By Christian Holub
February 19, 2021 at 05:38 PM EST
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Credit: Apple TV+

For All Mankind started with a relatively simple question: What if the Soviet Union sent humans to the moon before the United States did?

That single point of divergence sounds almost traumatic to Americans raised on the glorious legend of our trip to the moon in 1969, but it also opens up imaginative possibilities. Considering how little the American space program has accomplished since the moon landing more than 50 years ago, maybe a Soviet victory in that race would have kept us in competition and motivated Americans to continue building their space program for years and years afterward. 

That's part of For All Mankind's appeal for series star Joel Kinnaman, whose portrayal of astronaut Ed Baldwin continues on season 2 (the first episode of which is now streaming on Apple TV+). Kinnaman told EW that he's more excited about space working on the show now than he ever was as a kid. 

"I remember feeling disappointment towards the world community," he said. "We had done all this amazing stuff 10 years before I was born. So when I was 10 years old, we had gone to the moon more than 20 years ago, and now nothing was happening? We had all this more advanced technology but we're not doing anything? It felt like bullshit. Why aren't we going further, why aren't we going to Mars? There was nothing inspiring that was happening while I was growing up. That's why it's fun to do this show right now."

Kinnaman does acknowledge that now, right now, is the coolest time for space exploration since the Apollo era. He was certainly proven right this week, because For All Mankind season 2 happens to be be premiering just a day after NASA landed a new rover on the surface of Mars. The show just thinks we might have gotten there a little sooner. Season 2 is full of references to Mars; America may have lost the moon race, but they're hoping to win the next milestone.

For All Mankind season 2 opens more than a decade after the events of season 1, which means we're now in the '80s. A new interactive iOS app called For All Mankind: Time Capsule allows fans to learn about some of the things that have happened in the characters' personal lives since we last saw them, but there are also bigger changes on the world stage.

As this alternate history continues to unfold, viewers will see that some things are the same (Ronald Reagan still got elected President) and others are different (Reagan's election happened in 1976 instead of 1980, technology developed on U.S. moon bases prevents the Three Mile Island nuclear disaster, and the U.S. is now considering sending weapons to the moon in order to protect valuable mines from Soviet competitors). 

"'The space program that we didn't get' was a core concept to For All Mankind," co-creator Ronald D. Moore (Outlander, Battlestar Galactica) told EW. "In order to really tell that story, it had to be a multi-year, multi-decade thing so we could watch as we go from the Apollos to the shuttle to Mars and beyond. We decided early on as a writing group that, okay, the structure of the show would be we would jump ahead roughly 10 years or so every season. So we always knew we were going to go into the '80s for the second season, and that just brought up a lot of fun things: Everything from music and pop culture to serious geopolitical things like the Cold War with the Soviet Union and the Reagan administration, the militarization of space. As we go into the future, we'll continue that format to keep jumping ahead about 10 years."

Moore says he and the show's writers have already conceived a whole timeline tracking the events of this alternate history down the line. Viewers will of course have to watch the show to see how it all rolls out going forward, but Kinnaman already knows some of what's in store. He guarantees big things to come. 

"What they talk to me about beforehand is the broad strokes, what arena the season is gonna take place, what the character journey is gonna be," Kinnaman says. "But as we get further into the seasons, you're gonna see some real sci-fi stuff down the line. That's why I'm so stoked. Of course I'm happy bc I love this job and the people I'm working with, so i'm happy the show is a success for Apple so they keep ordering new seasons, but I'm also excited from a storytelling perspective, because that's why I signed onto this: The grand vision of this show is so epic. Hearing their whole plan, I've been thinking, 'If we get to see this, it has the potential to be one of the all-time great shows.' We're pretty far along down the line now. We get to shoot the third season pretty soon."

The first episode of For All Mankind season 2 is streaming now on AppleTV+. Subsequent episodes will premiere every Friday. 

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