In the fall of 1968 Kennedy's former Vice President, Lyndon B. Johnson, defeats Goldwater in the presidential election by leveraging a southern states strategy. The Democratic party is not weakened and radicalized by the Vietnam War, which was Goldwater's headache for four years. (Goldwater's use of low-yield nuclear devices to clear Viet Cong supply routes has spooked American voters.)
Eager to seen federal funds flowing to NASA centers in Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, and Texas, Johnson re-boots the flailing Apollo program.
But it's too late. In the summer of 1972 veteran cosmonauts Alexi Leonov and Oleg Makarov triumphantly rocket moonward with the Soyuz/lander already mated before launch (the Apollo plan was to do this on the way to the moon). Several days later they enter a circular lunar orbit. In preparation for landing the orbit is modified so that the vehicle pair briefly skirt within 10 miles of the lunar surface.
The Soyuz capsule is depressurized and Leonov spacewalks along handholds to climb into the docked lander. He descends on retrorockets to a mile above the cratered surface. The rocket engine is jettisoned and Leonov has just one minute to use the lander's remaining engine to make a soft landing. He needs the use the same engine and therefore save enough fuel to get back off the lunar surface!
This is the loneliest experience a human has ever had. He's 250,000 miles from Earth crammed inside a phone booth size cockpit plummeting toward a primeval landscape untouched for billions of years.
Stepping off the lander, and before 1 billion TV viewers (assuming the Soviets bring along a TV camera) Leonov says something like: ". . .one giant leap for Socialism" (just kidding).
After a four-hour moon walk to collect rock and soil samples, and leave behind a telerobotic mini-rover, Leonov blasts back off to rendezvous with the Soyuz. There's no time for sleep when you are the only man on the moon!
The blood-red flag of the USSR, emblazoned with the infamous hammer & sickle, remains a silent sentinel at the landing site for countless centuries to come.
Americans are glum at losing the Space Race. But there's still the challenge of putting the first human on Mars...
Image credit: Aleksei Fedorchenko, epizodsspace