Apollo 19 (working title): Part I

Accidentally cross-posted this to my Liber Verendus blog lol…no idea how that happened. O.o

December 8, 1973. Houston, Texas. Advent 1973 was a time of turmoil within NASA and her ranks of barely controllable, rarely controlled test pilots. The original scheme of the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project – an orbital shot docking an Apollo CSM and a Soyuz spacecraft sometime in 1975 – had been expanded somewhat radically. Talks for the project between US and Russian factions had begun in 1969, the year the Soviets lost the Moon race…one of the suits at NASA had had a radical idea. Why not offer the Soviets a LM pilot slot on one of the last three missions? This would improve relations drastically, giving the Soviets a booby prize for the whole last decade of work…the space race would end in a relative tie, and a Soviet flag could even fly on the Moon…but it would do so by the good graces, technological expertise, and taxpayer money of the American people! On paper, it was a genius plan. The Russian government, which by the time the decision was made in 1971 had shelved their rather execrable N1 heavy booster and their lunar program with it, enthusiastically agreed. Cosmonaut selection had proceeded quickly, picking a guy who knew English well, had good people skills, could fly like an ace, and who could be trusted to support the Communist agenda despite being paraded before the American people as an Apollo astronaut of sorts and training – bunking – breaking bread with the American military test pilots living in Houston for a number of years.

Jack Fuller was less than enthused. One of the aforementioned American test pilots, he had an extensive Air Force background…he was a signals/intel man who had joined the test pilot school under Yeager and nearly made selection for both Dynasoar and MOL. Lacking these military programs, he was an Apollo astronaut…it was hardly F-86 dogfights over Korea, but it was something. And it made his blood sing with the thrill of flight…they called him Lightning. Like Fulgur…it was an old classmate’s nickname, a far dweebier type…and the name had stuck. Jack Fuller was lightning from heaven, and he knew it.

Unfortunately, Alexei Zaryov did not know it. And the LM simulator for Apollo 19 was beginning to get a bit crowded, much like Germany circa 1946…

“Houston, Stalingrad here…we are go for descent burn.” Zaryov’s English was surprisingly good, though still peppered with a touch of Russian accent…the words rolled off his practiced lips in a way that Fuller found all too reminiscent of a Bond villain’s voice. The LM name didn’t sit well with him, either…the brass had informed him and command module pilot Conley (the first female astronaut, in a likely attempt to upstage the LMP THEY had agreed to, Jack figured) that the agreement was that Zaryov could name the LM. This way, Russia would have more “stake” in the mission…out of respect, perhaps Nobility, Alexei had named it after something somewhat neutral. Jack hated it, but he could see the worth in Stalingrad’s defenders…he wasn’t dumb.

“All right, Stalingrad…godspeed.” The CAPCOM for this sim, a Mick Butler, didn’t like the name either, from the sound of it.

“See ya soon,” Robin Conley said amicably. Dang woman was probably a Russian spy, mused Fuller. She actually LIKED Zaryov. It had not yet occurred to Fuller to wonder why SHE was the CMP, while NASA’s biggest, angriest, lightning dogma curmudgeon was commanding.

“Yeah. See you soon, Constitution.” The NASA planners weren’t stupid, and had casually suggested to Fuller and Conley that they give the command module a name that would cancel out – their words, not Jack’s – the Stalingrad.

“All right…this is Fuller. Descent burn engaged…should be a smooth ride from here. Keep your eyes open, Zaryov.”

Launch was later this month, Fuller mused…how could they land a Red on the Moon when they couldn’t even communicate from one side of the LM to the other? Then he crossed himself, physically (in open mockery of Zaryov, of course), in memory of Gus Grissom, who had burned to ash shortly after asking a similar question…


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