For All Mankind: Ronald D. Moore, Maril Davis on Creating an Alternate Version of the Space Race

Among the new shows set to launch with Apple TV+’s debut is For All Mankind, a drama about the space race but with a twist. Instead of America claiming the honor of landing the first man on the Moon, in For All Mankind it’s a Russian cosmonaut who’s first to leave his footprints on another planet.

Series creator/writer/executive producer Ronald D. Moore (Outlander, Battlestar Galactica) and executive producer Maril Davis (Electric Dreams, Helix) joined the For All Mankind‘s cast at the 2019 New York Comic-Con to discuss the intriguing new series. In addition to participating in a packed panel with NYCC attendees, Moore and Davis sat down for a roundtable interview to further delve into the origin of the series and what viewers can look forward to when For All Mankind premieres on November 1, 2019.

What was the genesis of the series and how much of the story focuses on the space travel aspect of the premise?

Ronald D. Moore: “Overall the show is kind of a split focus. It’s definitely about the people on the ground and the people in space. Some of the characters work at NASA at the Johnson Space Center in Houston and it’s about them and their family. And then there’s also astronauts and their families. So, it’s kind of like it’s trying to paint a portrait of NASA as a whole.

The genesis of it is a couple of years ago I got a call from Zack Van Amburg who’s one of the executives who runs Apple TV+ and he had been at Sony for a very long time where Maril and I had been working for a long time, so we knew each other. He invited me over to have a chat after he first started working at Apple and said there was this idea that we kicked around a few years ago about doing a show about NASA in the ‘70s. ‘What do you think about that? I still think about that idea,’ he said.

And I went, ‘That would be cool. We could revisit that, do sort of a Mad Men at NASA kind of a show. I went home and thought about it and the more I thought about it, I realized you could do that show – you could do the Mad Men at NASA but the story of NASA in the ‘70s, in my opinion, is kind of a sad one where the budgets keep getting cut back and the program keeps smaller. We’re not going to go to Mars. You know, things keep on happening. And when I was growing up I was excited about what the program was supposed to be, all the amazing things that were going to happen in space that didn’t come to pass. So, I went back to Zack and said, ‘What if we did the alternate version? What if we did the version of the space program that I thought we were going to get but we didn’t?’

He got excited about that. And then I was talking separately with Matt Wolpert and Ben Nedivi as a team of writers looking for some project to develop with them. I mentioned it to them, they all got very excited about it, and then we all just kind of said, ‘Let’s collaborate on this and we’ll create the show together.’”

There seems to be a new wave of projects that examine the space race. Why do you think it’s become so relevant now and has the billionaire space race influenced the renewed interest at all?

Ronald D. Moore: “My personal opinion, I think, is the billionaire space race has had a lot to do with it. People have gotten excited about the possibilities of going to space, and I think those different projects – like SpaceX – have sort of captured the public’s fascination. Kind of, ‘Oh, yeah, we used to do these really cool things. Let’s do more of them.’

And NASA’s kind of been stuck in a bureaucratic morass. Different presidents come in with different priorities and the program has never quite gotten back on its feet. And then you’ve got these other people that are actively doing things in space. The videos of them look cool, like when SpaceX took the rocket off and landed back down like that and then did two of them at once. It’s sexy and it’s fun. I think it captures the public’s imagination about space travel. That combined with the 50th anniversary – it’s all back in the zeitgeist.”

For All Mankind star Joel Kinnaman
Joel Kinnaman in Apple TV+’s ‘For All Mankind.’

When envisioning an alternate history, did you consult with historians?

Ronald D. Moore: “I did. It started with a base of knowledge. I was always a fan of the space program and read a lot of books. I just was always interested in it. But then, yes, we consulted with a lot of outside people.

Garrett Reisman is one of our technical consultants who is a former astronaut at NASA. We also have Mike and Denise Okuda who come from Star Trek but who had also worked with NASA in various capacities. Then beyond that, all the different departments on the show had their own technical consultants and researchers. We had a full-time historical researcher in the writers room. There was a commitment to really getting as much authenticity in the show as possible.”

Are you addressing any big themes in this first season?

Maril Davis: “I think there’s so many themes. We talk about the idea of what it means to go beyond where you are. Relationships between the husband and wife and what happens when the woman all of a sudden goes out in the workplace as well, and what that means to a relationship. Obviously, optimism. We always talk about by losing the race to the Moon we ultimately will win. That’s a theme that we look at this first season and then hopefully beyond.”

Ronald D. Moore: “It’s an aspirational show. It’s a very optimistic show. It’s really about here’s the path that could have been that we can still do. It’s really sort of saying this was an amazing time that we could have gone this way. We could have expanded the footprint in space. We could have committed a lot of resources to something positive and uplifting to people in the United States and around the world. And by implication, you’re saying we still can. That’s the general big theme of the series.”

How did it feel going back into space? You’ve all been there a lot and you’ve been away for a little bit.

strong>Ronald D. Moore: (Laughing) “It’s fun to be in space, especially since I don’t have to be in the rigs and get on the wires to do it. But, it’s fun. There’s nothing quite like going on a sound stage and getting into a spacecraft. It’s a childhood fantasy where you can just put yourself there.

We had a Moon base on season one and it was completely contained. So, when you walk in – and there was actually a backing out the window that looked like the Moon – you were there. You were like on the Moon. It was really kind of special and cool and really fun. It was just as cool as being on the Battlestar Galactica or the Starship Enterprise at times. You could just imagine that you were really in space, which was really fun.”

Maril Davis: “Also I think…certainly Battlestar Galactica was obviously fictional…I think certainly for someone like Ron who loves space and also loves history, it’s a perfect blend of the two. Also, I know Ron talks about his memories of where he was when they landed on the Moon in ’69. I think that must be fun for you to kind of revisit that.”

Ronald D. Moore: “It is.”

Do you see any comparisons in terms of enthusiasm between 1969 and what’s happening now?

Ronald D. Moore: “A little bit. There’s just something about the effort to leave the planet that excites people. It’s sort of built into our DNA. For literally thousands of years we’ve looked up in the sky at the stars and the Moon and thought about what it would be to go there. And then when we see men and women actually doing it, everybody kind of leans forward because it’s such a compelling leap of the imagination. Something you can see with your eyes literally every day, every night, that you can’t touch, and then someone is going to actually do it. It’s just like a thrilling kind of moment.

I think it thrilled people in ’69 and it thrills people today.”

The series features a plotline about the first woman on the Moon. How did you decide to go in that direction?

Ronald D. Moore: “Once we said let’s make an alternate history, you’re going to pivot. Things are going to change. Russia is going to beat us to the Moon. What are the things that would cascade out of that? One of those became, what would be the cultural changes out of that as well. We came up with a story about how American women would get into the program and to the Moon, much earlier than they did historically which had a lot to do with the Soviets.

People forget the Soviets put the first woman into space a good 20 years before the Americans did, which is insane. So, when we were going and retooling history we said, ‘Let’s pivot on that. Let’s change a lot of things.’

Political things change. The course of nations change. Cultural things are going to change. So, it’s really an interesting, fun exercise to see all the things that could change from just turning one thing around.”