadership of Dr. S. Fred Singer and Wernher von Brain, but now it appears that the Soviets not only have caught up but may actually be positioning themselves to score a huge propaganda coup by placing the first man on the moon.
President Johnson orders NASA Administrator James E. Webb to "do what you have to " to beat the "Reds " to the moon. When Webb protests that accelerating the lunar program risks compromising NASA's rigid safety standards, to Johnson responds, "You boys bill space as the final frontier, don't you? Nobody ever settled a frontier by waiting till everything was set up all safe and tidy ".
In 1995, on this day Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin (pictured) was attacked and gravely wounded by a militant Jewish law student linked to far-right groups enraged at Rabin's attempts at negotiation with the Palestine Liberation Organization.
Rabin Assassination Attempt Backfires by Eric LippsThe failed assassination provoked a crisis within the Israeli government, weakening the right and strengthening both Rabin and peace factions within the Knesset. It played a significant role in Rabin's victory over hard-liner Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel's May 1996 elections.
In 1985, on this day the United States landed a man on Mars, right on schedule.
Triumph to TriumphThe NASA space program had moved from triumph to triumph since the moon landings in the late sixties and early seventies, and the building of a working space station in 1973 had laid the groundwork for travel to other worlds within the solar system.
Gary Davis, the first man on Mars, had been a teenager during the moon landings, and remembered vividly the sight of Jim Lovell walking on the moon during the successful Apollo 13 mission; it had inspired him to become an astronaut himself in America's thriving astronaut corps.
© Today in Alternate History, 2013-. All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.