The realization that the Soviet Union had access to a Heavy Lift Vehicle capable of carrying up to a hundred tonnes of payload into orbit and to the Moon, stoked more fuel to the fire already burning in Capitol Hill.
Senators and Congressmen began to realize that the Soviets actually had a chance to land a man on Mars before the United States. With the current state of the US manned space program, which had essentially been stuck without much development over the last few years with the successful Apollo Missions to the Moon and the end of the Space Shuttle Program, it disturbed the politicians even more.
The public, fed by all the media-coverage, was convinced there was an alien city on Mars. This opinion was shared with more and more politicians every day, whether they were Democrat or Republican. While there still was no definite evidence to acknowledge that, all signs pointed that way and an alien city could mean living aliens, and if those aliens were anything like humans, they were bound to have weapons. These weapons, if they existed had to be prevented from falling into the hands of the Soviet Union at any cost.
In a rare display of nearly universal bipartisan support, Congress enacted the Space Finance Act, P.L. 93-21, after it was presented by a congressional group of four Democrats and four Republicans. It called for a substantial increase of the NASA budget, bringing it up to five billion US Dollars for 1973 alone. Additionally, the Act called for giving NASA a fixed percentage of the Federal Budget of two percent over the next ten years, after which the budget would be reevaluated by Congress.
It did not take NASA very long to realize that they they had pretty much all the resources to do everything they had to do to accomplish putting a man on Mars, and then some. Five billion dollars wasn’t as much as NASA had gotten between 1965 and 1967, but it was a increase from the previously expected three and a half billion. This budget would only grow the coming decade.
What was missing now, was a plan how to get people to Mars. Ever since the USSR’s Martian agenda, NASA had started to review old studies, requested new studies just to try and stay in the race. They also had started to join forces with several outside groups, such as Bellcomm and the Rand Corporation, to create some out of the box thinking which resulted in new unorthodox studies.
The most promising studies for the near term, besides the actual Mars mission, were the Common Space Fleet Study of Bellcomm from 1968 and the Integrated Program Plan of the Office of Manned Space Flight from 1970. Rather than repurposing existing Apollo legacy hardware, or developing a reusable space shuttle, both studies built upon commonality, the development and construction of modules that would be commonly used for a multitude of missions. Where the Common Space Fleet’s was purely chemical, the Integrated Program Plan was partly nuclear.
Reusability was a non issue, as the Space Shuttle program had just been canceled by Nixon and Apollo hardware was already part of either study, as both made use of a Saturn V or a derived heavy launch vehicle to transport larger modules into Earth orbit.
By mid 1973, NASA had done a study to combine the relatively simple Common Space Fleet and the more complex Integrated Program Plan in the form of the Cislunar Infrastructure Development (CID) Study.
Two variants of the Saturn V had been considered for the CID study: the Saturn INT-18, that was studied by North American in 1966, as well as the Saturn MLV-V-3, studied by the Marshall Space Flight Center in 1965.
The Saturn INT-18 was essentially a Saturn V without the first stage, using the Saturn II stage as core and a varying number of solid strap-on boosters as Medium Launch Vehicle for 21 to 66 tonnes to a 185 km orbit at 28.00 degrees. The Saturn MLV-V-3 was a Saturn V with all its stages stretched by a just about 15 meters over the entire rocket, increasing the payload capacity to 160 tonnes to a 185 km orbit at 28.00 degrees or 65 tonnes to a translunar trajectory.
The CID included a number of common modules. Three propulsion modules, Common Chemical Propulsion Module (CCPM) One and Two and the Common Nuclear Propulsion Module (CNPM), the manned Command Mission Module (CMM) in a one and two deck configuration, suitable for the habitation of up to four astronauts over up to two years and a Crew Transport Vehicle (CTV), based on the Apollo capsule and capable of transporting four astronauts into orbit and back to Earth.
Specialized, but still common modules would be equipped with remote controlled manipulators, be used as propellant tankage and have a remote controlled command module. To be able to dock or berth these modules with each other, there was also the need for a new docking mechanism, as the probe and drogue system of Apollo could only be used on specific docking ports. An androgynous docking system on the other hand, would allow to dock anywhere on another module.
Of the studies considered for the actual Mars Mission the two that were considered had in turn been done by two German engineers. Veteran aerospace engineer Werner von Braun had reworked his previous Mars Mission proposals and largely based them on the Integrated Program Plan study. The Von Braun Mars Expedition of 1969 described two separate nuclear spacecraft that were sent towards Mars.
The second study under consideration, was a Mars Mission done by the young Jesco von Puttkamer, who had worked with Ernst Stuhlinger on an evolution of the nuclear electric propulsion that had been first promoted by Stuhlinger and von Braun in Walt Disneys ‘To Mars and Beyond’. Much like Von Brauns study, it was largely based on the Integrated Program Plan Study for ease of development.
The Cislunar Infrastructure Development Study was relatively quickly approved, since it largely described technological systems where development could begin quickly, without the need for actual future missions for the developed modules. Early September 1973, NASA began to look for contractors to develop and build the hardware.
The Douglas Aircraft Company was selected to develop the CCPM One and Two, Boeing was to work with the Atomic Energy Commission on the CNPM using the NERVA engine. The CTV was awarded to North American Aviation, while Grumman Aircraft Engineering would develop the CMM.
Additionally the original contractors for the Saturn V would work on the Saturn INT-18 and the MLV-V-3 in NASA’s original plan.
Boeing, Martin Marietta and Douglas presented the Advanced Saturn Study. It outlined a plan to further develop the Saturn IB by using parts of the Saturn V technology into a Launch Vehicle that could be used for various launch profiles from 40 tonnes up to 130 tonnes into orbit.
Core of the study was a stage tentatively named S-IIE, 35 meters long, 6.6 meters in diameter, and using two of the more advanced F-1A engines. In combination with an uprated S-IVC stage with two advanced J-2S engines, this Version A would be able to put 45 tonnes into orbit.
A second variant would add two additional S-IIE stages on the side of the core stage, not unlike solid rocket boosters on the Titan III. With all three stages firing, the Version B, would be able to lift 97 tonnes. A Version C would induce a second S-IVC as a third stage, boosting the lift capacity to 130 tonnes. A Version D with five S-IIE was outlined, but without any lift capacity.
NASA was about to drop the study and go with the original plan, as the Advanced Saturn Study only described unmanned launch vehicles, which was a serious drawback. This would imply that a Saturn IB would still be needed to launch a CTV. Lockheed pointed out that the Crew Transport Vehicle was well within the payload range of the Titan IIID, making the study suddenly much more feasible and even more beneficial, as the Titan IIID was less expensive than the Saturn IB.
And even if Congress had given NASA money to spend, the upper management, as well as Administrator Fletcher, were under the preview of Congress and Senate. That Boeing, Douglas and Martin Marietta heavily lobbied on The Hill, did not make the decision easier.
In the end, the need to save money for the various projects needed to go to Mars won out, as well as the greater potential of the Advanced Saturn. NASA decided against the original plan of developing the Saturn INT-18 and the Saturn MLV-V-3, and in favor of the Saturn Common Core family.
In the Soviet Union, the decision to make Mars a primary goal, lead Brezhnev and the Politburo to realize that they had to deal with the economic situation of the Union, if they ever wanted to be able to beat the United States to Mars. The Soviet Economy was potentially the strongest after the United States, but during the years under Khrushchev, it had reached a state of self sustaining stability.
While stability in itself was not a bad thing, this stability did not encourage a sense of innovation and a ‘need’ to do better. The stable Five Year Plans of the Politburo caused a complacency with the workers and the staff of the factories, as everyone knew how much they had to produce over a given timeframe and could and would take their time when they were ahead of schedule.
Medals were handed out to the best of workers, but they were a dime in a dozen and unable to really motivate them. In other areas even unskilled laborers began to replace skilled people.
Other means to motivate the workers had to be found. One way to achieve this, was to allow a certain degree of competition between factories, mines and offices. Factories would have to compete with each other to be allowed to supply other factories.
Then there was the option to more or less dynamically finetune the plans of the economy by analyzing data from factories, mines and offices, this would also allow adapting plans on the fly in response to sudden, unexpected changes. The inspiration came from the socialistic government of Chile and their Project Cybersyn for the cybernetic management of an economy. The Politburo decided to do a limited test of a similar system to see if it would be feasible for the Soviet Union.
During the following decade these and other methods devised by the Politburo in the early 1970s oiled the wheels of the Soviet industry again, making it grow steadily.
While the Soviet economy was slowly remodeled, NPO Energia continued to work on a program to send cosmonauts to Mars.
After Cosmonaut Oleg Makarov of Soyuz 12 landed on the Moon in Mare Imbrium on October 17th 1973, NPO Energia was determined to land three more Cosmonauts on the Moon, while Salyut 4 was to conduct further tests of existing space station infrastructure, in essence allowing them to gain more experience with crew modules needed for a Mars mission.
The Moon would not be forgotten however. In 1976, the N-1F with the new Block Sr upper stage would be used to land a habitation module and a rover on the Moon to conduct long term experiments under a lower gravity, explore the Moon further than even NASA had done and develop the skills needed for the Mars Mission.
Eventually more modules would be launched to the Moon to build a larger moon base with more cosmonauts.
Salyut 4 would be replaced by a larger space station named Salyut 5, that could be docked with more specialized modules.
The Soyuz spacecraft would eventually be replaced by the TKS spacecraft that was already in development.