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SYFY WIRE New York Comic Con 2019

Producers and cast of For All Mankind tease a new course for the space race at NYCC

By Rich Sands
Joel Kinnaman, For All Mankind

The cast and producers of the space-exploration drama For All Mankind touched down at New York Comic Con for a preview of the upcoming AppleTV+ streaming series, screening the opening 16 minutes of the first episode. The story begins in June 1969, just as the Soviet Union has beaten the United States in the race to land a man on the moon.

Created by Ronald D. Moore — best known for his reboot of Battlestar Galactica and shepherding the successful TV adaptation of the Outlander books — the series will chart how this turn of events wounds national pride and leaves NASA reeling while adjusting its goals for the space program. A trailer released last week reveals that President Nixon wants the U.S. to instead become the first country to put a woman on the moon.

Despite the demoralizing early setback, the producers see their show as having an optimistic tone. "The [real] story of NASA in the 1970s is kind of a depressing one, at least in my opinion," said Moore, who has previously described the series as "Mad Men set at NASA." He pointed to the reduction of NASA's budget and scope in the years following the historic Apollo 11 mission. "I thought, what if you did the alternate-history version of the show? Let's do the space race we never got."

Added executive producer Marel Davis, "Something we talked about a lot in the writers' room is that by losing the moon we end up winning in the end. We hopefully try to go further and further in the space program, because in our current history after we got to the moon it just kind of fizzled out."

Altered Carbon and The Killing star Joel Kinnaman leads the cast, playing an Apollo astronaut whose life is turned upside down when the Soviets get to the moon first. He praised the writers for managing the storylines of a large cast. "You see many shows where [there are] three or four characters well described," he says. "In this show there's like eight characters that have incredible arcs that really change over the course of the season. … It wasn't until I received [scripts for] Episodes 5 and 6 that I really understood the scope of the character weave."

Though many of the characters are fictional, two figures who will loom large in the background are Nixon and Ted Kennedy. As seen in the opening scenes of the premiere, Nixon is furious that the Soviets managed to steal America's thunder with this iconic moment. "Nixon then decided to go all-in on the space race," Moore says of For All Mankind's plot. "He pulls [U.S. troops] out of Vietnam early."

And in an interesting twist, the timing of the Soviet moon landing leads Senator Ted Kennedy to cancel plans for a party on Chappaquiddick Island, Massachusetts, that in real life led to a major scandal when he was found responsible for the death of Mary Jo Kopechne in a car accident after the gathering. "Ted cancels the party and goes to Washington instead, and as a result [the] Chappaquiddick [tragedy] never happens, Ted becomes a viable candidate for president, and Nixon is now worried about [re-election in] 1972," Moore teased. "All of these dominos start to fall, and they change the course of American history and world history as well. And the entrance of a woman into the program is one of the cultural changes that starts to happen."

There are other kinds of changes that For All Mankind will explore beyond the cultural aspect. Saturday morning at the SYFY WIRE Live Stage, Moore explained how the technological advancements would've rippled through society.

"Putting that amount of focus and R&D into aerospace technology would change things," said Moore. "You'd get to the internet faster, you'd get to solar power faster. A lot of those things would've happened. We feel like this would've been a positive thing for America -- and the world at large."

For All Mankind will be one of several original programs available immediately on the new streaming service AppleTV+ when it launches on Friday, November 1.

Click here for SYFY WIRE’s full coverage of New York Comic Con 2019, including up-to-the-minute news, exclusive interviews, and videos.