For All Mankind is the new Apple TV+ show starting in the fall of 2019. It talks about the Apollo space program under the assumption that the Soviet Union beat us to the moon.
First, a bit of a warning: there will be minor spoilers here for the new Apple TV+ show “For All Mankind”. No spoilers on the plot of the show, but I will discuss a couple scenes in the show, and the scene context may be a spoiler.
I’ve been working on the ideas of Belitopia for a long time now. The podcast that started this fall is my first outward expression of this world. It’s the start of describing this world. What better place for me to start, than with a better world of Apollo.
Given my interest in this subject, I was overjoyed when I heard that Apple was launching a brand new TV show on their new Apple TV+ service, called “For All Mankind”. This show was advertised as an alternate view of the space race. This was fantastic! Someone else expressing their view on an alternate space race!
Now, For All Mankind does things differently than I do. This is great. I am focused on what happens if the funding for Apollo continued after we landed on the moon. For All Mankind is based on the topic of what happens if the Russians had won the race to the moon.
The end results of these different questions are two very different worlds, yet visions of the worlds that also have some similarities. For example, the idea of human moon bases exist in both of our worlds. Yet Belitopia includes a greater investment in building an infrastructure in space. It’s taking the success of the moon landing, and turning it into a greater space presence and greater space technology.
Meanwhile, For All Mankind’s focus is a continuation of the “one shot” missions that made up the original real Apollo program. For All Mankind is saying “let’s try and be the first to the moon, and if we can’t do that let’s put the first woman in space, and if we can’t do that, let’s put the first temporary base on the moon, and if we can’t do that, let’s try and find water on the moon”. It’s all about racing to do something once and first, before the Russians. It’s about what happens if the Russians actually beat us to the moon. It’s about the battle for space dominance.
But, even with these differences, I’ve been enjoying watching For All Mankind. In my mind, it’s a great example of the type of Science Fiction I’ve wanted to promote with Belitopia…that of a realistic Science Fiction.
I love the premise and I love the execution of the program. I also think the acting is decent. I hope it is popular enough to continue on with follow on seasons. I want to keep watching the show for years to come. I hope it will be popular and I hope it will be successful.
I do, however, have a few issues with some of their technical decisions made in the show…decisions that I don’t think would have actually occurred in the way they described them on the show. These are all technical nits, though. In general, I find the show to be quite entertaining. But, given that my focus is on “realistic” Science Fiction, I think the nits are worth talking about.
In my mind, the most glaring technical oddity occurred when the two astronauts, Gordo Stevens and Danielle Poole left the moon due to the emergency and left the third astronaut, Ed Baldwin, behind on the moon base. The premise was they were to leave using an “emergency Apollo CSM (Command-Service Module) that was left in lunar orbit as a lifeboat”. As such, they took off from the lunar surface in an Apollo-era LEM, and docked with the waiting orbiting CSM lifeboat. Ed then returned in the LEM to the lunar surface while Gordo and Danielle took the CSM lifeboat back to earth.
The problem is with the LEM. The way the Apollo-era LEMs worked, is the LEM lands as a two stage ship and then takes off using only the top stage, the bottom stage stays behind. This means a LEM, by design, can do a single landing, followed by a single take off. After it has taken off into space, it cannot, in any way, re-land again. It is physically impossible. By design, once the LEM takes off from the lunar surface, it either remains in lunar orbit forever or (more likely) eventually it’ll crash into the lunar surface.
The problem is this…when Gordo and Danielle left, all three astronauts, including Ed, took off in the LEM and rendezvoused with the CSM lifeboat. Then, Gordo and Danielle went into the CSM to return home, while Ed stayed in the LEM to go back to the lunar surface.
This would never have happened, as Ed would have been killed by the crashing LEM. He could never had made it back to the lunar surface alive.
Instead, in such a situation where two of the three astronauts were to leave for home, only the two departing astronauts would ever get into the LEM and return to the CSM. The third astronaut would have remained on the lunar surface. This means the “Hi Bob” farewell scene should have occurred on the lunar surface before Gordo and Danielle left, not in lunar orbit as it did during the episode. This issue had no impact on the story, but given the research and planning for an Apollo-era lunar base that I have been doing, it stuck out as a glaring problem with their approach.
This is a nit, but a nit I look for given my interest in the topic of realistic Science Fiction.
Belitopia is Not Immune Either…
Now, I understand from personal experience the difficulty in writing a script that doesn’t have such technical issues in them. It’s impossible to keep all the millions of details straight to guarantee that nobody can find fault with the technical logic you assume in your scripts. I assume it won’t be long before people start noticing similar things in my scripts for Belitopia. If you listen to the Season 1 mid-season bonus episode, you’ll hear me describe one of my mistakes involving how the Venus Flyby mission works. This is the mission that is the subject of Episode 3 and Episode 4 of Season 1.
The issue is around the fee-return trajectory and the use of it to prevent the type of problem I describe in this mission.
So, I have nits in Belitopia as well…
Here are the episodes discussed in this post: