While the two first Mars Missions were underway and NASA made the first landing on the red planet, the Soviet Union was not staying idle. Preparations were being made to send a mission of two spacecraft to Venus and claim the derelict discovered by the Venera probes.
With the unexpected failure of the Soviet Mars Mission, the Venus mission became a top priority and the Politburo knew that they had to make the claim on the derelict stick and keep the Americans far away from it. They knew they would not get any chance soon to return to Mars and they had to keep the gap of technological advancements to a minimum.
To this end, the knowledge gained on Salyut 3 during the Almaz project was used. Salyut 3 had seen the first successful use of projectile weapons by a spacecraft. Since Salyut 3, the Soviet Union had continued to built on that knowledge, mainly to have a counter to the threat of the American SDI project. Additionally the semi-active radar homing R-23 air to air missile had been modified to be used in space.
For the Venus mission two DOS modules were modified to carry two turrets with dual Nudelmann-Rikhter NR-30 aircraft cannons, the same type that had been used by Salyut 3. Each of the weapons had been extensively tested within vacuum chambers and on the Moon, showing that new modifications were sufficient to allow for prolonged use in space. Additionally, each carried four R-23 missiles and a radar system as used on the MiG-23.
For the actual Venus mission the basic design of the Mars Expeditionary Complex, MEK, was modified to the VEK, Venus Expeditionary Complex, VEK. Instead of carrying a pair of landers, like the MEK, a VEK carried a modified DOS module and a single TKS craft. Once arrived at Venus, the plan was to attach the two DOS modules to each other to create a small space station able to use its weapons to defend the Soviet claim. The two TKS were intended for a closer look at the alien derelict.
Two VEK were built in Earth orbit from February to October 1989 and were launched onto a Venus bound trajectory on November 1, arriving at Venus on March 2, 1990. Due to the already known orbital parameters of the derelict, the two VEK craft were able to rendezvous relatively quickly, before docking with each other.
The initial mission was to stay twenty days, until the return window for one of the two VEK closed. At first, observations were made about the derelict from a closer range.
Large sections of the hull were opened to vacuum and it showed extensive damage from projectile weapons and explosives, as well as some damage caused by what was believed to be laser weapons. Other types of damage could not be identified at all.
The general shape of the derelict could be described as giant cigar with a number of external cylinders that were thought to be propellant tanks for a cluster of seven engines in the back of the craft. The length was about two hundred fifty meters and the diameter about thirty meters.
The first overall observation was followed by EVAs of four cosmonauts to finally enter the spacecraft. The most remarkable find was was the lack of bodies in any of the areas that could be accessed by the cosmonauts and the relative lack of anything else floating around on the inside of the spacecraft.
The main part of the twenty days was used to collect a number of artifact samples that could be taken home to Earth by one of the VEKs.
VEK 1 executed its Transearth Injection Burn on March 22, returning to Earth on August 12, 1990. After docking with MOK, the artifacts were moved into two waiting unmanned VE craft that landed in Siberia on August 15.
Following the successful recovery of the first Veneran artifacts, the Soviet Union claimed the derelict in Venus orbit under International Salvage Laws, even if those were meant for maritime salvage.
In the United States, the CIA was asked pointed question, for example why they didn’t know about the Veneran derelict, and they were forced to admit that they did get the information of the Soviet discovery. They confessed that they had believed it to be a way to find a CIA agent within the Soviet Academy of Sciences.
Having built up a steady supply of nuclear CAPM and chemical CCPM systems (since the first Mars mission had depleted the supply of these), NASA was ready and willing to do a mission to Venus when they were asked to do so by Congress.
While the planning for the third Mars mission was underway, a mission to Venus was a quick ad-hoc affair with a CAPM, supported by a pair of CCPM, a two deck MCMM and a supply module. While the Venus mission didn’t get as much attention in the media or with the public, still there were several thousands of mails sending in names and Vesper was chosen by NASA out of those.
The Soviets on the other hand reworked VEK 1 by attaching new nuclear boosters and launching a third DOM module, though this one would be without any weapon systems.
Both Vesper and VEK 1 left Earth for Venus in late May 1991, two days from each other to arrive in late October.
As NASA did not know the orbital details about the Veneran derelict, Vesper had to wait for VEK 1 to arrive and move to a rendezvous with VEK 2 and the derelict. Afterwards it took Vesper two days to catch up with VEK 1 and the derelict.
The American astronauts were welcomed by the Soviets, who also blatantly warned that they would not allow Vesper to come any closer than one kilometer to them and the derelict, or else they would be fired upon.
NASA did not want to endanger the crew and kept their distance, while the telescopes of Vesper were used to try and confirm a threat against the NASA spacecraft. They were indeed able to verify the existence of four weapon turrets and several missiles on the hull of the small Soviet station where VEK 1 and 2 had docked together with two TKS spacecraft.
On Earth, the United States protested formally with the USSR government and issued a complaint against the existence of Soviet weapons in space. The Soviet response was that they were merely doing this to defend their claim against the United States, who had come to Venus to claim it themselves.
For the first time since the Cuban Missile Crisis, the United States moved to DEFCON 2, followed by the Soviet Union. The situation brought the world to the brink of a nuclear war. Only two weeks into the situation the situation was moved down to DEFCON 3 when it became clear that the Soviets were not going to use their weapons without American aggression.
The diplomatic relations between the United States and the Soviet Union cooled down further, as President Glenn, in response to the threat of Soviet weapons in space, announced that the United States would follow suit and would begin to defend their own claims with weapons, just like the Soviet Union.
The claims of both Soviet Union and the United States sent a wave of fear through the international community. Both the European Union and China began to research spaceborne weaponry as means to defend themselves against potential aggression in space.
Vesper left Venus twenty days after arrival, followed two days later by VEK 2. According to some sources the Soviet cosmonauts’ send off message was ‘Perhaps you Americans now understand the importance of gun control’.
The announcement of weapons being set up in space ignited a new debate about military responsibility in space within the Pentagon, that everyone knew could not be solved quickly.
As an intermediate solution, the Air Force and Navy began a joint operation with NASA until a more permanent solution could be found, satisfying the Pentagon and Congress for the time being. Several astronauts, who had been Air Force pilots and Navy aviators before going to NASA, were asked to return into the service of the Air Force, but remain as liaison to NASA and eventually operate an armed spacecraft, which was to be provided by NASA.
A US crash program for usable space borne weapons to counter existing Soviet ones was well underway and concentrated on modifying two common missile types and one gun for space. Converting the AIM-7 Sparrow and the AIM-54 Phoenix proved to be a challenge as the original guidance packages had to be adapted for space and the control surfaces had to by a form of reaction control. The conversion of the venerated M2 Browning machine gun to be used in space was a different problem.
By October 1992, NASA had successfully rebuilt a Consumable Storage Module Two into the very first Defense Support Module, armed with four AIM-54, eight AIM-7 and four M2 in four independently controlled turrets. Three AN/AGP-73 radars provided fire control data to a heavily modified and slimmed down AEGIS system.
To provide the Mars Base with a way to defend itself against the Soviets, the old M1 Garand was selected as an intermediate solution, until a more modern weapon could be adapted to the space environment. No one knew how those would do against the AK-47 that the Soviets were very likely to use on Mars, but some of the astronauts were glad to have grenades as well.
By December 1992, Vesper was equipped with the Defense Support Module and sent towards Venus on New Years Eve, followed by VEK 2 two days later. On the way to Venus Vesper saw the first use of its new weapons as NASA began a series of tests, using the discarded CCPM-1 boosters of the spacecraft as targets on the halfway point towards Venus. The weapons turned out to be sufficient for the time being and it was expected that the Soviet weapons didn’t do much better either.
On arrival at Venus in May 1993, Vesper made its way towards the Veneran derelict.
During the journey of Vesper, the political situation on Earth had changed to a certain degree. Both, the United States and the Soviet Union, had finally considered the battle damage on both the Veneran derelict and the Martian ruins. The way it looked at the time, the Veneran derelict had belonged to the same alien race that had built the Honore City. While it had happened a long time ago, someone had attacked and destroyed both.
And that someone could still be around and might one day come to Earth to do the same with humanity. An internal war between the Soviet Union and the United States would only play into the hand of the unknown aggressor and leave humanity as a whole unprotected.
The realization, that neither side really knew how the other would react in an extreme situation, dawned upon the two opposing nations. To avoid a future war, especially a nuclear one, they needed to get to know each other better again. That either nation would also be able to use that knowledge in the case of war against each other, sold the general idea to the US government under the new President George H. W. Bush and the Politburo under Mikhail Gorbachev.
For the first time since since the Reagan administration, the US and the USSR, began to re-acquaint themselves very cautiously. The first step by the United States was to go down to DEFCON 4 in April 1993, before a meeting in Reykjavik between Gorbachev and Bush. Gorbachev was seen wearing a gift of George HW Bush, a Stetson, as he held a public speech, stating the following.
“We face many unknowns throughout the universe, some of which are great blessings and some of which are grave threats and as one of your nation’s founders once said, we must stand together or hang separately. But there are many divisions between us, causing misunderstandings and conflict. We all do not wish for war, nor can humanity afford to have such distractions. As such, we, the great Soviet Union wish to open a Great Cultural Exchange with the United States of America to better foster understanding and knowledge between our various nations and our many cultures, for the betterment of all mankind.”
The ‘Great Cultural Exchange’ sent artists and scientists from both nations into the other. The Soviet Red Army Choir was well received during a US tour in 1995, while Michael Jackson proved to be very successful in the Soviet Union.
On a sidenote, these cultural exchanges were also used by the CIA and the KGB to insert new agents.
The cultural exchange did not stop in space and in July 1995, the American and Soviet astronauts on Mars began to invite each other for lunch. At first just a one time event during the Soviet stay on Mars, it became a monthly event when the Soviets established a continuously manned base in 1999.
But even the cultural exchange and the newly found understanding, whether feeble it was at the time, did not end the arms race in space. The Defense Support Module of NASA was improved upon and integrated into all stations and reusable spacecraft, like Vesper.
While the new situation between Washington D.C. and Moscow was well received internationally, the armament of space was not. Fearing the two space superpowers, just like any alien threat, China and the European Union had already increased the funding to their own space armament programs.