Free Trader's Retro Space Timeline
Retro Space is my own concept for an alternate history setting based on the premise that some of the overly optimistic predictions about space travel made in the early 1950s actually came true. In the universe of Retro Space: spaceships are sleek, silvery, nuclear-powered rockets that take-off and land on their tails; space stations resemble giant, spinning wagon wheels; Mars is a cold, dying world that was once home to a mysterious, advanced race; Venus is a hot, moist, jungle planet; and Fidel Castro is a famous baseball player turned television actor.
The Retro Space Timeline was inspired by the early "hard s-f" novels of Robert A. Heinlein and Arthur C. Clarke, the classic space movies of the 1950s such as Destination Moon, as well as some actual plans for space exploration that were tossed around in the 50s and early 60s. (The inspiration for the "slave plantations" on Venus came from Heinlein's 1941 short story, Logic of Empire.) While the Retro Space Timeline reflects early 1950s "scientific optimism", it is far from utopian. This Timeline is an evolving work in progress, so expect some periodic additions and revisions as I "fine tune" my alternate history. I plan to eventually develop Retro Space into a detailed setting for role playing games and science fiction stories.
Elsewhere on this site I have provided detailed instructions for building your very own early 1950s spaceship model using an Estes "Moondog" model rocket. I've also included links to photos of some of my 50s spaceship models in the Timeline. Speaking of links, be sure to check out my Retro Space Links Page.
NOTICE: Unless otherwise noted, all of the images of the spaceship and space station models featured on this site are the intellectual property of Steve Whitting, a.k.a. "Free Trader" and may not be used on other web sites without permission. Any other images used on the site are believed to be in the public domain. However, no warranty is made and use of such materials is at your own risk.
History (1945-2003) as it might have been . . .
1945 - U.S. drops atomic bombs on Japan. World War II ends. Many of Germany's rocket scientists immigrate to the United States and the Soviet Union. A few top rocketry experts are rumored to have escaped to South America with high-ranking Nazi Party members. United Nations founded.
1946 - Secret Nazi base established high in the Andes Mountains.
1947 - Bell X-1 manned rocket plane breaks sound barrier. Esperanto taught in public schools as "global language".
1950 - U.S. Air Force’s "High Altitude Program" develops first manned rocket ships capable of travelling beyond Earth’s atmosphere. Soviet Union conducts similar research, although their results are cloaked in secrecy.
1952 - Rookie pitcher Fidel Castro leads the Brooklyn Dodgers to a 4-3 game series win over the New York Yankees. Fidel subsequently appears in an episode of the popular television show I Love Lucy.
1954 - Rocky Jones Space Ranger becomes most popular science-fiction television series as public interest in space travel continues to grow.
1956 - Tabloids claim Nazi "Fourth Reich" launched manned rocket to the Moon from a secret base somewhere in South America. Elvis Presley makes his first appearence on the Ed Sullivan Show.
1957 - Manned suborbital rocket flights are routine. Soviet Union successfully places an artificial satellite in orbit around the Earth using a giant "multi-step" rocket. "Space Race" between U.S. and U.S.S.R. officially begins. U.S. initiates crash program to develop nuclear rocket engines.
1958 - U.S. launches artificial satellites into orbit.
1961 - Soviet rocket pilot Yuri Gagarin becomes first man to orbit the Earth. Fidel Castro retires from baseball to pursue a full time acting career.
1962 - Trans-Atlantic passenger rocket service begins. U.S. space pilot John Glenn makes his first orbital flight.
1963 - First solid core nuclear fission rocket engine is successfully tested in the Nevada desert.
1965 - U.S. nuclear-powered spaceship Luna lands on the Moon.
1966 - U.S. Army’s "Project Horizon" establishes permanent lunar base. Soviet Zond I mission lands on Moon.
1967 - The "Outer Space Treaty" is signed by The U.S., the Soviet Union and Great Britain. The treaty establishes U.S. and Soviet "controlled zones" on the Moon while leaving areas open for exploration and colonization by other nations. Treaty requires establishment of permanent, non-military settlements within five years in order for claims to stand.
1968 - Elite U.S. Army Space Rangers stage successful assault on secret Nazi "Fourth Reich" base on the dark side of the Moon, barely averting a nuclear attack on Earth. U.S. and Argentine troops storm hidden Nazi complex in the Andes. Adolph Hitler is captured.
1969 - Consolidated Astronautics’ VX-9 transport rocket enters service. Powered by an improved version of the same solid core fission reactor that propelled the famous spaceship Luna, the VX-9 is designed to deliver personnel and supplies to the Moon. NBC's top-rated television show Star Trek enters its fourth season. The show stars Fidel Castro in the role of Captain Hector Coronado of the space cruiser Enterprise. Adolph Hitler is tried and executed for crimes against humanity.
1970 - Soviet Venera I manned mission departs for Venus. First civilian settlers from U.S. arrive on Moon and establish colony at Landsberg crater. Soviets reportedly establish a similar colony.
1971 - U.S. launches first manned Earth-Mars Expedition. The nuclear-powered spaceship XM-1 with its seven-man crew lands on Mars 190 days later. Contact is mysteriously lost shortly after landing.
1972 - World petroleum shortage results in skyrocketing gasoline prices. Soviet Venera I mission returns to Earth and lands in Angola. The Soviet Union immediately announces plans for the colonization of Venus. First joint English-French lunar expedition establishes base at Avallon crater.
1973 - U.S. spaceship XM-2 arrives on Mars and discovers that crew of previous mission was apparently killed by a hostile alien lifeform. Soviet Venera II and Venera III spaceships blast off for Venus. Gaseous core rocket engine is successfully tested at Jackass Flats, Nevada. First cases of "Orange Blight" reported in Angola. First Chinese spaceship launched.
1974 - The Orange Blight rapidly spreads to Namibia, Zambia, and the Congo Republic despite efforts to contain the deadly plant disease. Some scientists speculate that the botanical plague, which affects many food crops, may have been accidentally transported to Earth by the Venera I. However, the Soviets dismiss the idea as "capitalist propaganda" and continue with their ambitious plans to colonize Venus. Inventor William Gates III develops software program for robots.
1975 - Venera VI returns from Venus and crash lands in the Black Sea. Crew is rescued and the spaceship is subsequently salvaged. Later in the year outbreaks of Orange Blight are reported in Soviet Union. U.S. establishes base on Mars near the crater Crommelin.
1976 - U.S. Bicentennial is celebrated. Orange Blight spreads across Asia. Soviets admit that the plague appears to be of "extra-terrestrial origin". Millions in Africa face starvation. United Nations declares global emergency and imposes quarantine on all spaceships returning from Venus.
1977 - Famine grips most of Central Asia and Eastern Europe as food crops succumb to the Orange Blight. Thousands of starving Russians storm the Kremlin. "Winter of Death".
1978 - Soviet Union collapses. U.S. promises aid to new democratic Russian government. Orange Blight spreads to South America. Consolidated Astronautics unveils its versatile gaseous fission-powered VX-10 interplanetary transport.
1979 - Nuclear power generates bulk of electricity in U.S.
1980 - Grand Central Rocket Company introduces its Starlifter-class spaceship. By crossing Venerian vegetation with wheat, scientists at Texas A&M College develop a hybrid wheat strain that is immune to Orange Blight. Chinese scientists claim similar success with rice. Aggressive spraying of fungicide halts spread of plague into North America and Western Europe. Death toll from global famine reaches 100 million, with the highest mortality in Africa and the Indian sub-continent.
1981 - After numerous delays, construction of the Space Station finally begins. The largest space platform ever built, the station serves as a cosmic fuel depot and research laboratory as well as a quarantine facility for arriving spaceships. Originally conceived by Dr. Wernher Von Braun decades ago, the station rotates like a giant wheel to provide artificial gravity. The Music Television Network ("MTV") begins regular broadcasts via satellite.
1982 - Republican Fidel Castro is elected Governor of California. Famed musician Sir John Lennon delivers controversial paper on the application of psychometrics in songwriting to assure production of "hits".
1983 - Androbot, Inc. markets first "domestic robot". The small labor saving "drudgebot" is an instant hit with consumers. PMW Tobacco Company discovers non-carcinogenic variety of tobacco-like plant on Venus. Attempts to grow the plant on Earth prove unsuccessful.
1984 - Venus Colonization Company formed by a consortium of American and Russian businesses. The company plans to attract colonists to Venus to raise non-carcinogenic "tobacco" and disease-resistant Venerian food crops to export to an Earth left hungry by the Orange Blight. President John Glenn and former President John F. Kennedy tour the recently completed Space Station along with California Governor Fidel Castro and his wife, actress Marilyn Monroe.
1985 - Landsberg Playboy Club opens. First Consolidated Astronautics VX-12 Astroclipper enters service with Interplanetary Spacelines. Several months later, rival Grand Central Rocket Company introduces their own Star Raker - class spaceliner. First convict laborers shipped to Venus. The Beatles perform their new hit Lonely Lunar Lady on MTV.
1986 - To attract a "willing" labor force for their fledgling plantations, the Venus Colonization Company initiates a system of contract labor in which an individual may voluntarily indenture themselves for a term of five to seven years in exchange for money and/or land at the completion of their term. Abuses of this system begin almost immediately, and few are ever able to fulfill their contracts.
1987 - Antipodal passenger rockets, electric "bullet" trains and helicopter taxis powered by fuel cells have become the predominant forms of mechanized transportation in Earth's developed nations. Use of private automobiles declines in urban areas. "Green" movement gains momentum on Earth.
1988 - The CBS news and talk show Earthview begins daily broadcasts from the Space Station.
1990 - Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's army invades neighboring Kuwait. Spaceships from USAF Space Command respond with a nuclear attack on Iraq, turning Baghdad into a glassy crater and toppling Saddam's corrupt regime. Elvis Presley announces comeback tour and proclaims, "Rock and roll was just a fad." Use of domestic robots ("drudgebots") becomes increasingly widespread.
1991 - In the wake of the "Iraq Incident", the United Nations Space Service ("The Patrol") is founded. Made up of spaceships and crews supplied by many spacefaring nations, the Patrol serves as a global peacekeeping force.
1992 - Pikes Peak Spaceport opens. The spaceport features a long, rocket-propelled catapult that allows ordinary chemical rockets to reach orbit with less fuel. Shortly after the spaceport opens, President Martin Luther King, Jr. signs legislation restricting nuclear rocket launches because of claims of environmental damage from radioactive exhaust.
1993 - Graduate students Thomas Lamb and Allen Zweifel claim to discover a buried Martian city while seeking shelter from a sandstorm. Their "discovery" is subsequently determined to be a prank, but Zweifel still manages to sell the story to the tabloids.
1994 - First experimental "cold-sleep" hibernation capsules. U.S. Congress passes the Reparation Act. Space Patrol Training Academy opens in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
1995 - Blake Edwards begins filming The Pink Panther in the Moon on location at Landsberg. Microbot Corporation President Bill Gates becomes richest man in the Solar System. Domestic robots are commonplace.
1996 - First commercial solar power satellite ("powersat") begins operation in geosynchronous orbit ("geosynch") 22,000 miles in space. The giant satellite uses solar energy to generate electricity in space, then transmits the power to Earth via microwave.
1997 - Consolidated Astronautics Astroliner - class enters service with Interplanetary Spacelines, providing regular service to the Mars and Venus colonies. The giant spaceliner spins to provide artificial gravity for its passengers. Discoveries of gold, titanium, uranium and other precious metals in the Asteroid Belt spark the "Great Belt Rush". Vestaport founded. Crommelin settlement on Mars is re-named "Sagan City" in honor of the late visionary astronomer, Carl Sagan.
1998 - Personal flying belts, aircars, moving sidewalks ("slidewalks"), satellite television and portable radio telephones ("pocket phones") are popular in Earth's developed nations. Conservative Take Back Our Government movement sweeps U.S.
1999 - Mysterious explosion destroys nuclear waste dump on Moon's farside. Conservatives blame blast on "leftist green terrorists". Androbots expensive life-like android model "Friday" goes on sale. The Disney Corporation opens first theme park in outer space.
2000 - Japanese spaceliner Hikawa Maru is attacked and boarded by pirates while en route to Mars. The Patrol expands its operations in response. First Space Olympics held in geosynch. Dr. Thomas Lamb of Oppenheimer Laboratories develops artificial radioactive fuel from two "mutually antagonistic isotopes". The new fuel requires only a fraction of the mass of refined uranium to produce the same amount of energy.
2001 - Kilimanjaro Spaceport opens. The spaceport features an electromagnetic launch tube that catapults shuttle rockets out of the extinct volcanic crater at supersonic speed. Russ Schwatzer becomes President of the United States. Clarke Base established on Jupiter's large moon, Ganymede. Restrictions on nuclear rocket flights over U.S. are relaxed. Reparation Act of 1994 is repealed. National Censorship Bureau founded. Riots in Chicago, Detroit and Los Angeles result in tens of thousands of arrests. Thomas Lamb disappears.
2002 - Miss Universe Pageant includes entrants from Mars, Venus, Luna and Vesta. Elvis Presley gives his third "Farewell Concert" in space from the Hilton Geosynch Hotel. The performance is broadcast live via television and relayed throughout the Solar System. "Swank" retro music and fashion craze on Earth. First 3-D "stereo tank" televisions are introduced. President Schwatzer signs Bill making English "Official Language" of the U.S. and restoring prayer in Public Schools.
2003 - RCA sells first "smell-o-vision" sets. T.B.O.G. Party ("Church Nazis") controlled U.S. Congress passes highly controversial "Restoration Act". Supreme Court declares Act unconstitutional, prompting President Schwatzer to order arrests of Justices for "un-American activities". Constitution suspended. Millions riot and martial law is declared across U.S. Short-lived "Second American Revolution" begins. Schwatzer threatens to use atomic weapons to restore order and "protect national sovereignty from foreign invaders". U.N. troops take Washington D.C., T.B.O.G. Party is ousted and Schwatzer commits suicide to avoid arrest and trial. Constitutional government restored.
2004 - Radio signals received by Farside radio telescope on Luna indicate the presence of an advanced interstellar civilization. U.N. forms World Government with headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland.
2005 - Several dozen outlawed T.B.O.G. party loyalists hijack a spaceliner from the Space Station and flee with their families into the outer Solar System. Global anti-religion movement prompts creation of U.N. Memetic Monitoring Agency (U.N.M.M.A.).
2006 - U.N. Space Patrol ship Enterprise discovers an extra-terrestrial "Star Gate" in orbit around Saturn. The large ring-shaped gate allows spaceships to instantly travel via "x-space" to the distant Sirius system with an earth-like planet.
2007 - First contact with inhabitants of Sirius Prime. Like the Venerians, the Sirians appear to be descended from humans who were "transplanted" to their world by a mysterious race of super-advanced aliens thousands of years ago.
2008 - U.N. officially opens the Star Gate to commercial spaceship traffic and allows trade with Sirius Prime.