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Welcome to the Legends of Man. A timeline of a history that could have had been. A future of a world that people of the 1960s, such as Freeman Dyson, had imagined, coupled with current technological understanding and how the world could have been had history in technology taken a different course. This is the Torched Sun. And the beginning of the Legends of Man.
Point of Divergence
The Birth of Project: Orion
It all started in 1958 CE. The idea however, originated a year after the end of WWII with Stanislaw Ulam. The concept was simple: use nuclear technology to propel spacecraft across the distances of space. The research program was called Project: Orion. It started out in General Atomics in 1958 under Ted Taylor and Freeman Dyson. They helped to make the dream of nuclear pulse propulsion a reality. However, it was not an immediate thing. It took them over 33 years of research papers, test flights, and construction time to finally launch the first Orion spacecraft. But things did not always go according to plan. NASA had other plans such as Apollo, and the Air Force was interested, not in exploration but in military use. This would be the birth of a new age of space exploration, unknown to both Taylor and Dyson.
Desperation and Loss
2 years into the project, Nixon had won the 1960 US presidential elections, and Nixon had been prepared to beat the Russians at any cost. History on Earth changed, with the Bay of Pigs Invasion taking a success and Fidel Castro being overthrown. In Asia though, the States opened up to China in an attempt to take advantage of the Sino-Soviet split, Nixon enacted environmental policies that would shape how people view the environment and the Civil Rights Movement actually ended up gaining more track by the minute as he passed civil rights legislation. But this all happened throughout the entire administration that Nixon would hold. How this affected Project: Orion was a different story. He wanted to challenge the Russians and keep them out. And so, the Program had additional funding when the US Air Force presented him with the Battleship Orion variant. The US was lagging behind in the Space Race. They needed a solution, and they were still lagging behind, consider the increasingly concerning development of the N-1 rocket (the ATL design is actually a very different design in terms of fuel structure, and in fuel terms more like the OTL Saturn V). Also the States needed a way to make space a deterrent. He accepted, and the Program continued their research and testing for 28 years, as history began to diverge. By the time the Project was successfully complete, it was already too late. The Russians had beat the States to the Moon and despite the states landing 5 years later around 1973, the Russians were already racing to grab the Red Planet.
The Solar Game and the New Cold War
The US was not going to allow the Russians to reach Mars, and even research to get there would take years. NERVA and Project: Orion were already in competition for the US propulsion method, and much to Congress' surprise, Project: Orion finished first, and the humanity's first nuclear pulse spacecraft finally launched on August 5, 1994, and soon within 4.1 months, America hit the first human on Mars. Of course, the USSR only postponed collapse with its Moon Lannding in 1968, and the reforms that Mikail Gorbachev had done in terms of economics (in ATL, he never did his political reforms for reasons I will explain in the timeline). However, the rise of Orion spacecraft also gave the US Air Force a bit of a restructuring and soon became the US Aerospace Force as the first military Orion spacecraft were launched. This move terrified the Soviet Union, but it only gave them the motivation to create their own Orion spacecraft and quickly formed the Soviet Cosmos Command (CKK). Soon, the first generation of space warfare had reached the Earth-Moon system and whether this is good or bad laid in the hands of history to decide, all while allowing a race to claim the Solar System. Tensions are now at the tipping point and with the world's nuclear arsenals prepped and ready to fire and several dozen nuclear pulse spacecraft all over the Earth-Moon system preparing to open fire, it is only a matter of time..................................................................