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Subject: There Will Be Blood: The Soviet-European Race To The Moon.1956-1970 rss

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Daniel Eig
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Huntington
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From the Spring of 1956 to the spring of 1970 the eyes of the world looked to the daring - reckless the critics would say - battle for space supremacy between the titans of Eurasia - the European Union in the west, and the Soviet Union in the East.

At the beginning, it seemed the race would be over before it even began. As their R&D teams worked furiously to develop rocket technology that had previously crept along in the half century since the Great War, the nations priorities began to diverge.

Europe showered their program with money after their Prime Minister gave a national address in '57 imploring the nation to get behind the space effort and boosting their budget to close to 100 mb. In retrospect, perhaps Europe greeted the challenge too enthusiastically as the nation demanded a multi-manned launch by the fall of '57, while their first satellite was still being prepared for launch. Humiliated that summer by admitting they could not reach Europe's expectations, they still bounced back after becoming the first nation to launch a satellite into orbit with, perhaps, a bit less stars in their eyes.

Meanwhile the Soviet's gave lip service to the effort - and then cut the program to the bone in the spring of '57 - not even 50 mc - to support their military program instead. Perhaps shaken by Europe's space fever, the money began to flow back in the fall - but only after key research scientists had begun to left.

The Soviet's launched their first satellite in the Spring, and on paper it seemed both programs were about equal - but though both spent most of 1958 researching and prepping unmanned capsules for launch the Soviet lapse in commitment still scarred the program - R&D was behind Europe's, and a crippling rocket production delay cancelled satellite launches in the fall. In Europe the lull in activity in '58 lead to more space backlash - under siege by activists Brussels reduced their budget by 20% in the Fall - for the first time the Soviets lead in budget.

The divergence in the tone of the two programs were highly apparent in '59 and '60. Perhaps with a touch of space fever still, Europe fell in love with the dashing Major Reynolds, who boldly tried to become the first man in space in his Daedalus capsule - only to be beaten by accident after accident - failed launches, a freak storm that damaged the launch facility, and a botched landing on his second sub-obital attempt - this final one leaving him so severely injured he was forced to retire. Even their "advanced" Janus two-man capsule couldn't seem to get off the ground, as a their rocket remained stuck thanks to a coolant leak - cancelling what should have been a ground breaking mission.

The Soviets, watching the roller coaster ride of Europe, opted for a slower approach emphasizing unmanned launches. Pleased with their more cautious approach, in 1960 the military gave their blessing to their manned program - transferring over 3 of their most experienced astronauts. In 1961, they decided to spend their budget on hardware after a spectacular hardware advance lead to their hardware costs that season to be slashed by half.

1961 became a year of triumph and tragedy. In Europe, Casey and Howard became the first men in space when their Janus capsule was successfully pulled from the waters of the Mediterranean. Later that Fall, Europe again celebrated as their first unmanned mission to the Moon beamed back pictures of the far side. Meanwhile the Soviet program, long focused on perfecting their unmanned capsules, was shocked when one of their most experienced astronauts died in a freak training accident.

Europe's triumph was short lived. In the Spring of '62, what should have been a routine Janus mission killed the hero's of Europe, Howard and Casey, as their capsule broke up in the atmosphere. The Janus program was halted for a complete redesign - effectively from scratch. With the Prometheus program still in development, Europe was left with only the Daedalus system - a capsule even the ESA referred to as inherently unsafe. Their unmanned program continued their string of triumphs though, and in the fall the first robotic probe landed on the surface of the Moon.

With both programs working on their two and three man capsules, as well as the robotic exploration of the solar system in 1963 - 1964 seemed like it should have been the Soviet's year. It started out well enough with their first manned launch, but budget mismanagement and R&D corruption lead to further missions being pushed back into 1965. Sickened by the slowing pace, a leading astronaut retired - a wake up call for the Soviet program. In the Fall of 65 and '66, the Soviet's sent their 3 man Soyuz into orbit several times. Times were good.

Europe too began to flex their muscles in space as well - with their busier launch schedule they pioneered both space docking and space EVA's, firsts for all of mankind.

The race to the Moon seemed to be within the grasp of both the great space faring nations... Europe so confident of their lead that they launched an audacious manned mission past the Moon. The world held their breath as Frederick, Solomon and Lubb became the first to leave Earth's orbit, and wept together as their capsule disintegrated on reentry. The Soviets seemed to have a clear path to the moon as well, but a routine docking test with their Lunar Module in earth orbit went terribly wrong, and their entire Soyuz crew died as its atmosphere vented into space.

The Europeans were forced to pull back their ambitious schedule in 1968, and planned Prometheus missions were run in Janus II capsule's. This time nothing would be left to chance - while they were committed to the Prometheus II and the Excalibur landing module blazing to the moon on a Thor rocket - they prepared to use their tried-and-true Hercules rocket with a kicker so they could do lunar tests with the Janus II craft. The Soviet's, similarly determined, had their manned program 100% focused on training and R&D for the Soyuz II - while they ran satellites past the Moon, Venus, and Mars and battletested their mighty Energia three stage rocket.

Perhaps because of their back-to-back tragedies, they had a rare moment of unity in 1969 - on the insistence of both governments they ran a joint operation - a Soyuz II docked with a Janus II craft - featuring Lt Reynolds - the younger brother of the European pioneer of the last decade.

The race was back on in the Fall. The Soviets finally landed a robotic probe on the moon, while Reynolds exorcised European demons with a successful manned Prometheus II shot past the Moon. The Soviets revealed a full calendar of Earth orbit LEM tests in the Spring of 1970, along with a manned Lunar Flyby of their own - all successful.

The Europeans upped the ante however with back to back Lunar missions - an orbital mission lead by Lt Reynolds, followed by a lunar landing on their completely untested Excalibur module. The first mission went flawlessly as Reynolds once again sailed past the moon - this time from orbit. The second mission was a nailbiter - the entire world watched in horror as the Excalibur module had a critical failure. Both astronauts worked furiously to regain control of the craft when a Fortunate Accident years before noted by a key engineer and remembered after all this time, saved them. As the Soviet controllers slumped in their seats, their triumphal program from 1970 now forgotten, Witherspoon, Consoli, and MacKenzie whipped back to Earth on an uneventful return to a hero's landing. Man had landed on the Moon under the auspices of a unified Europe.

---

Another 6-8 hour or so session spread out over many cold November and December nights, playing a few years at a time. I think if played in a single session it would be 3-4 hours. Lynne took the Soviets, I took the plucky Europeans.

We played with the "complex" (Fun!) failure chart, optional lunar module test missions in earth orbit, and semi-annual turns.

Perhaps will look into using the duration missions from BARIS next time (and the new prestige options they give for the duration steps done in orbit, as well as the orbiting space lab mission).
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Jim Dietz
United States
Sigel
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We refuse to call the game "Liftoff!" We refer to it as "Hurling Metal at the Moon"
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Tiggo Morrison
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Bridgnorth
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Wow. That is a nailbiting write-up. Much like your game I think.

Rarely do I ever have such a corpse strewn path to the Moon when I play, I much be much more cautious than you. Still, I never get there as quickly as you have done.
 
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Daniel Eig
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1969 is definitely do-able, and we were both on target for then before we got hit by fluke disasters. I even had two Fortunate Accident cards in my back pocket to get out of problems - one for the module, one for the stage-3 rocket. My plan was to only use the rocket and module once - for the final mission - at max R&D so I could get maximum usage of the cards... but even with 95%+ safety ratings for the capsules things went wrong... the charts were not with us.
 
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Steve
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Farnham
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I took to calling Europe "The European Slaughter Agency" when, on several occasions, I watched them wipe out their full roster of astronauts needing to recycle them from the beginning (luckily, they all had younger siblings). On one occasion I even watched them cycle through all 12 astronauts twice and still go on to win!

I've never achieved a successful lunar landing with so few deaths as NASA achieved historically.
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Darrell Hanning
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Jacksonville
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We will meet at the Hour of Scampering.
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I, too, refuse to call it, "Liftoff".

Instead, I prefer, "Let's Kill Some Astronauts".
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Greg Maynard
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Great writeup! Loved reading it.

Makes me want to play another game myself.

Big fan (note my avatar). Thanks.
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