A historic episode of the Disney Junior show Miles From Tomorrowland will air Monday, May 7. The episode, which was filmed in cooperation with NASA and features the voices of astronauts and space personalities, has already been screened to astronauts aboard the International Space Station.
In this episode, Miles and his friends must time-travel to stop the ISS from getting stuck in the future. To accomplish this, he has to seek out help from the astronauts aboard the station. The episode features voices from NASA astronauts Scott Kelly, Jeanette Epps, and Yvonne Cagle, as well as the European Space Agency's astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti from Italy and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko. It also features flight director Holly Ridings and NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory's Randii Wessen, Diana Trujillo, Bobak Ferdowsi, and Kevin Hand.
In this exclusive featurette, astronaut Scott Kelly (who spent a year aboard the International Space Station) discusses his role in Miles From Tomorrowland’s “Mission Force One.”
SYFY FANGRRLS spoke with series creator Sascha Paladino to discuss what it was like to work with NASA, and why it’s so important to feature STEM and STEAM in television shows for kids.
Why did you specifically want to work with NASA on Miles From Tomorrowland?
I’ve always been inspired by NASA. Creating Miles From Tomorrowland was, in some sense, my excuse to learn more about outer space and space technology. I was always interested in science as a kid, but I never excelled at it. I went into the arts, and in making this series I realized that the arts were my way into science. So getting to collaborate with NASA was a dream come true!
I read that ISS astronauts watch movies up in space, and I thought it would be really fun to try to have them watch a Miles episode, since we explore so much space science. I figured, how hard can it be? Well, it turns out it’s REALLY hard! NASA needs to approve everything. We had two great strokes of luck. First, I became involved with the Science and Entertainment Exchange, an amazing program run by the National Academy of Sciences that connects writers with scientists, so that TV shows and movies can have authentic, solid, grounded science. Through the Exchange, I met Dava Newman, who was then the deputy administrator of NASA. I pitched her the idea, and she totally got it. She understood that our show aimed to inspire kids to further explore science, saw it as an opportunity to shine a light on the incredible work the ISS is doing, and told us that NASA would support us.
Our second stroke of luck came when we were at Johnson Space Center in 2016. There we met an amazing NASA program scientist named Amelia Rai, who suggested that if we made an episode ABOUT the ISS, NASA would appreciate it and be more likely to show it on the ISS. That was a great idea, and a great challenge for me to write. I had to come up with a story that put our characters, who live hundreds of years in the future, in contact with the ISS astronauts of today. It was fun to take these really heady concepts and make them accessible to kids. I ended up writing a story where the ISS accidentally gets sent into the future, and our heroes have to send the astronauts back to 2018 in order to save the day! Amelia had extensive knowledge of the ISS and worked closely with us to make sure everything in the episode was accurate. Sadly, she passed away before we finished. We dedicated the episode to her; it would not have happened without her.
Why is the STEM focus of the show so important?
I like the version of the acronym that includes the arts — since that was my way into science — so I prefer STEAM. We’ve worked really hard to have a STEAM focus in our show. In Season 3, which is called MISSION FORCE ONE, each of the five heroes on the team has a different STEAM specialty: Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math. Each kid uses that specialty to solve problems. This is partly because, when I was researching the show in the beginning, I was surprised to find that the U.S. is lagging behind many other countries in terms of science graduates and scientific achievement. I also found that there's a big disparity within our country in terms of women and minorities being underrepresented in science and technology fields. I hope that our show is “sticky” enough that some kids who watch it are inspired to explore careers in the sciences. If that happens, I’ll consider our mission accomplished.
Can you tell me why it’s important to you that this project is with Disney?
I have always been inspired by Walt Disney’s vision of the future as a positive, optimistic place. When he dedicated the Tomorrowland area of Disneyland in 1955, he said that future offered “hope for a peaceful, unified world.” I wanted our vision of the future in Miles From Tomorrowland to be similarly hopeful. In this episode, we were able to use music to connect Walt Disney to Miles, past to future.
It felt fitting to make a connection between Disney and NASA in this episode, because that connection has existed since the 1950s. Walt Disney was fascinated by outer space, and in the ‘50s he made a series of TV programs about it (which he called “science factuals”). The first was called Man in Space, and it explored current concepts in rocket engineering with scientists and experts, and featured Wernher von Braun talking about innovations in space travel. President Eisenhower saw the programs, and some say that they inspired him so much that they had a hand in the eventual creation of NASA! So, to me, this episode represents coming full circle: Disney to NASA to Miles — and back again!
Catch this episode of Miles From Tomorrowland on Monday, May 7, at 5:30 p.m. EDT on Disney Junior and in the DisneyNOW app.