It is a minority of Americans who are aware the Soviets were first to put man into space. (See Andy Duncan’s wonderful novella The Chief Designer for an overview of the Soviet space program.) Even fewer are aware it was the Russians who first put a woman into space—twenty years before the the ‘land of the free’. Into this unrealized possibility stepped Ian Sales in 2013 to write the third alternate history in the Apollo Quartet, Then Will the Great Ocean Wash Deep Above (AQ3). Once again balancing hard sf and humanism, the novella imagines what it would have been like were women the first NASA astronauts in space, and in turn reveals a few skeletons from the program’s closet.
Then Will the Great Ocean Wash Deep Above, while continuing the trend of ostentatious titles in the Apollo Quartet, likewise continues the trend of featuring astronauts—thirteen of them to be exact. Led by the ambitious and stubborn Jackie Cochrane, the Mercury 13, as they are called, are trained for space while American men are off fighting communism in Korea and the USSR circa 1953. Rosie the Riveter shifting her attention to the heavens, the women prove themselves, through the rigors of simulations, to be up for the task, and one by one are sent on missions of increasing extremes into Earth’s orbit. Jerrie Cobb, a devout young woman, is perhaps the most dedicated among the thirteen, and through her eyes the reader experiences the wonder of the great beyond, and, disappointment at what befalls Cochrane’s presence in the space program once the war in the East ends.