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For All Mankind provides a look into a different space race

The upcoming series For All Mankind examines an alternative history where the Soviets were the first to land a man on the Moon. (credit: Apple)

Apple recently released the first full trailer of what appears to be its flagship series, For All Mankind, for its upcoming Apple TV+ streaming service. The series is a creation of Ron Moore, a former Star Trek producer who previously created a reboot of Battlestar Galactica and the current time travel romance Outlander.

The trailer begins on the night of the first Moon landing, something that many viewers lived through or at least are familiar. After a minute or so it becomes apparent that things are different than in the history we know. The first man to walk on the moon is a Soviet cosmonaut. America has lost the race to the Moon.

After what seems to be a moment of stunned horror, the folks at NASA pick themselves up and decide that the space race has just taken on a greatest importance. Think of the Soviet Moon landing as Sputnik times a thousand, and the American response as, “We choose to go to the Moon” times ten thousand. America is now embarked on an even greater space race, involving moon bases and expeditions to Mars—and much more, if one understands the stirring speech by a NASA official who appears to be Gene Kranz.

The scenario is a beguiling one for people who lived through the Moon landing and suffered a keen disappointment when the Apollo program ended and humans seemed to be stuck in low Earth orbit for 50 years. I covered the same alternate history in Children of Apollo, albeit with a different, less dramatic point of departure.

The trailer also makes it pretty clear that women astronauts and at least one African American are being recruited for the new space race. Also, someone discovers water on the Moon decades earlier than it happened in the history we know.

The trailer poses a number of questions about some of the political aspects of an expanded space race. As historian Roger Launius notes, the Apollo program was not wildly popular with the American public when it was happening. Would the Soviets stealing a march on NASA change that lack of support?

One could see President Nixon using the defeat to rally the nation to forge ahead to make sure that the Soviets would not dominate space. He would have a lot of strategic reasons to, not the least of which would be the fact that the Soviet economy would not be strong enough to sustain a prolonged space race. A space program that would spend the Soviets into the ground would yield the United States a great many advantages.

Of course, the political opposition to the space program, especially an expanded one, would not go away. The United States was involved in a war in Vietnam and an expansion of the welfare state that was also demanding federal funding. Sens. Walter Mondale and William Proxmire, opponents of space spending in our history, would lead a spirited opposition to any attempt to expand the sixties space program.

Also, it is not entirely clear how long national pride would serve to sustain an expanded space program. The shock of Sputnik wore off eventually. The United States, with its inherent economic and technical advantages, would sooner or later leave the Soviets in the dust in the alternate scenario. Either space exploration would somehow have to become an ingrained imperative for the American people or some other reason would have to be devised to keep things going. An early commercialization effort to start making money? Diplomacy by bringing in American allies as partners? Both things happened in the history we know. Could they happen earlier in the For All Mankind scenario?

In any case, Apple TV seems to have a potential hit on its hands and a great selling point for its new streaming service, with exquisite timing on this the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing.

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