I’ve finished writing up my story of the denizens of the Astoria, Oregon boarding house, weighing in at 17,000 words, which I will release sometime later this year; on Christmas Night 1941 they see live on their television the first manned mission to outer space, an orbital flight. Obviously this takes place in an alternate history. In my universe this work is something of a prequel to “Wings of Fire”, my previous story depicting the first lunar landing, Artemis 1, in 1949, extending into 1950 due to being stranded on the Moon for 2 months at a stretch (see here for some worldbuilding work I did for that, as well as here on some thoughts for a sequel).
An unplanned stint, at that! An accident a la Apollo 13 but much worse compels the command module to return to Earth without the lunar module, which is resupplied from Earth until Artemis 2 can be launched as a rescue mission. Much of the hardware, such as an unpressurized solar-powered manned lunar rover and space-rated spelunking gear, intended to be sent on later missions is instead advanced to Artemis 1, and they take the opportunity to do a multi-day EVA on the rover to Kepler crater, exploring the lunar lava tubes much earlier in the Artemis program than anticipated.
Further Adventures with the Moon Landing Program?
At the end of “Wings of Fire”, one of the cosmonauts urges them on to Artemis 3 and further adventures, but I’ve been recently wondering: what exactly would that look like? I had it in my head that given that extensive unmanned lunar surveys had been completed, they have most likely discovered how interesting a destination the lunar poles are by the time 1950 rolls around, and it seems likely this has been selected as a landing site for later missions. Artemis 1 landed at an equatorial site on gentle terrain (the Sea of Storms) due to it being easier to access and not wanting to push their luck too much the first go-round (similar logic compelled the Sea of Tranquility to be the destination for Apollo 11; indeed, the Sea of Storms was one of the runner-up sites for Apollo 11 in real life!).
I can’t help but wonder if, given that Artemis 1 ended up demonstrating the capability to sustain a human presence on the Moon through multiple lunar days and nights, and the capability to do long-distance drives over rougher more mountainous terrain, as well as the capability to do a “lunar surface rendezvous” mission mode, the Verein für Raumschiffahrt might accelerate their plans and do something much bolder already for Artemis 3.
Artemis 3 might not launch for a while; they’ve already done 2 launches in 2 months, and the Apollo program after the initial flurry of activity seemed to have had a launch cadence of twice a year. So Artemis 3 might not be until later in 1950 or even in 1951. To maximize the value they get out of it, though, they might just send Artemis 3 for a long-duration stint, perhaps 6 months, at the lunar south pole, with a separate launch previously delivering a habitat module for the astronauts along with equipment (such as a rover and drilling rigs) and supplies (such as food, water, and air). Artemis 4 and subsequent crew missions would be oriented toward rotating the personnel of this outpost as well as manning new outposts in other regions of the Moon that might be of interest. Cargo missions would be focused on establishing new outposts and expanding existing outposts. Eventually they’ll be expanded into true towns, with industries of their own and people who settle there permanently, true lunar colonies.
Beyond that the vision gets hazy. I’m assuming lunar landers will be made reusable at some point, so as to not have to manufacture new landers for each mission and lug up that mass from Earth. These landers could just be taken to lunar orbit to mate with a command module and then back down to the surface, in the case of a rotation of base crews, or be brought in from Earth to the lunar surface and then taken to a suitable parking orbit, either in lunar orbit or Earth orbit.
Of Competition and Upgrades
This will all likely consume the VfR’s resources through the 1950s, allowing the Russian initiative, led by Sergei Korolev and patronized by Oleg Losev, to leap ahead to Mars by mastering the craft of long-term deep-space stations and gathering data and experience from unmanned missions to the Red Planet. Canonically in my timeline they’re the first to land there in 1963, one-upping the Germans having been first to space in 1941 and first to the Moon in 1949, though all three of these races were fairly close, the feats duplicated by at least one competitor within a few years.
A possibility for eventual upgrade of the lunar mission stack is to loft a large Skylab-like module with a fuel tank, functioning as a space tug, and put it on a lunar cycler orbit, where a large mother ship could maintain itself in a trajectory enabling access to both worlds from low orbits for minimal fuel once it’s established, with only relatively small command and lunar modules flitting from there to Earth or the Moon.
There’s a great deal of synergy in the idea of the Russians developing such a craft in the 1950s, perhaps as an extension of their earlier efforts at low-orbit space stations, and then letting the Germans hitch rides on it for the right price. It wouldn’t even be the first time the rivals have cooperated; in the first human spaceflight in 1941 the Russian space initiative let the Germans use their first-in-the-world Molniya satellite communications network to broadcast the live stream to the world and to relay telemetry from their spacecraft.
I honestly feel there’s a whole rich history to be explored in these early spaceflights. The Germans and Russians are clearly ahead in the first few decades, generally speaking, but already canonically it’s mentioned that Argentina lofted the first space telescope in 1948, so other countries’ initiatives are making a mark too even during this period. By 1949 Inigo Sturm mentions that the Americans are right behind the Russians, the British and Japanese were jumping in, and there was a lot of buzz that China was going to seriously ramp up a program. There are a lot of firsts, not to mention twists and turns, when it comes to spaceflight that remain a blank page in my timeline, and it might be an interesting part of my alternate history to explore. Even after writing two novellas on it I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface. Hmm…more worldbuilding work is in order I think.