For All Mankind: Into the Abyss
November 15, 2019 8:37 AM - Season 1, Episode 5 - Subscribe

Ed and the crew change Apollo 15's landing site after lunar ice is detected.
posted by KTamas (21 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Random observations:
- This episode felt about 10 minutes longer than it should have been.
- I was mostly meh about it but I gotta say I got goosebumps when Molly finally found ice on the moon
- I did not see that time jump coming!
- Gordo's character is just painful to watch. Will he ever get more personality other than Mr. Toxic Masculinity?
- Fuck yeah, Molly Cobb.
- For reasons that are legit beyond me, noone is talking about "life" on the moon, like, you know, if you had ice for two billion years then idk maybe some sort of new lifeforms developed? Anyone? Noone? Just me, then.
posted by KTamas at 8:42 AM on November 15, 2019 [4 favorites]

Also I don't know how much money Apple spent on this show (as far as I know the answer is "a lot") some of the CGI is just painful to watch. We can do better than this in 2019.
posted by KTamas at 8:45 AM on November 15, 2019 [3 favorites]

Agreed on the too-long mission and the really shaky CG for when they're taking photos of Cobb on the Moon. Otherwise, the suspense really drew me in – it felt like they could've died at any moment.

Time jump! "Apollo 25"! Jamestown Base! Truly all my alt-history space race dreams have come true!
posted by adrianhon at 10:58 AM on November 15, 2019

How about that upgraded DSKY in Apollo 15? It had a bitmap display and even a text input prompt. So much more user friendly than the numeric NOUN VERB on the real AGC.

The hammocks were also an upgrade after sleeping on the LEM floor in 11. Apparently even in low g it was still uncomfortable.
posted by autopilot at 4:02 PM on November 15, 2019 [1 favorite]

CGI? I mean, they just used a soundstage for those scenes with the flag, right? ;)

A few unrealistic bits that stood out: Round trip comm times should be 2.5 seconds, so mission control kept responding too quickly. But I can live with that for drama. More annoying was the astronauts dreaming up a winch on a moment's notice. Mission control should have had multiple teams tearing rovers apart from the minute they landed, to plan that all out in excruciating detail.
posted by joeyh at 5:17 PM on November 15, 2019 [6 favorites]

I've been watching this show and thinking the whole time about how beautiful it is. I guess it's good to know that some people have higher standards for that kind of thing, but I personally have only noticed the most amazing moon shots, spacecraft shots, cool gear, that gorgeous credit sequence, etc.

I would have very much enjoyed a montage of people on earth figuring out the best plan on the moon!

Watching the episode with the training of the ASCANs, I was just in awe of what a life that must be. Constantly learning about cutting edge tech and science, physical training, and being surrounded by highly motivated and dedicated people every day! and in this episode - finding ice that other human being knew about!
posted by Acari at 7:44 AM on November 16, 2019 [2 favorites]

I'm pretty cynical about scifi shows, but I have to say how much I find this one enjoyable. Every episode so far has had me going.

I just wonder if they're going to backtrack and show us if Gordo continues to fuck up and sabotage all the stuff he touches.
posted by 2N2222 at 12:28 PM on November 16, 2019 [1 favorite]

I wonder if some of the comments about non-credible CGI are stemming from the fairly faithful reproduction of optical conditions on the Moon: the unfamiliar level of crispness to the image and the lack of depth cues might make the CGI look "fake" from a certain perspective.

The motion of the astronauts may also seem weird in the 100% animated shots, because I think the animators are running physics simulations to make plausible 1/6th G manoeuvres -- again, rendering the human motion unfamiliar and uncanny.

I'm suggesting these apparent failures of CGI may really be a bit of hard science leaking in. Lots of Hollywood depictions of the Moon are happy to give us unreal lighting environments, aerial perspective and other unreal depth cues, and use 1G motion in "slow-mo" to try to capture that 1/6th G feel. To the eye it looks more natural while being less technically accurate.

(I am guessing here. I am a CGI professional, but I have no information about how they went about production for FAM.)
posted by Construction Concern at 1:41 PM on November 16, 2019 [11 favorites]

That did occur to me although I noticed a significant difference in style between shots. Generally I thought they were pretty good apart from that first one. Mostly I’m being picky!
posted by adrianhon at 3:20 PM on November 16, 2019

Space history analysis:
OK, you have to watch For All Mankind with one huge area of suspension of disbelief, which is this version of NASA's radically aggressive approach to risk. I have to assume that (a) massive, relentless political pressure from the Nixon administration to outdo the Soviets, (b) getting away with near-disaster on their version of Apollo 11, and (c) no Apollo 13 incident - at least, we assume, as it's never mentioned - means that NASA has internalised a we'll-get-away-with-it approach. There may be an interesting discussion to be had as to how much worse this would be than the notionally safety-focussed culture in our timeline that nonetheless fell into 'normalization of deviance' (previously) that led to the Challenger and Columbia disasters.

Ed Baldwin mentions having been on Gemini 7 with Gordo Stevens. That mission was flown by Frank Borman and Jim Lovell in our timeline. Assuming Baldwin to have been the commander, that means he's commanded three missions in FAM's history (Gemini 7, Apollo 10 and Apollo 15).

Astronautics nerd analysis:
I saw some griping that it wouldn't be possible to retarget the mission from Mare Frigoris to Shackleton crater, thousands of km away. That would have been true if it had followed the flight plan used for all real-world Apollo missions, which was to have a lunar orbit near the Moon's equator, or at least no further than necessary to reach the landing site. You can't reach a polar site from such an orbit, because you never fly over it. However, there's a reference early on to this Apollo 15 being in a survey orbit, and indeed if you look at the mission control orbit plot you can see it's in a steeply-inclined orbit that goes far towards the lunar north and south poles. As an aside I love the level of background detail in such things.

One weird detail that did jar though was the anachronistic upgrade to the LM's DSKY interface. I don't think such displays were even in lab development in the early 1970s, were they?

Dramatic analysis:
The stress on the wives of the Apollo-era astronauts has been well-documented and featured in a number of dramatisations; it's interesting to see the depiction of Wayne Cobb's reaction, especially when he is such a fish out of water amidst the other astronaut spouses, not just from his gender but by not having lived in the military/test-pilot culture. I thought it an interesting touch that although both Wayne Cobb and Karen Baldwin confess recurrent nightmares, it is the artistic and imaginative Wayne who has a very literal and specific dream, and the strait-laced and conformist Karen who has a much more allegorical one. (Hint for Wayne though: art therapy works best for yourself.)

Gordo Stevens: how did he get to fly two missions, be assigned to a third as LMP, and then get bumped from it but given the commander's slot on Apollo 18? I can only assume that despite all his personality faults he is very competent in other areas. (Gordon 'Gordo' Cooper, his real-life near-namesake, was eventually canned by Slayton for failure to apply himself during training.)

Given that we seem to have jumped two years though, are we going to see any fall-out from the altercation between Gordo and Danielle Poole's husband? It seems odd to show that scene if it doesn't have any dramatic payoff beyond just reminding us of Gordo's flaws. If Poole has been named as the first Black astronaut assigned to a mission then pulling her is going to get a lot of attention, but is she really going to be able to work with Gordo after that?
posted by Major Clanger at 4:49 AM on November 17, 2019 [12 favorites]

Awesome analysis! Regarding the moonbase landing at the end, is that at all possible using the Saturn V? I’ve heard some people say this is where the show veers directly into science fiction. I imagine you get a lot of extra useable mass because that base isn’t flying back, but it still looked pretty big. Maybe in-orbit assembly?
posted by adrianhon at 6:14 AM on November 17, 2019

I've looked online and it turns out that Garrett Reisman, former astronaut who acts as technical adviser, commented on this:

"Also - it all happens off-camera, but Jamestown arrives autonomously via Saturn V with nothing above the S-IVB other than the base under a large fairing. The base would have to be flown stripped-down and outfitted by later missions to meet mass requirements."

(Reisman also confirms my observations on the polar lunar orbit their Apollo 15 used).

Looking at Jamestown, if it was flown on its side with the airlock module at the front then I think it's certainly less than 10m wide and so could fit under a large fairing that continued the same diameter as the S-II second stage of the Saturn V and enveloped both the S-IVB third stage and the payload (several rockets, including the current Atlas V large-fairing version, do this.)

A Saturn V could send 47,000 kg on a translunar trajectory. Now, a version with a big heavy payload shroud might lose some of that, but since in our timeline there were only enough Saturn Vs to get to Apollo 20 anyway* there must have been a second production batch in FAM and these would likely have incorporated proposed upgrades such as better-performing engines and stretched stages.** So I'll assume that this makes up the extra weight and Jamestown, fulled fuelled, had a mass of about 47,000 kg.

The delta-V (total velocity change) to slow down from an Earth-originating trajectory and land on the Moon is about 2,600 m/s. Assuming that Jamestown used the same storable N204/hydrazine propellants as the LM, with a specific impulse of about 300s, the mass ratio required (fuelled divided by empty mass) is about 2.4. So if Jamestown, fully-fuelled, weighed 47,000 kg, its empty mass would have been about 19,500 kg, which seems feasible, especially if much of the internals would have been added later. For comparison, the LM had an unfuelled mass of about 5,000 kg (fuelled, it was 16,400kg, but it had to get down from lunar orbit and back up again, albeit with two stages.)

* In real life, Apollo 20's Saturn V went to launch Skylab, and those for Apollo 18 and 19 are on display, as is the 'facilities test' prototype, although it turns out that the three 'real' Saturn Vs on display are made up of mixes of stages from those 3 vehicles.

** There were more extensive proposed upgrades including additional solid rocket boosters. I wonder if we'll see those in the show?
posted by Major Clanger at 7:01 AM on November 17, 2019 [6 favorites]

Aha, that would do it! Thanks for the research.
posted by adrianhon at 10:59 AM on November 17, 2019

Yeah, and they mentioned having taken pictures of Shackleton shortly after the suggestion was made, so I knew they were already in a nearly appropriate inclination. Now, whether _any of the rest_ of it could've been even remotely been appropriate for the 4th landing, well. Uh. Probably not.

There used to be a great source of public domain NASA films on youtube, Jeff somebody or other, whose account got nuked by the powers-that-be, and some of the films included stuff like how NASA selected Apollo landing sites and lunar liftoff times and sun angles and and all the high grade nerdery that basically highlighted how any given Apollo mission had tight constraints for where they could land given the tight constraints for a coplanar earth liftoff and what appropriate orbits they could get into would be from there.

Even assuming an Apollo mission could _get_ to such an inclined orbit, which I kind of want to say they couldn't, given the orbital requirements?

I know, I know, it's just a TV show.
posted by Kyol at 7:33 PM on November 17, 2019

"I wonder if some of the comments about non-credible CGI are stemming from the fairly faithful reproduction of optical conditions on the Moon..."

Yeah, I was also surprised by those comments because I've thought the CGI was quite good.

"(Hint for Wayne though: art therapy works best for yourself.)"


"Even assuming an Apollo mission could _get_ to such an inclined orbit, which I kind of want to say they couldn't, given the orbital requirements?"

I know little about orbital mechanics, but my intuition was that a lunar polar orbit would be fuel expensive. I googled and found a pretty thorough calculation showing it would be trivial.

I liked this episode very much. I was very stressed, fully believing the show is willing to kill Cobb.

It's not credible to me if they keep taking these risks without a fatal accident. The history of spaceflight has proven that the margin of error for safety is tiny.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 8:39 PM on November 17, 2019 [1 favorite]

Yeah, it might've been lighting angles or abort considerations that kept the Real World Apollo missions constrained to the narrow belt they did land in - if the command module is in a highly inclined orbit and the lunar module needs to abort when the command module's... Longitude of the Ascending Node? I think? is 90 degrees away because the moon's rotation has shifted everything around - they're never going to meet without a couple of prohibitively expensive maneuvers.

This can be planned around on the ground, but in an abort it can be an insurmountable "you just lost your crew" sort of problem.

...if I'm remembering my orbital elements properly, and if the tidal lock doesn't do something to the LAN that I'm not picturing, if the moon's rotation is fast enough to be a problem over 3 days, etc etc etc. If only installing Realism Overhaul wasn't such a dang pain, I'd give it a shot to help visualize it.
posted by Kyol at 12:14 PM on November 19, 2019 [2 favorites]

Finally got to this. It might be that I saw it on a small screen, but for tv chat is was okay. Better than STNG. I think the issues are that the background moon and the foreground flying units aren’t rendered in the same way/s or levels. See also: the hell scenes in the original Spawn movie. I could see some masking where they layered one shot on another, but I tend to notice that as a hobby.

But as someone who has never been to the Grand Canyon, I was terrified of those shots in and around the crater.
posted by tilde at 6:41 PM on November 19, 2019 [2 favorites]

Until we get a better still of Wayne's painting of Karen's dream panther, here's a crappy patch-up of a series of screenshots.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:07 PM on December 5, 2019 [1 favorite]

You can get to a lunar polar orbit with a pretty small mid-course correction burn, so the CM had the delta-V to do it. I think Kyol's right about the abort requirements being basically impossible though; precession of lunar orbits is crazy because the Moon's really lumpy in ways that make most orbits, especially low polar ones, unstable and causes them to terminate in impact or escape over the course of about a week. Even predicting when the CM would pass over the landing site a few orbits in advance would be difficult. Realism Overhaul doesn't sim that; even Orbiter only has non-spherical gravity for the Earth, and not the Moon.
posted by rhamphorhynchus at 7:29 PM on March 17, 2020 [1 favorite]

> are we going to see any fall-out from the altercation between Gordo and Danielle Poole's husband? It seems odd to show that scene if it doesn't have any dramatic payoff beyond just reminding us of Gordo's flaws.

Yeah, that scene seemed to be there just to check a "Vietnam vet returns and is treated poorly" box.

Gravity on the moon seems to be the same as in my backyard, judging by the hammock scene.
posted by The corpse in the library at 7:23 AM on June 14, 2022 [1 favorite]

"I'm on TV? I wish you would have told me, I would have done something with my hair." -Molly in space, actual smiling beautifully, hair totally on end.

If Frank knew Gloria was the one right off, why did she have to drag him down the aisle?!

Karen plus Wayne is....quite a thing, there. First he's driving her nuts and smells funny, AND THEN SHE GOES INTO HIS POT DEN OF INIQUITY...and then when she goes on about her own horrible dreams, AWWWWWWWWW.

Gordo, stop being... Gordo. I dislike this dude most of the time.

"I say here's to selfish pricks, because we move the ball forward for mankind."
"I gotta admit, wrecking government property is kinda fun."

Given that we seem to have jumped two years though, are we going to see any fall-out from the altercation between Gordo and Danielle Poole's husband? It seems odd to show that scene if it doesn't have any dramatic payoff beyond just reminding us of Gordo's flaws. If Poole has been named as the first Black astronaut assigned to a mission then pulling her is going to get a lot of attention, but is she really going to be able to work with Gordo after that?

Thought same :/ I wanted to see Danielle in Apollo 18!!!!
posted by jenfullmoon at 4:54 PM on February 18

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