It's 1983 and the folks in and around NASA must contend with a space race, a Cold War and all the external and internal politics that implies as the Apple TV+ alt-history drama “For All Mankind” opens its second season.
Kicking off Friday, the new season advances the storyline 10 years to find tensions between the United States and Soviet Union at their peak. Ronald Reagan is in his second term as president and the greater ambitions of science and space exploration are threatened as both countries vie for control of the moon's natural resources.
Tensions are also ratcheted up on the moon, where both the Americans' Jamestown Base and the Soviets' Zvezda Base have greatly expanded. Back at Johnson Space Center, the Department of Defense has moved into Mission Control, making the militarization of the space program the central issue for many of the characters.
Joel Kinnaman (astronaut Ed Baldwin), Michael Dorman (astronaut Gordo Stevens), Sarah Jones (Gordo's wife Tracy), Shandel VanSanten (Ed's wife Karen), Wrenn Schmidt (NASA engineer Margo Madison) and Jodi Balfour (astronaut Ellen Waverly) are among Season 1 returnees, joined by new cast members Cynthia Wu, Coral Pena and Casey W. Johnson.
Reimagining history based on the central premise of a continuing space race between the U.S. and Soviets is a fun canvas on which to paint for series co-creator, co-writer and executive producer Ronald D. Moore, and in Season 2 we see the results of that.
“We're saying basically that the investment in space technology and in the space race itself spurs even greater technological change than in reality,” Moore says.
“As you know, a lot of things that NASA did in the real world in computer technology and all kinds of developments of different things ... had benefits in the civilian world. And we're now taking that and boosting it even further.
“You know, when we come into '83, the electric car is starting to become a fad,” he continues. “And all the way around – cellphones and getting to the internet faster, so there's an accelerated technological development that's one of the core ideas of the show.”
In this world, NASA is also on the leading edge when it comes to diversity, with more people of color, more people of different nationalities and more women in roles of authority.
That manifests itself in the series in a promotion at Johnson Space Center for Schmidt's character Margo Madison.
“I feel like Margo's storyline for the whole season really has to do with navigating the complexity of the ways in which politics and the military impact the more idealized version of space exploration and missions,” the actress explains. “When she was younger, everything I think as far as priorities and how something should be approached was much more black and white.
“But now that she's had to become more of a political animal,” she continues, “there's a lot more to navigate and that's sometimes not necessarily Margo's strongest suit. ... I think it's been really fun to have Margo walking on a higher tightrope, if you will.”