A common misinterpretation. "One Small Step" never claims that Ares IV would have been the first flight to Mars. For all we know, it was the nineteenth.
Given that it was called Ares IV
, I think it was pretty clearly implied that it was the fourth manned Mars mission at least. Okay, the first manned vessel to orbit the Moon was Apollo 8
and the first to land was Apollo 11
, granted, but I doubt the same model would apply to something like a Mars mission.
Also, "The Changeling" establishes an interstellar unmanned probe for 2002, making it fairly incredible that an unmanned probe to Saturn would have to wait until 2009.
There's also the little fact that the first unmanned probe to Saturn was Pioneer 11
, which did a flyby in September 1979. Followed by the two Voyager
probes in 1980-81 and the Cassini
probe from 2004-present. So the idea that Col. Christopher led the first successful unmanned
probe in 2009 is a nonstarter, since we've had several very successful unmanned probes to Saturn, with Cassini in particular being amazingly successful.
There's also Spock's specific line from "Tomorrow is Yesterday": "Unless we return Captain Christopher to Earth, There will be no Colonel Shaun Geoffrey Christopher to go to
Saturn." That settles it -- it wasn't an unmanned mission, he actually went
. (Note, though, that the 2009 date is an Okuda conjecture; the actual date of the mission was never canonically established.)