The second orbital war was carried out both in space and on land. The large demilitarized zones of Germany and Northern China became battlegrounds once again; but unlike the first conflict, the forces were small, highly mobile, and nuclear capable. As with the Orbit war, the clashes earth showed that offense had greatly outstripped defense, and both sides rapidly depleted their available first line forces and came to use tactical nuclear bombardment to respond to enemy breakthroughs. Due to the highly dispersed and small uit organization, the actual military casualties were quite small, but they represented the elite of both sides forces.
While the battlegrounds, still unrecovered from 1953, were much less densely inhabited than beforehand, the civilian casualties were enormous, and the collateral environmental damage was extreme. Both the superpowers homelands were largely safe from direct attack, but the overall damage and radiological contamination began to effect even the safest of homeland havens. By 1963, both sides were forced to institute food rationing, and a second world-wide famine was already spreading. Most of the Third estate (as the nonaligned powers were known as to the media) were able to feed their populations, but only in the core countries, and even then at similarly rationed levels. Nonetheless, the growing reliance of the superpowers on food imports from the Non-aligned powers gave the UN and PAX forces the leverage needed to broker a ceasefire. The second orbital war ended with no political or territorial advantages gained by either side, and a bitter extended winter was to make 1964 one of the bleakest years in history.
Socially, nations that survived the post war years tended to become highly centralized, tightly controlled planned economies and societies. Despite the vulnerabilities of such, metropolitan areas expanded in population, if not in size, with military installations moving as far as possible from the refugee choked cities. With all sides populations becoming highly concentrated, and critical climate damage, a tacit understanding between the powers limited strike to military targets wherever possible. Protracted nuclear war had come to stay.
In space, both sides had little to show that could be considered successful. The willingness to use tactical nuclear weapons as a standard element proved that offense had again trumped defense. Orbital missle installations were spectacularly unsuccessful after the first hour of the war, and orbit denial strategies insured that no new stations could be deployed. Use of indiscriminate orbital mines and simple debris fields insured that NEO would likely never again have permanent military stations.
While the rational solution would have been detente, and possibly a final negotiated end to the war, neither side was able to make the political and social sacrifices needed to do so. As a result, as the war ended, both sides reached for the moon to gain the high ground and impose a final peace on their enemies.
The attempts to reach the moon were both hasty, and desperate. Of the four missions from both sides that attempted to establish a foothold, some were initially successful, but none survived to return. The 1962 moon orbit missions resulted in a twin Soyuz missing return insertion and being lost; the newly deployed Apollo succeeded in achieving a return trajectory but suffered a series of failures culminating in a non-survivable re-entry failure. The three Gemini landing mission racing the Soviet attempt resulted in one crashed lander, and a mutually destructive combat in lunar orbit between the orbital elements. The single surviving two man USAF lander and the two single man soviet landers, as planned, touched down within five miles of each other. The Lunar Gemini had the potential for earth return, whereas the Soviet LK landers did not. Once the orbital assets had been mutually destroyed, contact was lost with both teams, and never regained. Limited observation from earth (orbital observatories being eliminated) suggested that both engaged in a long range duel with light mortars before a cross-lunar attempt was made by the marooned Soviet team to destroy (or possibly capture) the Gemini lander. At some point, at least one small tactical nuclear weapon was detonated, destroying the site and killing any surviving crew.