What if the Soviets Landed on the Moon First?

What if the Soviets Landed on the Moon First?


Say you have a rival, one you compare yourself to, strive to be better than. Everytime that rival achieves something good that one-ups you, you feel the natural human urge to one-up them. Now take that situation and extend it to two global superpowers ideologically at odds! People will do crazy things… this crazy thing eventually morphed into the space race! Each achievement the Soviets made worried the American public and push their government to invest in the technology to shoot more people into the vacuums of space! This race culminated in 1969, when the United States sent Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to the moon surface in the Apollo 11 mission achieving JFK’s dream of sending a man to the moon by the end of the decade. Yet, what if in an alternate timeline the Americans didn’t land on the Moon first? What if the U.S.S.R. did? Cosmonauts becoming the first men to walk on another surface, Communist Space Bears! A reality which could have taken place without the Space Bears regrettably… looking at historical evidence I’ll piece together an alternate timeline exploring the consequences of what could have occurred. In the 1950s the Red Scare was all the rage, the battle between East and West was new it was the lovely start of a relationship between two nuclear-armed powers! Other than just nukes one thing both powers had in common too was the German technology they gained after defeating the Nazis just a few years earlier! German Scientist and War Tech were invested to make new missiles, better at carrying certain Payloads if certain situations applied… Then, in 1957, the American public was put into a frenzy, as the Soviets successfully launched the first artificial satellite into orbit: Sputnik One. The Soviets were perceived as backwards and poor people who built crude technology, Sputnik was pretty much a slap in the face to this illusion, and the American public was confused how such a reality could be but it was the kick in the butt necessary to make the Americans begin investing in the technology and science to compete with the Soviets, the government emphasized more education and science and math, missile technology was invested in and the American Space Program was born. So thank you Sputnik, you gave us Nasa! With the launch of Yuri Gagarin, Kennedy was convinced that the U.S.A. had to do a bold action which would overshadow the soviet achievements. He planned for the Moon, calling for the United States to put a man on the moon before the decade was out. After disasters for both in years of scientific advancement that I can’t cover due to time, the United States landed two men on the moon in 1969 and sent them home. To the American public this achievement was one that outmatched all the others, and the sting of the Soviet accomplishments were forgotten. Yet sadly, after a few years, the apollo program lost its luster and a democratic society public support is needed to keep programs going, an interest in landing people on the freaking Moon, was apparently falling. And so in a final end to the decades-long competition between the two the Americans and Soviets conducted a joint mission together in orbit: Soyuz and Apollo, officially ending the space race and beginning a new chapter of space cooperation. So what would happen in this alternate timeline if the soviets landed on the Moon first? In this alternate timeline three basic things would need to be changed: 1) there is no unity among the Soviet scientists who in our timeline competed against one another instead of working for a common goal. 2) the Americans would need to have less progress of their own perhaps significant delays after the Apollo 1 disaster. 3) the soviets would need stronger rockets, the Saturn 5 was the only reason the Americans got to the Moon. So great, all these changes occurred with a dollop of pixie dust, because this is pretty unlikely, we have ourselves a functional Soviet Moon Mission. As I mentioned before to get to the moon you need a big rocket. The Americans developed the Saturn 5, which was practically a flying Statue of Liberty right out of Earth’s orbit and successfully carried men out to the Moon. In this alternate timeline the Soviets successfully developed their own rocket, the N1, which in our timeline could never get off the ground, literally and metaphorically. Orbiting the Moon surface would be the Soyuz 7 K-LOK. So, skipping over a bunch of complex science in this alternate timeline, the mission is here! It’s the early 70s, the Americans have been too slow in their own Moon program, and failed to meet Kennedy’s challenge. And this demoralized state, the soviets are now ready to take yet another accomplishment. The N1 rocket takes off carrying two cosmonauts, one of which is Alexei Leonov, the first man ever to conduct a spacewalk. In our timeline Leonov was the most likely candidate to be the first Soviet on the moon. The mission is pretty similar to the Apollo program of our timeline: one man would stay in the mothership while Leonov would descend down to the moon surface in the tiny LK Spacecraft. He would plant the soviet banner, conduct the mission and then shoot back to rendezvous with the mothership! Even if the soviets got to the Moon first this doesn’t mean the mission would be a success. If the mission was a success however, the soviets would immediately boast about the accomplishment. To America the disappointment is far worse than that felt during the Sputnik crisis, the Americans tried and failed against the Soviet Union. The Soviet landing becomes one of the greatest national embarrassments for the United States, tied into just another string of events that happened during the late 60s and early 70s. For the first few years after the soviet achievement, debate reigns over what to do with Nasa. In our timeline once the rush of the space race was over Nasa focuses efforts on space travel that was cheaper and reusable; the space shuttle was created, spacecraft which only ever stayed in low orbit. In this alternate timeline the United States is not content with the situation. The Space Race has been extended to the 1970s, the government and most of the public supports another operation to one-up the soviets. Nasa’s budget is never cut by Nixon and so the space shuttle is never created. I can’t predict what missions would take place, however I can predict that the political atmosphere the Space Race would not disappear until America successfully conducts a larger achievement or simply concedes defeat and deals with larger issues. Education and science are tied into the political ideology of defeating communism, perhaps even eventually mixed into the conservative revolution of Reagan, at least until the USSR collapses in the late 80s. But within this time frame, in the 1970s and 80s the embarrassment of the soviet victory could spur more investment in the sciences in engineering, creating far more benefits even if a manned mars or venus mission never happened. The budget for Nasa would continue to be invested in and seen as a part of the struggle against communism. I’m sure Americans would have visited the Moon at some point in this alternate timeline, but at a slower pace. What do you think would have happened if the Soviets landed on the Moon before the Americans? Say in the comments! We’ll never truly know a hundred percent how things could have gone differently but it’s always fun to theorize! Every billion years that the sun burns hydrogen its luminosity or brightness increases about 10%, so within the next billion years or so, this 10% increase will cause the Earth’s temperatures to rise high enough that the water will begin to evaporate, turning your planet into a dry, barren wasteland… But I should be okay, right? Because I live on the computer, right? Hello!

100 Comments on "What if the Soviets Landed on the Moon First?"


  1. It never would have happened. The Soviet Union started out ahead in the space race but by the time the USA landed on the moon the Soviets were so far behind in the race the only way they could have caught up was if America just dropped out and closed shop at NASA.

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  2. A far more interesting question would be: What if there were no space race at all? What if both sides just gave up long before the Moon landings, during the Yuri Gagarin / John Glenn era? It's a question I've asked in my blog (linked) as a rhetorical device, but it would make a great episode for you I think… here's the link http://mypoliticsrants.blogspot.com/2019/07/imagine-asteroid.html

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  3. The only way to 1 up a moon landing would be:
    Landing people on Mars
    Landing people on the moon of another planet than earth
    Building a permanent moon base

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  4. Soviets might have been the one to win the cold war actually if the Americans did something like shoot for a mars mission to one up them

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  5. The Americans lost in all parts of the space race except for the moon yet they still claim they won.

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  6. You didn't mention another possibility, which actually happened, was to fake a fake moon landing story and pretends Nasa did that. Now, the story is 50 years old. Everybody is going to moon. In this era, everybody actually is going to the moon (including india). What will Nasa do? No. 1 Nasa starts looking for a company who can go to the moon for Nasa. No.2 Nasa makes a fake video again.

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  7. Calling it very unlikely is untrue. The N1 was flawed and late. And the Soviets have doubts about the point of actually doing a moon landing. However all of these were a bunch of small issues. There wasn't anything major preventing USSR from winning that round. NASA being first was pretty a perfect storm for the US.
    What's worth mentioning N1 was a good design. Once the kinks were worked out it ended up being the most successful rocket design in history (AFAIK). NASA to this day uses the engines built based off N1 designs. Yes NASA.

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  8. What would happen is that they would land and then U S A lands and throws the unions flag and plant the U.S.A flag

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  9. – Mr. President, Soviets landed on the Moon!
    – Prepeare mission to the Sun then!
    – But we'll burne!
    – Nope! You fly at night.

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  10. Great video and didn't the Russians have a unman spaceship orbit the moon first but it crashed before the eagle landed and mr Armstrong had that famous line "one small step for man and one small step for mankind"?

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  11. Soviets had won every damn achievement apart from the moon
    USA only got to the moon
    USA wins
    _/(.-.) wot?

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  12. If anyone has an Apple product, please stay tuned for the upcoming Apple TV+ originals "For all mankind". It's plot is more or less the same as this video.

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  13. There's no rage like that of a scorned American. They would've gotten to Mars by 1980 out of spite.

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  14. You miss all the economical problems USA would face if nasa had an uncut budget for 2 more decades… Maybe it would be USA collapsing instead of ussr…

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  15. Well.. They where first…. With a sputnik thing ….
    They saw there is nothing… So they thought ah… Fuck off.. We were first in space.. Who needs moon

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  16. The space race started for all the wrong reasons (petty politics, tribalism, megalomania) and ended for all the wrong reasons (jaded public, economic mismanagement, small-minded bureaucracy, more petty politics). Shame.

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  17. There was a peculiar confluence of circumstances which made the Moon program successful.
    1. Repeated Soviet 'firsts' – although it is usually overlooked how close behind the US was on some of those. Sputnik or Gagarin's rocket might have blown up like so many others did (the R-16 and Nedelin Catastrophe being the noteworthy one). Or if Shepard had launched on the flight of Mercury-Redstone before the one he actually launched on, he would have beaten the Soviets to space (albeit not to orbit).

    2. Lyndon Johnson used the Space Program as one of his political talking points.
    3. John Kennedy had the good grace to die in office before accumulating much bad history – or before cancelling the Moon program which he was about to do.
    4. Once Kennedy died, he was a sort of martyr, and culture of the nation at the time still had enough cohesiveness to honor the memory of a (still) popular President by carrying on his plan. The Moon program would have been difficult to kill at this point.

    Vintage Space has a pretty good writeup of this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e0ERXwhn-5w

    Even with the massive effort which the US Government undertook to drive the Moon program forward, it could have been derailed many times to some degree or another (sometimes for the better).

    If John Houbolt had been more successfully shut down, and the Apollo plan had gotten stuck on the Direct Ascent mode (send the whole rocket to the moon and back); it's possible the rocket would have been just too impractical, costs would have overrun beyond Congress's willingness to bear, schedules would have slipped, and the whole thing petered out in bureaucratic hell.

    Somewhat more likely, if Marshall Space Flight Center had gotten their way and built an Apollo architecture based on assembling multiple vehicle components in orbit, the landing might have been delayed by a few years as the additional technical difficulties of assembling a rocket in orbit got worked out. This is actually a pretty likely scenario, because according to Enchanted Rendezvous (https://history.nasa.gov/monograph4.pdf) the engineers and administrators understood even as far back as 1962 that once the Moon program was over, budgets were going to be tightened. They wanted (relatively) smaller & cheaper rockets which would be more suited to Earth orbit operations instead of giant rockets which would be too expensive to ever be launched again. (Just like how the Saturn V was discarded after the Moon program).

    Given a little more time the Soviets might have succeeded in a circumlunar flight using a (powerful but dangerous) Proton rocket to carry a circumlunar vehicle and kick stage into orbit, which would rendezvous with a Soyuz capsule, and carry a cosmonaut or two around the Moon. http://astronautix.com/p/podsadka-fainthemoonrace.html

    However, AFAIK the N1 program never got more than about 10% of the budget of the Saturn V program (Commmunism is so inefficient that even with a similar number of people and plenty of natural resources, the Soviet economy never got larger than about 10% of the US economy). I think it would have been a real stretch for the Soviets to get to the Moon before the US did. It's not generally known that the Soviets were planning to send two N1 rockets at a time to the Moon, in case one of them broke down!

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  18. Well I can pretty much predict that IF the soviet got to the Moon first and thus embracing the Americans. Americans needed to make it abundantly clear that they were the best space power, by not only going to the Moon, but creating a permanent settlement there, a Moon base, oh and go to Mars too. Insane amount of money into this project so by 1980 the moon base is a reality, and from the Moon orbiting docking station a Mars mission is launched.

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  19. the soviets would build a base in the shape of the hammer and cross, and then they would proceed to land on mars

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  20. 2019 Nov 1st Apple TV is putting out a mini series on just this, the russians beating the usa to the moon, in an alternate reality.

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  21. Anyone after the reveal of For All Mankind ?

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  22. Interesting fact. The final "perfected" N1 engines were put into storage and later sold to Aerojet in the miod 90's who used them in the Delta V rocket, they worked perfectly. Turns out the Kremlin pulled the plug just as they finally had all the bugs worked out.

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  23. I am Japanese.

    If the Soviet Union landed on the moon first,

    I am sure that the United States was an unmanned spacecraft, and that the Mars and Venus were actively explored, and the United States or the Soviet Union (Russia) could have landed on the moon sooner.

    (The translation was translated by Google Translate. I think that there are many places where the text is strange, but please do your best.)

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  24. “I for one, will go to sleep by the light of a Communist moon.” The Right Stuff. Now as of 9/27/19 I can’t wait for the alt-timeline series For All Mankind to come out.

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  25. Breaking news the USSR found Space Bears in space and now are bringing them to earth!
    More from our reporter that is with them.
    "What the actual fuck?"

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  26. What will the Soviets say though like a cool quote
    "that's one small step for US but a giant leap for OUR Union"

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  27. The Moonlanding could very easily have been the most expensive meh in all of American history. What did they accomplish besides proving that humans could go to the moon if they wanted? What was the point of doing it, if they were not going to use the technology for anything useful after that decade? The Americans did virtually nothing to the moon after landing on it a number of times. We were hoping for 2001 to be a space Odyssey, instead we got 9/11 2 to 3 years later.

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  28. Люди здесь делятся на два типа :
    АМЕРИКА ВЕЛИКАЯ СТРАНА!!! АМЕРИКА КРУЧЕ!!!СССР УМЕР!!!! АМЕРИКА ПОБЕДИЛА!!!АМЕРИКА!!!!!
    (2 ТИП) На самом деле все это капиталистическая пропаганда, так что СССР лучше😎😎😎😎

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  29. It was called "space race" and Soviets achieved more than americans and they were first in the space. So why america win by landing on the moon? It was not called moon race.

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  30. No matter who landed on the moon or not, the Russians landed a probe on the surface of the 400^ C, 90 atm surface of the hell-scape we call Venus, in 1975. They even took pictures. Those pictures are the first taken on any other planet other than Earth.

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  31. Fun fact: A sputnik is satellite in Russian. In other words, we call satellites "Sputniks" because we were first.

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  32. Was testing on tf2 on my old weak laptop, when i aplied some settings to increase FPS a bit, then it lagged 10 minutes as I watched this video and an demoman was screaming at me

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  33. America would probably go there just to knock down the soviet flag and moon the U.S.S.R. and then decide to colonize mars to prove that they were better than the communists.

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  34. Apollo budget cuts started while BLK was president and he was a big advocate. Thanks Mondale and proxmire…. smoke dog thirds in hell losers. Really tired on pinning this all on nixon. I was 11 when Apollo 11 occurred glued to the TV. Same with Apollo 12. Other missions I watched as I could… pesky school scheduling. During Apollo 16 I remember people calling the networks complaing that re runs of I love Lucy were being interrupted by live color transmissions on the moon! Sorry commentary for some segments of society back then.

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  35. people: congratulations neil Armstrong and buzz aldrin for landing on the moon

    Michael Collins: sad Apollo 11 noises

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  36. You should get some money from Apple. Apple TV's "For the mankind" series basically this video. Kudos!! @AlternateHistoryHub

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  37. If the soviet came first to the moon, the US will go to the mars so that they could proclaim they won the space race.

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  38. i think if USSR landed on the Moon first!! я бы прокомментировал по-русски !!! :)))

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  39. Spending the economic resources that the Soviet Union would have needed to achieve a successful moon landing could have accelerated the downfall of the USSR

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