While considered a major part of Cold War relations, the Space Race - the competition to gain economic and military supremacy over outer space - is just as much a scientific venture. While it began as a heated and sometimes volatile faceoff between the United States and French Empire, it has recently turned into a multinational affair, often with different countries working together in unusual harmony to reach for the stars.
Early Space Race: 1950's and Le Voyage Craft
In 1952, Emperor Sebastien Bonaparte called for a massive summit of the Empire's leading scientific leaders at that time - among them, German rocket scientist Werner von Braun, famed Jewish physicist Albert Einstein, and Russian chemist Sergei Dmitrov. The Scientific Conference of 1952 in Paris was marketed to the world as an exposition of modern science, medicine and technology - but, like most Sebastienite "conferences" that he championed to the world, there were significant backroom meetings held in secrecy by the Emperor and his inner council.
Sebastien had four main points to bring up at the conference. First, he wanted to develop a powerful and portable data processing machine - an improvement over the early, cumbersome computer. Secondly, he wanted to develop a nation-wide color TV broadcasting service, to be fully operational by 1972. Third, he wanted to develop a powerful explosive using the proposed theory of atomic fission - in 1959, this dream would be realized in the form of the atomic bomb. Finally, he wanted to pioneer rocket technology to deliver weapons and personnel through the upper atmosphere - in other words, a space program.
It came down to von Braun to take charge on the space program. He formed the Departemente Extraterre, an agency that would develop the means to deliver payloads from one side of the Empire to the other via atmospheric rockets. While this was in some form a precursor to ICBM missile technology that would be developed in the 1970's, von Braun envisioned firing rockets through the sky from Moscow to Paris, carrying passengers from one city to another in mere minutes.
Long-distance atmospheric rocket tests proved futile throughout the early 1950's; not only that, it sparked the interest of the Americans and the Chinese, who feared that the French were building missiles aimed directly at targets in their countries and could deliver long-distance explosives.
Alongside the atmospheric rocket system, the French scientists devised a probe device that was equipped with a camera and could pick up radio signals from Earth - the plan was to launch the device, nicknamed Le Petit Frere, into space, let it orbit the earth and collect the pictures of Earth from space transmitted back. Sebastien learned of this project in 1955, and since the probe was already more or less built, he approved for the experiment, and two just like it, to be carried out the next year.
So it was then in 1956 that Le Voyage occurred - three unmanned probes, Les Petis Uns, Deux and Trois - staged unmanned flights through space, taking pictures of the Earth's atmosphere and the world from orbit. The achievement was scientific and political - Americans feared French spy probes soaring over their skies, and perhaps even one day spacecraft that could drop bombs from outer space.
France would stage numerous similar missions throughout the late Fifties, until their launch of Eveline the dog into space - the animal somehow miraculously survived inside her pod in the 1959 flight, suggesting the same could be done for humans.
The Competition Picks Up 1960-1980
American Space Program (NASA)
Following the detonation of the first nuclear weapons in 1959 by the French Empire, American President Tommie Sullivan's position was as good as over. The National Party was up in arms and a hawkish, fearful attitude permeated the country. Still, he realized that the best deterrent against France was to build a detterent to their space and missile technology efforts. To do this, Sullivan formed the National Aeronautic and Space Administration in 1960, declaring that by 1970, America would put a man in space.
The technology for a manned spaceflight was not far off - France was planning a flight of their own - but America was starting largely from scratch. And they were not the only country interested in a national space program - Japan saw the French Le Voyage program as a threat as well, especially if the unmanned craft were armed with atomic bombs. The Hinji program began in 1961 as a buffer against the French space program
French Trial and Error
On January 1st, 1960, Sebastien hailed the launch of Imperial I, the first manned mission to outer space. The launch pad for the rocket was in a remote Russian field, and the pilot of the probe, Major Albert Reiche, was ready for his coronation as a national hero. He was going to be the first man launched into space. His probe was going to land in Africa, as arranged, at the end of his seven-hour flight.
Yet mere seconds after the impressive rocket launched, every citizen in the Empire watching the event on television sat in stunned horror as the rocket flew sideways, partially exploded in midair and then crashed into a buidling with nearly twenty scientists manning the launch inside. Reiche and twenty-one others died in the massive explosion, which "shook the earth for miles". Von Braun retired in disgrace following the incident and died shortly thereafter.