Starting in the Spring of 1957, and only ending in the Spring of 1969, the space race was hard fought between the United States of America - leader of the Free World, and the Empire of Japan - leader of the East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere.
From the beginning of the space race, clear differences already became apparent. The US, launching their space program with a major media blitz and an impassioned speech by their president, had a budget of 90 megabucks a year, quickly zooming to over 110 MB by '57. While the Japanese, after a small bump in media exposure in '56, decided to pull money from the program in '57 for the military - leaving the program at an impoverished 45 MB budget in the fall of that year.
But despite the glaring gap in budgets - research and launches soon began. The Japanese - poor in cash, but bold in spirit - became the first program to launch a satellite into space in the Spring of 1957. The US, followed with its first satellite in the Fall. The Space Race was on.
Here the trajectory of both nations began to radically diverge. While both nations worked furiously to ready their single person capsules, the US chose to focus its research money on a two stage rocket ("atlas"), while the Japanese chose to save their money, and instead focus on improving their single stage Sha Goo rocket with more economical strap on boosters instead.
Widening the huge MG budget advantage in the Spring of '59, the US became the first nation to launch a person into Space - Lt Jackson, while a month later the Japanese launched Capt Kubo.
Fate can be fickle however. In the Spring of 1960 the US was losing the publics interest with its new push into robotic space exploration - NASA's huge budget was slashed. A demoralized space agency then entered the fall of '60 with a a crippling R&D setback with their next generation of capsules, the Gemini. They closed the year with a triumph though - Lt Jackson bravely boarded a Mercury capsule to become the first Man to Orbit the Earth.
Meanwhile the Japanese two man capsule, Futari, roared off the pad for a sub orbital flight on a humble, boosted, Sha Goo in 1960. Pleased with the positive attention JASA's budget was boosted by the government to near NASA levels - with the caveat that their next launch be manned (leading to the near disastrous, failed orbital attempt of Cpt Kubo in the Fall).
1961 would be a year of tragedies and firsts on both sides of the Pacific. In Japan, the public mourned the loss of the first Asian in space - Captain Kubo - killed in a training accident mere months after he and Asao launched on Japan's first successful Orbital mission.
America after celebrating their first probe to photograph Mars, found itself pushing too hard to catch the achievements of the Japanese Futara. In the Fall of 1961, the first Man in Space, Lt Jackson, and his copilot, Lt Whittle died in the tragic Gemini III orbital mission. It would be over two years before America dared to send a man into space again.
The next few years found the two space powers focusing on their strengths. America launched unmanned probes to explore Venus and the Moon, culminating with a probe landing on the Moon itself in 1964. Its R&D program began to look towards the future, beginning to design a two man lunar module, and three man capsule.
Japan focused on perfecting its manned space program. Performing its first manned docking in 1962, and EVA in 1963. JASA's budget swelled, matching NASA's at 124 MB in 1963. Of course, not everything went JASA's way. Its reliance on a single rocket type proved dangerous in 1962, when a test failure showed how much more dangerous the Sha Goo was (JASA continued to fly it anyway, believing the safe strap on boosters would balance it out). In 1963 JASA's most experience astronaut, Asao, was killed in a tragic car accident.
Still - Japan pushed forwared - with its new found cash, JASA began to play catch-up with the US by branching out into two stage Sakura rockets and developing its own robotic probe program (which flew by the moon in time to witness the second American Ranger landing in the fall of 1964). It also dared to blaze a path of its own, by beginning to research the Nezumi shuttle even as the manned US Gemini relaunched in 1964 - with unmanned Apollo soon to follow.
1965/66 the US pushed ahead - perfecting the orbital docking, EVAs, declaring the moon fully mapped - even testing its Lunar Module in orbit in the spring of 1966. With the Apollo ramping up for manned testing in 1967, it even began to feel confident.
Meanwhile in Japan, the shuttle program was still not even ready for unmanned launches, and its own lunar module was still beginning. Its semi-annual orbital, EVA, docking missions were boosts to its prestige, but it was in danger of losing the big prize.
NASA's confidence proved misplaced though. Despite its recent successful Apollo orbital test, the new US president ordered NASA funds shifted to social programs - no doubt a reaction to its stalled progress over the past few years - lowering its budget to levels not seen since the 50's.
Japan, sensing opportunities to steal the spotlight, pushed ahead with its shuttle program. Unmanned and manned suborbital flights in the Spring, and orbital flights in the Fall. The US, crippled by budget cuts, chose to reduce its flights in favor of a sustained push in 1968,.
Japan stole the spotlight again in the Spring of '68 with a brazen, manned, lunar shuttle flyby - a risky move considering that it hadn't even developed a unmanned lander yet. The eyes of the world turned to the mission as it passed the moon, only to develop communication problems as it reentered earths orbit. But with its experience astronaut crew, the shuttle regained control - landing in Japan before a stunned world.
In the Fall both programs pushed again to gain the lead. The Japanese launched first, trying to close the lunar gap with a rushed manned lunar orbital module test. NASA's mission control in southern California was used to tough missions - but Apollo II was a nail biter. Barely tested compared to the Japanese Shuttle, with a crew lacking the experience of the Japanese space veterans, they found themselves unable to cope with an emergency in trans-lunar space - the crew perished with no hope of rescue.
As NASA tried to regroup in the Spring of 1969, Japan pushed the envelope again - deciding to go ahead with a manned lunar landing - despite its lunar module not even finishing the full R&D program, and its lunar mapping at only 90%. In the end, it wasn't ever at risk as Nakazamo became the first Man to Walk on the Moon - the final triumph of Japan's space program.
The game ended up taking somewhere around six to eight hours, spread over half a dozen days, many lit by candlelight thanks to Hurricane Sandy. I played Japan, the US was played by Lynne.
We played with the "simple" failure chart, optional lunar module test missions in earth orbit, and semi-annual turns.
As mentioned above, Lynne had the budget lead in the beginning (she drew a card with a big boost, I got a card with a big hit) - but I was able to close the gap - and my differing path of research paid off. In the end I was clearing over 150 MB a turn, while she was hit with her own bad budget event towards the end, and scraped by at just over a 100 towards the end.
I played risky by skipping the robotic lunar steps (and only researching the landing module to 82%), but with my astronaut corp boasting multiple members at max (7 mission) experience, and with a shuttle at 98% safety, I felt it was manageable.