For All Mankind: Red Moon
November 3, 2019 12:04 AM - Season 1, Episode 1 - Subscribe

NASA is in crisis as the Soviets land the first man on the moon in 1969, the beginning of an alternate history.

One of Apple's flagship shows for the launch of Apple TV+, For All Mankind has been described by creator Ron Moore (Battlestar Galactica, Outlander) as an attempt to show that alternate history need not be dystopian, depicting a space program far more extensive and radical than that of our timeline.
posted by Major Clanger (12 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I'm an alt-space nerd. I've been fascinated by spaceflight since I was a small child (it's to my regret that I am just too young to remember the Moon landings) and by my twenties, having devoured every book I could find on Project Apollo, it was natural as a science fiction and alternate history enthusiast to wonder if and how the optimistic plans for 1970s space exploration depicted in many of the books I devoured as a child might have come to pass. This was the heyday of USENET, and for many years I was an active participant on, where there was a thriving discussion of the 'what-ifs' of space exploration.

On a more personal note, I've long been a friend (and occasional co-author) of British sf writer Stephen Baxter. In 1994 he sent me a draft of his next novel, then provisionally entitled Ares and later published as Voyage. I recall getting in from work, opening a package with a 3" stack of double-spaced dot-matrix printout, starting to read, and finishing six hours later having skipped dinner and not even changed out of uniform. Baxter's novel, depicting a timeline where NASA pushes for Mars after Apollo 11, using plausible developments of Apollo technology, ticked just about every box I could look for. (I promptly sent about three pages' worth of suggestions and comments, which is why I'm listed in the acknowledgements, although I missed one goof which was gleefully pointed out on - Baxter referred to someone being in the back seat of a Corvette!) Since then 'Alt-Space' has become a small but active subgenre, with writers such as Allen Steele, Jed Mercurio and Warren Ellis exploring in books and comics what might have been. Most recently, Mary Robinette Kowal's The Calculating Stars has just won the 2019 Hugo Award for Best SF Novel; without going into spoilers for a later episode, For All Mankind echoes one of the main themes of Kowal's book.

'Red Moon' depicts a Soviet lunar landing by cosmonaut Alexei Leonov a month before Apollo 11. Although not stated in the script, Moore has confirmed in an interview that the departure point for his alternate history is that Chief Designer Sergei Korolev does not die in 1966 during (possibly botched) abdominal surgery and is able to resolve the problems that later plagued the N1, the Soviet Union's counterpart to the Saturn V.

The series also postulates other differences that space history enthusiasts will spot. Wernher von Braun appears to have become director of the Manned Spaceflight Center rather than staying at the Marshall Space Flight Center at Huntsville, so having a much more active role in the Apollo program than just booster development. Also, Moore, as Baxter did in Voyage, swaps in some fictional astronauts for historical ones to allow greater latitude in story-telling, although many real-world characters remain in their places. Of the depictions of the latter, Chris Bauer is perfect as Deke Slayton, although Eric Ladin's portrayal of Gene Kranz perhaps suffers by comparison with Ed Harris' Oscar-nominated performance in Apollo 13.

Having recently listened to the BBC's Thirteen Minutes to the Moon podcast on the final stages of the landing I appreciated the details of the simulations and actual landing of Apollo 11. I'm sure opinions will vary as to the decision to have this version of the landing go very differently from the historical one; for my part, I thought it showed how the actual Apollo 11 landing was a very close-run thing where any number of extra problems could have arisen above the many that actually did. I wonder if it was always the plan to release the first three episodes at once though, and if it hadn't been, whether the survival of Armstrong and Aldrin might have been left as a cliffhanger?

I've watched episodes two and three, but will post on them later, although will be very happy if anyone else wants to take a turn.
posted by Major Clanger at 12:46 AM on November 3, 2019 [10 favorites]

I think we’re coming to this series from the same place, Major Clanger. I inhaled Baxter’s novels as a teenager and I got to meet him a couple of times at some events, so an alt-space, hard-SF series (not just a movie!) is like catnip to me. I’m sure it’s not 100% technically robust but from what I’ve seen, it’s reasonably good.

Other thoughts:

- Great casting other than for Gene Kranz, who I’m going to have to get used to. Unfortunately Eric Ladin looks like he’s 15 years old in this.

- I was tickled by creative way they used documentary footage. We’re so used to amazing CG that it’s a more interesting decision to not use it sometimes.

- I particularly liked the fictionalised Nixon tapes. How fun! It would’ve been incredibly distracting and unnecessary to film a fake Nixon, so this works nicely.

- Some of the imagery in this pilot was a little too on the nose (e.g. epic journey to the Moon/to American, young girl “lighting the candle” before she goes, etc.) but meh, I can forgive a lot.

- Writing felt a little wooden and too reliant on the speechifying inherent in space exploration. I can take a bit of this but it’ll grate if they do it too often.

- Time will tell how they update this story with our attitudes towards sexism and racism today, but eps 2 and 3 show a lot of promise.

Overall, I’m pleasantly surprised. I’m glad that a few of the pennies from my many, many Apple purchases are going to a TV show that’s apparently designed just for me.

And thanks for posting this thread! I’m not sure I can do as good a job as your first comment but I’m happy to share the load.
posted by adrianhon at 2:37 AM on November 3, 2019

Yeah that was pretty disconcerting but good. We had to stop at 12 in to verify the June date. It was pretty real to me; I caught the JFKennedy voice switch but I liked the way they handled Nixon, too.

I’m glad this is being made, but I hope MKRs Lady Astronaut series gets a go too.
posted by tilde at 6:57 AM on November 3, 2019

I think all of the Apollo (and no doubt, Soviet equivalent) astronauts were extremely lucky there wasn't major solar activity going on. There was virtually no shielding, correct?
posted by Chrysostom at 8:39 AM on November 3, 2019 [1 favorite]

There was virtually no shielding, correct?

Essentially none, especially on the LM.
posted by Thorzdad at 1:09 PM on November 3, 2019 [1 favorite]

NASA's dealt with the risk of a solar flare during an Apollo mission by, in effect, hoping there wouldn't be one. I've read that one of the factors influencing the cancellation of Apollos 18 to 20 (other than just money) was the growing concern that every mission posed significant and hard-to-avoid risks including, but by no means limited to, solar flares. For that matter, a solar flare during an Apollo mission was one of the plot elements in James Michener's Space.
posted by Major Clanger at 1:56 PM on November 3, 2019 [2 favorites]

So while I know far more about the American Apollo project than I probably ought, I'll admit I have a huge blind spot for the Russian manned lunar progress - I know it was pretty much neck and neck through Gemini, but did the Russians ever get an Apollo 9 style free return out of their hardware, or was it all dependent on the ill-fated N1 and there really wasn't any actual competition past LEO?
posted by Kyol at 6:14 PM on November 3, 2019

I'd have to look but I don't think the Soviets had another booster that could loft a spaceship-sized payload into lunar trajectory until Energia in the 80s.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 7:15 PM on November 3, 2019 [1 favorite]

By the late 1960s the Soviet Union had the Proton, which in its 4-stage version could send a Zond (stripped-down Soyuz) on a free-return loop around the Moon and back. It was probably intelligence about the forthcoming flight of Zond 5 as an uncrewed test in September 1968 that led to the decision to fly Apollo 8 to the Moon, in the belief that the Soviets were within a flight or two of a crewed lunar flyby mission. In fact, subsequent Zond missions had serious problems and the Soviet Union never flew one with a crew.
posted by Major Clanger at 11:33 PM on November 3, 2019 [4 favorites]

Lo, I am derp.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 4:10 AM on November 4, 2019

I've been surprised at how much I enjoy this show.

By coincidence, I listened to the BBC's Thirteen Minutes to the Moon and WP's Moonrise podcasts last month. Which I also recommend. Quite timely, as For All Mankind totally flew under my radar until the day it came out.
posted by 2N2222 at 12:22 PM on November 16, 2019 [1 favorite]

So, I’m just coming to this show now. I watched the Right Stuff series that they had on Disney+, where Ladin plays Chris Kraft, so I guess I was primed to see him in Mission Control!

Having trouble keeping track of who is who. It’s still better than the Right Stuff, though.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 5:31 PM on May 30, 2021

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