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World War II
- October: Werner von Braun and his colleagues were said to have discussed disappointment with the use of the V-2 as a weapon and the potential loss of the war by Germany. Someone later denounced them for their comments and, combined with Gestapo charges of Communist sympathies and sabotage, sealed his fate.
- March 22, 1944: The unsuspecting von Braun was arrested and was taken to a Gestapo cell in Stettin, where he was imprisoned for two weeks without knowing the charges leveled against him.
- POD: Unlike OTL, Walter Dornberger and Albert Speer were unable to convince Hitler that von Braun was needed for the V-2 rocket program. von Braun was held in Gestapo custody for a month, then ordered executed by Heinrich Himmler personally. His brother Magnus von Braun, also suspected, was sent to a labor camp in Poland, where he died of typhus in October 1944.
- 1945: German scientists from the V-2 program are captured by the Russians. Though their aid in the Soviet rocket program isn't definitive, their technology, including several intact V-2 rockets greatly aid the Soviet scientists, including Sergei Korolyov.
- 1956: Pre-dating OTL's "Sputnik" by over a year, the Soviets launch an orbital satellite on July 4th, 1956 to the astonishment of the world.
Just weeks earlier in the United States, the Army Ballistic Missile Agency under General Medaris is ordered to cease work on satellites, as the Defense Department grants sole research to the Navy's "Project: Vanguard".
- 1957: In correlation with the International Geophysical Year, the Soviets launch "Sputnik-4", carrying a dog into orbit in July 1957 and later "Luna-1" which impacted on the Moon in October 1957. Khrushchev boasts "The Moon is Red!"
- In the United States, panic over the Soviet space program forces Eisenhower to push for an American satellite as quick as possible.
- The US Navy's "Vanguard" rocket is given extra funding and manpower, but from May 1957 until June 1959, the rocket fails to reach orbit and failure after failure stalk the US satellite program. Programs by the Air Force and Army are re-started, but are woefully behind even "Vanguard".
- 1958: CIA sources learn that the Soviets are initiating a manned space program, named "Vostok". Still years away from a successful satellite launch, the US initiates "Project: Hermes" and begins recruiting for seven astronauts. Meanwhile, the Soviets launch "Luna-3" which takes pictures of the far side of the Moon and launch a 2000 lbs. test vehicle with two dogs onboard and return them to Earth after a day in space.
- July 25, 1959: "Vanguard-VI" achieves orbit, becoming the first American satellite.
- August 5, 1960: August 5th, Yuri Gagarin lifts off in his "Vostok" spacecraft becoming the first human being in space. America and the West are stunned, as just four months earlier the "Hermes Seven" astronauts were introduced to the public. Gagarin's flight is followed on October 15th, by the flight of Gherman Titov, who remains in orbit for 24 hours.
- 1961: Valentina Tereshkova becomes the first woman in space onboard "Vostok-6". Meanwhile in the US, work on the Atlas rocket continues and the first "Hermes" test capsules are going through their man-ratings.
- 1962: Khrushchev happy with Korolyov's successes, agrees with Korolyov's view that the Soviet space program can "rest on their laurels" for a few years and spend time developing the "Soyuz" lunar-capable spacecraft and "Proton" rocket. (In OTL, Khrushchev keeps insisting on new "space firsts", pushing Korolyov into the risky and useless "Voskhod" series).
- 1963: John Glenn becomes the first American in space on February 9th, 1963. His flight is a simple sub-orbital and though cheered by Americans and the West, as well as decorated by President Kennedy, his flight is seen in many quarters as "sub-par" with the grandiose Soviet missions.
- Later in October, Alan Shepard becomes the first American to orbit the Earth. Shepard receives a ticker tape parade through New York. He later leaves the space program in 1964 after being diagnosed with an inner ear disease and runs for and wins a U.S. Senate seat from California. He quits politics in 1992.
- 1964: Soyuz test vehicles are launched on the new Proton rocket. Khrushchev is removed from office, and new Soviet premier Leonid Brezhnev becomes impatient with Korolyov and asks when Soviets will return to space. Korolyov schedules an orbital flight in May 1964.
- "Soyuz-1" is launched into orbit with Vladimir Komarov. Though encountering some problems with his control jets, he succeeds in docking with "Soyuz-2". Crew members are exchanged and both spacecraft return to Earth after a week in space.
- 1965: The American "Gemini" program begins, but failures in the Titan rocket push the first manned launch to 1967. Meanwhile, the Soviets suffer their first disaster in space, as "Soyuz-4" disintegrates in orbit due to a failed heat shield in May 1965. Cosmonauts Patseyev, Bykovsky and Rudenko are honored in a state funeral at the Kremlin.
- Korolyov sinks into a depression, blaming himself over the deaths of the astronauts. For a few months, rival Vladimir Chelomei takes over the Soviet space program and seeking to establish a name for himself, pushes for a "lunar pass" mission (essentially a "free return trajectory" around the Moon with no orbit, "lunar pass" would be predecessor to a lunar orbit).
- "LOK-5" launches on August 4th. Cosmonauts Pavel Belyayev and Yevgeni Khrunov circumnavigate the Moon and return to Earth safely. Unfortunately, before re-entry, a pressure valve accidentally opens, depressurizing the Soyuz cabin and killing the crew before they re-enter the atmosphere. A second state funeral occurs within months of the last.
- POD: January 5th, 1966: Sergei Korolyov goes into surgery for hemorrhoids. Unlike OTL, his weakened heart (from years in a gulag) and the botched operation do NOT kill him. He convalesces for several weeks, but returns to health and his work in mid-1966.
- 1967: Meanwhile, in the US, "Gemini-3" is launched on February 17th, with astronauts Gus Grissom and Ed White becoming the first American two-man mission. Efforts by the Americans seem hopeless in the face of Soviet progress, though the cosmonaut deaths in 1965 gave hope to the US program "catching up".
- Three more Gemini missions are launched in 1967, with "Gemini-4" becoming the first American "space walk" with astronaut Roger Chaffee leaving the confines of his capsule for 30 minutes.
- Over a year of re-design and the return of Korolyov help the Soviet program get back on schedule. In September 1967, a lunar orbital mission is launched and "LOK-Soyuz-9" orbits the Moon.
The lunar lander and the massive "N-1" rocket finish being designed and are scheduled for tests in 1968.
- 1968: Final testing of the "N-1" lunar rocket is finished and "Soyuz-10" and "Soyuz-11" finish testing of the "LK" landing vehicle in Earth orbit by December 1968.
- America has its first tragedy in space in March 1968 as the crew of "Gemini-8" (Charles Conrad, Jr. and Richard F. Gordon, Jr.) die as a result of a faulty thruster, causing them to pass out from excessive G-force. Their spacecraft remains active for almost two more weeks before the fuel cells run out. Conrad and Gordon's bodies are never recovered.
- Gemini is put on hold for six months and discussion centers on whether to drop the program and move on to the "Helios Moon Program" spacecraft on the drawing board.
- 1969: May 15th, "LOK/LK-12" orbits the Moon and its lander descends to less than 20 km above the lunar surface.
- Meanwhile the American program finally man-rates the "Helios-3" spacecraft with a seven-day mission by Neil Armstrong, Tom Stafford and Rusty Schweickart.
- July 20, 1969: Aleksei Arkhipovich Leonov steps off the ladder of "LK-13" onto the surface of the Ocean of Storms on the Moon. He proclaims "One small step for a socialist, one giant leap for the Revolution!". The Soviets have won the "Space Race".
- Four months later, Vasili Lazarev lands on the Sea of Tranquility. Meanwhile at the same moment, "Helios-5" with James Lovell, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins orbits overhead as America has its first lunar orbital mission.
- Passing "LK/LOK-14" at a distance of less than 20 miles at one point, Lovell, Aldrin, and Collins look down at the second Soviet lunar landing. Press reaction in the United States and the West is depressing and filled with a sense of futility.
- Over the next four years, the Soviets land 7 men on the Moon. Expansion of Soviet prestige allows for more countries to join in economic trade treaties with the USSR, boosting its economy. By 1975, the first "Salyut" space station is developed, and becomes a "refueling station" for expanded Soviet lunar missions. In 1979, "Lunagrad", a manned base is established with a dozen inhabitants. Svetlana Savitskaya joins the crew of "Lunagrad" in 1982, becoming the first woman on the Moon.
- Continuing success and technological advances forestall the break-up of the Soviet Union. Economic booms in the CoMEcon (Council for Mutual Economic Assistance) countries dampen support for Solidarity in Poland and the Afghanistan War never emerges. When Mikhail Gorbachev becomes Secretary of the Party in 1984, he finds a Soviet bloc prosperous with only "minor" reforms necessary.
- On March 5th, 1997, Leonid Kadeniuk, Vladimir Vasyutin, Boris Morukov and Mikhail Tyurin land on the Utopia Planetia region of Mars in "MK-Mars-1" and declare the "Red Planet is red!"
- Meanwhile, despite being less than 6 months away from their first lunar orbital test of the "Lunar Excursion Module", the American moon program is shelved by President Nixon in January 1971. Failure to reach the Moon only highlights a growing sense of despondence in the US (along with the disastrous Vietnam War). Nixon approves the "Skylab" Program, but won't entertain any further attempts at reaching the Moon.
- American prestige continues to suffer into the 80s. Reagan's election in 1984 boosts patriotism in the US and his "commitment to the future of America in space" gives some hope for a resurgence in American space exploration with the creation of a "Space Shuttle" in the late 80s, as a replacement for the aging "Helios-II" capsules.
Early 21st century
January 1st, 2000: At precisely 1:00 AM, Gorbachev holds a speech which will go down in history as the beginning of the new era in Soviet Space Program: "Comrades, as you know we have landed on the Mars. I am here to announce our dedication to exploring this strange new world. We will go boldly where no human being has gone before!"
The rest of the speech included announcement of a bold new program: The Soviets have decided to establish a "Midway Space Station" in between Earth and Mars, which will serve as a refueling and resupplying future vessels traveling from Earth to Mars, and other way around. Gorbachev has announced that the station will be established by January 1st, 2010.