Hello, tovarisch. Welcome to the U.S.S.S., where we drink vodka for breakfast. Where we cuddle our pet bears in our backyards. And where, instead of taking a morning shower, we jump in a frozen lake. Is anyone going to tell me, how on Earth we got here? When did history go so wrong? And what does the Moon has to do with all this? Should I brush up on my Russian?
Remember those wild 1950s? Russia, formerly known as Soviet Union, launched a satellite into space for the first time, followed by the launch of their first astro-dog, Laika, into orbit. Great start by the Russians. But lost some points for not bringing Laika back home safely.
The U.S. began to catch up with its own satellite, Explorer 1. They threw in the Apollo program, and a big Moon speech for good measure. It’s all or nothing. 1961, the U.S.S.R. sent the first man into space. Impressive. The U.S. team sent their first man into space. Nice. 1963, the first woman, a Russian, went to space. Beat that, NASA. 1968. Unbelievable, they’re about to set foot on the Moon. Here goes one small step for man, one giant leap for… Russia?
You heard me. I’m about to give you a history lesson. A hypothetical history lesson, in which Neil Armstrong wasn’t the first astronaut to walk on the Moon. It wouldn’t have been too bad if the U.S.S.R. had won the space race, right? How much would things really change? Well, in the spirit of the Cold War, the nation that won the space race would control the Earth. And in this alternate timeline, it was Russia who had the control button.
By the time Neil Armstrong stepped on the Moon, NASA’s funds had started to dry up. People just didn’t see why they should be paying for some far-fetched space exploration. Unlike the democratic U.S., socialist Soviet Russia wouldn’t have stopped there. They’d have had all the funds and the workforce not only to come back to the Moon multiple times, but also to establish a lunar base on it.
Sure, they’d have had to boost their computing power, even if that meant stealing some of the American technology. For the United States, the Soviets landing on the Moon would have been quite shocking. And from there, it all could go in two ways. The Americans would have had to catch up, and they’d have had to do it fast. And where would you go when the Moon was already housing communist Russians? To Mars, or course.
The next big defining moment of the space race would have been landing on Mars. It would most likely be an unmanned probe at first, maybe a satellite sent into the orbit of Mars. The Russians would have been rushing to get the first manned craft to the Martian surface. And the Americans would have had to try hard to beat their communist adversary. By the end of the 1980s, humanity might have put the first astronauts on the red planet. But who would have been the first to plant a flag on its cold surface?
Whoever that would have been, that country would claim the title of leading outer space explorer. But it wouldn’t have meant that, in the case of Russia taking the lead, the U.S. would have become a socialist state. Or that the whole world would speak Russian. It probably wouldn’t hurt to have a Russian-English phrasebook, just in case. There are only so many places you can send humans to explore relatively safely. The majority of outer space would be studied through unmanned probes.
The tight space race would have resulted in all technology developing at a much faster rate. And by the 2020s, we could be taking vacations on the Moon, and on Mars. That is, if things hadn’t taken a different turn after the first Moon landing. Alternatively, after the Russians had beaten the U.S. to landing on the lunar surface, the U.S. could have admitted their loss and stepped back. If the Americans hadn’t become the first in space, why bother paying to be the second?
As the Russians lost their primary challenger, they could have lost interest in space travel altogether. And in that case, the alternative history wouldn’t be much different from what it is today. But while these two titans were caught up in their contentious relationship, they could have missed what some other countries were up to.
- “What Was The Space Race?“. Mann, Adam. 2019. Space.Com.
- “What If The Soviet Union Had Beaten The US To The Moon?“. 2020. BBC News.
- “What would have happened if the Soviets landed the first man on the moon?“.2020. Usatoday.Com.
- “What If The Soviets Beat NASA To The Moon? Apple’S New Show Reimagines The Space Race“. 2019. Popular Mechanics.
- “How Many Times Has the U.S. Landed on the Moon? “. 2020. History.Com.
- “How The Soviets Won The Space Race For Equality“. 2020. Nytimes.Com.