Nixons near-defeat via voter fraud in 1968 has made him more paranoid than he was IRL. A result of this is for him to provide greater support to the FBI; as a result of increased funding and powers of surveillance, the Soviet influence upon western anti-nuclear organizations is exposed much sooner and more completely. While this does not bring an end to organizations working to end American nuclear efforts, this tarnishes their image in the public, and the anti-nuclear protestors are less numerous, less loud, less well funded and far, far less successful. Instead, new generations of fission reactors, including breeder reactors, are put into service on a regular basis starting in the late 1970s.
Additionally, with the ongoing development of the Neptune booster, with its one-million-pound payload, solar power satellite studies that IRL led only to paper and dreams here lead to real plans. The OPEC oil embargo and subsequent energy crisis ends with a sputter, due not to American anger but to a new sense of American defiance. The oil embargo hurts *now,* but everyone knows that, within a few years, electrical power will truly be too cheap to meter. And if OPEC doesn’t want to sell us oil… with the expected surplus in electrical energy made possible by the new reactors and SPS’s, American coal will be converted into liquid fuel with which to run our cars and planes. By the time the 1980’s roll around, nobody much cares what the price of Middle Eastern oil is, because it’s no longer quite as important.
Still, the events of 1973 lead to an economic downturn in the US. The sense of malaise that had permeated the US since 1968 only worsens, with the revived space program providing the one real bright spot. By 1976, Nixon is a tired President, ready to leave office. Not many people want Gerald Ford for President in 1976 (Agnew having resigned in 1973, as IRL). However, a new political force comes to the fore in the form of the Governor of California, one Ronald Reagan. Reagan gains the Republican nomination, with Bob Dole as his running mate; they handily defeat the Carter/Mondale ticket.
While Reagan continues many of the policies of the Nixon administration, he brings with it a charisma that Nixon lacked. A subtle effect of this is to energize the American populace; with increased morale comes increased productivity, and thus the economy begins to improve. In effect, the 80’s come early.
One other effect of the Reagan administration: space weaponization. Reagan talks openly about arming the heavens with anti-missile systems, even though there are no real plans for that in the DoD. Now that the Saturn V (with F-1A and J-2S engines for increased performance, lighter structures and parachute splashdown recovery and re-use of the MS-IC stage, with the MS-II stage typically being left in orbit to serve as raw material or structural backbones) is launching nearly monthly, the Shuttle is in tests and the Neptune system is bending metal, it is clear to the world that the US is serious about space. This causes panic in the Kremlin. By Reagans inauguration in early 1977, the US has several space laboratories including not only Skylab but also the more impressive Space Station I, as well as two preliminary bases on the moon (little more than camps at this point) and a manned lunar orbit space station. With Neptune as a launcher and the Shuttle as a servicing system, it’s clear that the US will soon be able to orbit giant nation-killing weapons systems. The plans for solar power satellites, while loudly and clearly described as basically harmless and for solely civilian power generation, are seen by many in the Soviet Union as vast death rays. So, the Soviets have no choice but to compete in the race.
The Soviets had finally managed to get their N-1 rocket to work and had landed their first man on the moon in 1972. By 1977, they too have several space labs in the form of Salyut stations, and plans are in place for their own lunar bases. They are beginning to catch up to the US. And in true Soviet fashion, they are beginning to boast and bluster; and they are being listened to by the CIA.
To be continued