Writer/producer Ronald D. Moore got his start in Hollywood on Star Trek, amassing dozens of writing credits from The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and even a couple from Voyager. He also co-wrote two Trek feature films (Generations and First Contact). He has kept very busy in the two decades since moving on from the Trek franchise, and picked up an Emmy and a Peabody Award for his reimagined Battlestar Galactica.
Moore’s latest sci-fi television show is For All Mankind on the Apple TV+ streaming service. The show—which has its share of Star Trek references—tells an alternative history of an expanded Space Race that never ended, starting when the Soviets were the first to land a man on the moon. Season two of the series debuts this week and jumps the show forward in time. In the first part of our exclusive chat with Moore, we discuss season two and how it is imbued with the DNA of Star Trek.
Your stated synopsis of For All Mankind is that it shows an alternate history with “the space program that we were promised but never got.” Season one was very aspirational, but season two is a bit darker. Are you trying to show the price to be paid for an extended Space Race and heated up Cold War?
Well, to an extent. It’s certainly showing that even an expanded space program with lofty aspirational goals isn’t going to be a cakewalk. It’s still a dangerous activity. It’s still caught up in geopolitics as well as domestic politics, and that the military would certainly be involved. Yeah, there’s an aspect of it being darker and more dangerous in the second season because that seemed like what the reality would have been as we got into the ‘80s and the Cold War and the coming of Reagan and all that. But the show still has a very optimistic viewpoint of the place of space travel in our lives and how it can make life better for everyone on Earth is still a core tenet of the show.
Season two was being put together just around the time the new Space Force was just announced. I was wondering if that played into some of the NASA vs DoD tensions in season two, and is there an allegory or warning about the militarization of space?
It’s at least a cautionary note to it. The Space Force thing came up yes, while we were in the middle of doing stuff, and we all just kind of rolled our eyes. Like, ‘Oh my God, what’s this nonsense?’ But the military had been part of the space program from the beginning. It was a military venture in a lot of ways. NASA became a civilian agency but was populated with a lot of military officers. And most, if not all, of the original astronauts were American test pilots and fighter pilots. A lot of the DNA of NASA’s personnel came from the Military Industrial Complex. And as the space program developed in reality, there were plans for some of the things that we play in season two. In season two the Air Force has its own wing of military shuttles that fly out of Vandenberg Air Force Base. Well, that was a real plan. They really had plans to do that. They only shelved those plans after the Challenger Accident. So, a lot of the things that we’re talking about in season two in terms of the militarization of space is not just sci-fi. This is a reality because there is a military interest in space. There’s a national security interest in space. You can’t just pretend that that’s not part of the equation.
You already had a number of Trek (and Battlestar) vets on For All Mankind, like Maril Davis, David Weddle, and Bradley Thompson. And for season two you brought in Joe Menosky. First, had he already left The Orville, or did you nab him from your old friend Bannon [Braga]? And what was it like working with Joe again, who is of course an amazing writer of some classic Star Trek.
[laughs] No, he had just wrapped up his time at Orville. And it’s great working with Joe again. We go way back. I spent a lot of years in writers’ rooms with Joe and it was just like getting back in the groove of it. He has a really fascinating mind. He’s one of my favorite people to have in a writers’ room because he listens a lot and he’s listening to all the dialogue and conversation and debate back and forth and then he’ll just suddenly say something that cuts either straight to the point that you’ve missed all along, or he’ll just pitch some completely left-field idea that you never thought of. You’d be like, ‘Oh my God, that’s it!’ So I love working with Joe. And also, Maril, David, and Brad were from Trek, as well as Battlestar. Maril started at Star Trek when she was a PA and then an assistant. And then David and Bradley were writers on Deep Space Nine.
The post-credits ending of season one showed a dramatic Sea Dragon launch, which I learned was a real proposed thing. Are you using space consultants to help with these things, or is this stuff you and your staff heard of back in the day and can now make real on the show?
A little bit of both. When we first conceived the show and I was putting the writing staff together, I sort of dove into what are the projects that NASA came up with that were never realized. And at first, I thought there would just be a couple of things to find, but it turns out there are hundreds of things. There’s all these plans and design proposals all over the place. And some of them have been compiled into ebooks and other media that I started to do research on. And some of them were just inspiring, like the Sea Dragon, which was just something I stumbled across. I’m an aficionado of the American Space Program and I’ve never heard of this concept, and I was blown away by it. And then I looked on YouTube and there were some sites that had done animation and what this thing would look like launching out of the ocean and I thought that’s the coolest thing I’ve ever seen. And visually, it sets us apart from the reality that the audience knows. They’ve never seen this kind of a launch and I thought that would be amazing. And then it worked into our plot in a perfect way, because in season two we’re saying that Sea Dragon is how they lift major components for the Jamestown base to the moon. Sea Dragon is so much more capable of heavy lift than even the Saturn V, so big components of the Jamestown base and resupply missions take place on Sea Dragon.
So then it was going through all that kind of material of projects that were proposed but never realized. We were looking for things that would be interesting and fun and things that are plausible and trying to compile them into a coherent program that all makes sense for how the parts all work together. The Space Shuttle is still part of that system. Skylab is still part of that system. But then here’s a moon base. What was the purpose of the moon base? Well, how about mining? Because that’s how they started the mining operation. So the base is constructed in a way that makes sense to construct a mining operation. And what other satellites that they have. What’s the purpose of Skylab? We wanted all these components to kind of be part of a larger organic whole.
Season two takes us into the ‘80s. As someone born in the ’60s that decade might be even more salient for you growing up in that era. Did you have to temper any impulses to over-indulge in ‘80s nostalgia?
I wasn’t too tempted to go too far because there have been so many ‘80s things done already that overdo it, where it’s all about the hairstyles and all about the clothes. I told our costume designer, “I don’t want to do the big Dynasty shoulder pads.” We’re not doing that. We’re not doing the things that have become caricatured over and over and over. You had to have certain elements of it, just to make it the ‘80s. Ronald Reagan is a fixture. Some of the music is really iconic and you can’t not play some of that music if you’re going to be in the 1980s. But, when I was living through the ‘80s, it didn’t feel like an over-the-top caricature. It just felt like this was reality. We all just kind of treated it like a normal place to be. It was just our sense of the norm. So you want the show to feel like that. The characters aren’t aware that they’re in a period piece. The characters are just living their lives. So you didn’t want to try to cram in every single ‘80s reference that you could think of. You just wanted to present it like this is just another day.
You use some tricks to incorporate historical characters in the show, like in season one you had Nixon but mostly with audio. In season two you had video with Reagan and others using some archival footage but also stuff that is faked. Can you talk about how you brought that to life?
The technology, for lack of a better term, is the deep fake technology that people are always talking about. That is something we tried to tap into. How can we have Ronald Reagan at a press conference or on a video phone talking to our characters and change dialogue? And it’s certainly possible, but it’s still an expensive, difficult process. So, we had to sort of pick and choose our moments, and they’re still not cheap and easy. That technology is obviously just going to get better and better as time goes on, but at this point in time, we had to just sort of decide when we’re going to do this, and it had to be very specific things. It takes a lot of work. The original source clips are obviously not HD quality. That’s one challenge. You need people who can convincingly mimic the voices of the people, whether it’s Johnny Carson or whether it’s Ronald Reagan. And then you have to deal with what’s called “lip flap” which is literally watching their mouth move in certain shapes to form vowels and consonants. That takes intense work and it’s just a very tedious process to pull it off. So you can see we just did it a few times here and there.
One of the changes seen on For All Mankind is the earlier diversifying of NASA, with even more in season two. Is this just a reality that you can’t make a show in the 2020s with just a bunch of white guys? Or do you feel that this more rapid expanded Space Race would have brought more people of color and women into the space program?
That was one of the core concepts of the show. I felt that I’m doing an alternate history of the space program that was bigger and better. And why is it better? It’s better not just because we get lots of cool new tech and new spaceships and moon bases we never saw. It’s also that we’re creating a better world. To bring it back to Trek, it’s the road to Star Trek. So what is the road to Star Trek entail? It entails becoming better people, having a better society. And how could the space program help move us down the road to becoming a better society? Well, what if we put women in space earlier than it happened? Why would that happen? Well, the Soviets put a woman in space 20 years before NASA did. So maybe in the context of our alternate reality, the Soviets continue to up the stakes and they put a woman on the moon. And then that sparks the United States to go, ‘Oh, my God, where are women our astronauts?’
And then what starts out as a PR stunt to sort of match them becomes something bigger when women are suddenly seen doing heroic dangerous things in space that heretofore had been done only by white men. And that sort of national experience of watching that happen would spark more social change. Because you’re talking about the early ‘70s when there was already a lot of social change in the air. There’s the Women’s Liberation Movement. There were a lot of African-American Civil Rights Movements that had happened. The ferment was to sort of go even further. So we said: As NASA led the way and showed America different kinds of heroes then the society would move that way too. And NASA would become even more diversified. And it would happen at a faster pace. Again, it would move the country and move the world down a road towards a more inclusive kind of future.
They recently announced season three, so are you jumping forward another decade? As For All Mankind moves forward in time, are there concerns about diverging too far where it may no longer feel real?
One of the things we’ve said in the writers’ room is that we don’t want to get so far off the track of actual history that it feels like it’s a different world. Not yet. We wanted it to feel plausible like all these things really could have happened. This is the road not taken. You want it to be able to recognize certain tentpole moments of history, and pop-cultural moments of history. So that when you’re watching the show, you can go, ‘Oh, yeah, that is the ‘80s. It’s a different 80s than I remember, but yeah, a lot of the same things are there. Ronald Reagan’s there. I remember that tune. I know who John Lennon is.’
And yes, we are going to go to the ‘90s in season three. And we will again try to maintain certain touchstones of what was really happening in the ‘90s. Now that said, the further you get along this path, you diverge from the main branch. And as you get further and further away from the main branch, things are going to change more and more and more. So there is a point where the present that is displayed in For All Mankind will be fairly different from the world we know. But even then we’ll try to keep in touch with our reality.
You wrote your first alternate history over 30 years ago with “Yesterday’s Enterprise.” Did Star Trek prepare you for writing the alternate history in For All Mankind?
Yes, I think Star Trek basically taught me everything about writing for television a lot of ways. And we did a lot of time travel episodes. We talked internally about a lot of history, a lot of alternate history ideas. They weren’t just like “Yesterday’s Enterprise,” there were various other pitches in the room of timelines changing and shows we never did, or at least concepts of it or an alternate reality were certain things that happened that didn’t take place. So, I had been engaged in sort of conversations about these kinds of concepts as a theoretical exercise for a very long time. So, approaching this project felt very familiar. And it was fun because I had done all that groundwork in Trek and it was also just something I enjoyed. I like history and I’ve always loved the sort of “What if?” game of history. What if this happened? What if Admiral Nagumo makes a different choice at the Battle of Midway? How would that have affected the rest of World War II, and so on? So, it just kind of played into my strengths.
For All Mankind season 2 arrives Friday
For All Mankind season two moves the show forward a decade later to 1983 and the height of the Cold War, with the US and Soviets going head-to-head to control sites rich in resources on the moon. The 10-episode second season will debut globally with the first episode on Friday, February 19, 2021, followed by one new episode weekly, every Friday, exclusively on Apple TV+.
This first look featurette gives you a taste of what to come, including Ron Moore talking about season two.
More Moore to come
Come back later this week for the rest of our exclusive interview with Ron Moore, where we discuss the current state of Star Trek in film and television, his thoughts on a Section 31 show, and his next big career move.
Check out more exclusive interviews at TrekMovie.com.