'For All Mankind' Showrunner Reveals the One Detail That Changes History

'Battlestar Galactica' creator Ronald Moore tells Inverse how he rewrote history to give Russia an edge in the space race.

Imagine if the Soviets landed on the moon first, beating the US Apollo astronauts by just a matter of days – imagine how different the world would be today. That’s the premise of a new alt-history series, called For All Mankind, from the incredible mind of Ronald D. Moore, the man who reimagined Battlestar Galactica and gave us arguably the best sci-fi ever written for television.

In a conference call interview, Moore tells Inverse why he always wanted to make a TV show about the space race, along with the previously unrevealed historical detail that the Apple TV+ series changes to give the U.S.S.R. an advantage over the U.S. in the space race.

“I grew up with the Apollo program as a kid, and it was really the catalyst for inspiring me to become interested in science fiction, overall,” Moore says. “So it was very important in my personal life and when I was growing up, watching the space program in the 70s, I thought it was going to go places, I thought it was going to go much bigger than it did, and I had dreams of watching moon bases, and colonization and all kinds of things that never came to pass. So, the idea of doing the history that I never got to see, was personally really exciting and interesting to me.”

For All Mankind – the next generation of NASA astronauts?
Events are a little different in this alternate history..and it does look interesting.

The idea of an “alternative history” is not new in science fiction, take The Watchmen, The Man in the High Castle and the work of Harry Turtledove for example, but For All Mankind is slightly different.

“Typically a lot of alternate history pieces throw you into that existing world. Take The Man in the High Castle, the Nazis have already won, the Japanese have already won, and you’re in this other world. This is an opportunity to see it start and see how it developed.”

The turning point in For All Mankind at which history begins to skew off, is the point at which the Soviet Union lands on the lunar surface. Apple has released a new featurette (below) where Moore talks about looking back at Apollo 11.

Moore worked with Zack Van Amburg, now one of the co-presidents at Apple TV+ when Amburg was a co-presidents at Sony Television. Years ago, they talked about a character-driven Mad Men-style drama set at NASA, during the 70s in the Skylab era. Sadly though, this project never got off the ground.

During the ‘70s, NASA suffered one budget cutback after another and the once-ambitious attitude we saw in the 60s began to disappear. Apollo 18, 19 and 20 were canceled, the Skylab mission profile was cut in half and any hopes for a moon base or even a manned mission to Mars were dashed. Instead, every effort was diverted to the space shuttle program.

“I said to Zack, that the more exciting thing to me, was to do the space program that I felt we were promised and we never got. And that’s how the journey to the alternate history version was born. So that’s why it’s at Apple, it came out of our personal relationship,” Moore says.

The Soviet Union was, in fact, closer to landing on the moon than most people realize. Alexei Leonov was the Soviet Union’s cosmonaut of choice for their moon landing mission. In 1968, Leonov was selected to be commander of a circumlunar Soyuz 7K-L1 flight. This was cancelled because of delays and Apollo 8 had already achieved that. He was then selected to be the first Soviet person to land on the Moon, aboard the LOK/N1 mission, which was also cancelled.

Apple TV+ For All Mankind
Joel Kinnaman (Suicide SquadAltered Carbon) stars as Edward Baldwin

“I was fascinated with the concept,” Moore says. “And so, as we started doing our research for the show, and going back to figure out what the pivot point, or the butterfly effect moment would be, I grappled onto the idea that the Chief Designer of the Soviet program, whose name was Sergei Korolev.”

Korolev died in 1966 – the actual circumstances of his death remain somewhat uncertain, but it’s believed to be as a result of a number of factors following what should have been a routine surgery. Consequently, the Soviet program was really never the same, and the N1 rocket that they had designed for their moon attempt literally never really got off the ground.

“So our deeper premise, even though it’s not really stated in our pilot episode, is that Korolev lives,” says Moore. “He survived the surgery and kept the Soviet program together, and was able to solve the design flaws and keep the funding going, and that’s when it all changed.”

For All Mankind
The show's creators went to a lot of trouble to ensure everything looked as realistic as possible

“For our story, we fade in on the Soviet [moon] landing and it takes place about two weeks prior to Apollo 11. So, in our version of history, the United States is just shocked because the Soviets just come out of nowhere and grabbed the prize right out from under our noses, at the last second.”

To make the show as realistic as possible, Moore benefitted from expert advice, including former astronaut Garrett Reisman and former Apollo flight director Gerry Griffin.

“I was called in to take a look at the Mission Control aspects, and the displays and the realness, and talk to the actors,” Griffin says. “I tell you what, the Mission Control set was really, really good. In fact, when I walked into it I felt like I had walked into the control center in Houston. And I got to spend quite a bit of time with the actors…and I could tell they were soaking it up like a sponge, and that they were going to do a great job.”

“What’s fantastic is how much everybody is really passionate about getting the details correct, and the technical parts of it correct,” says Reisman. “So I think when you watch the show, hopefully, it feels real, and everything seems like the way it should be. But at the same time, I hope everybody is really entertained.”

The cast for For All Mankind includes:

  • Joel Kinnaman (Suicide Squad, Altered Carbon) as “Edward Baldwin”
  • Michael Dorman (Patriot) as “Gordo Stevens”
  • Sarah Jones (Alcatraz) as “Tracy Stevens”
  • Shantel VanSanten (The Flash) as “Karen Baldwin”
  • Wrenn Schmidt (The Americans) as “Margo Madison”
  • Jodi Balfour (True Detective, The Crown) as “Ellen Waverly”

Season 1 of For All Mankind will comprise of 10, 1-hour-long episodes and will be available on the SVOD service Apple TV+ when it launches sometime in the fall.