Astronaut Garrett Reisman Talks About New Series “For All Mankind”

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Garrett Reisman

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Garrett Reisman is a former NASA Astronaut. He is currently a Professor of Astronautical Engineering at USC and a Senior Advisor at SpaceX.

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Yeah, it's just to me, it seems like if you pay attention to the track, if you track technology, like where it's going, things constantly improve. They constantly, we demand constant innovation and we're already wearing these things on our body in watches now. A lot of people were in the Apple watches and the Samsung and all the Google watches and it just seems inevitable that it somehow or another advances to a point where there's a chip or something you wear or some plate that they put on the back of your head and screw in. Yeah, but then you watch like Black Mirror and it... I know. That is the problem. This might not be good. I mean, but do you have a sense of history that you are, first of all, you're amongst one of the rare human beings that has ever been in space? And then two, you're working for a company that is at the very tip of the spear of innovation, like you're at the front of the line in terms of creating viable methods of sending people into space and returning them. I feel extremely fortunate to have that experience I had at NASA and had the visceral experience, the incredible experience of flying in space, doing spacewalks, operating robot arms, launching on rockets and all that. And then coming to SpaceX and being there in the relatively early days and being there for seven years, I feel pretty satisfied that I got incredibly lucky to see these things and be in the room where it happens. It's pretty remarkable. So now I'm still a consultant at SpaceX, but I'm a full-time professor at USC. So now I'm teaching and also working on TV shows. So now I'm taking... Those incredible experiences I had opened up a lot of other doors. And I ended up, for example, working on this TV show, I find myself in a writer's room with a whole bunch of really talented, creative people. Where there's no way in a million years this would ever happen to me if it weren't for these incredible experiences I was lucky enough to have. Even that gets really surreal. I can only imagine. I mean, especially coming from your childhood, having that image on your wall and now really being a part of this massive change in the way human beings are going to be able to travel in space. Yeah. Now, tell us about this TV show, because you were talking to me about it off air before we started. Yeah. So this is For All Mankind. It's on Apple TV. And the way I got involved with this thing, I was a big fan of Battle So Galactica. The reboot. The reboot was awesome. Wasn't it? Oh, it's so underrated. One of the best science fiction shows ever. Yeah. I mean, it was like in the early days, it kind of peaked TV, I guess. And it was just so good. I mean, the writing was so good and the whole concept and everything. All the things they're exploring and the science fiction is always at its best when it's like an allegory and the way they explored things that were happening in society like terrorism and stuff. The way they were able to depict it in an alternate universe, I thought was spectacular. Yeah. It was brilliant, brilliant show. So I'm watching it on the space station, which was like the best place to watch that thing. Wow. That's crazy. Do we use it in an iPad or something? Like do you have things stored or is there a TV up there? There's no TV, but we have all these laptops. So they could send up files and you can give them like four shows that you like. How long does it take for a show to download in space? Well, they download it for you, which is nice while you're working. And then when you're ready to watch, you just pop up the file. So is it like a satellite connection, internet satellite? It's a KU band system that goes to satellites that aren't part of it. NASA satellites are called TDRS satellites. So the data goes up to TDRS and then down to ground stations to White Sands and then So what's your bandwidth you're getting? What's your latency? I don't remember the numbers, but when I was there, we weren't getting live internet because all that bandwidth is being used for science to get all the data from the experiments and the video. So you can't check your Twitter? You can now. You can now? You can now. I just missed that. That's terrible. Yeah, it's probably like... It's probably better. It's a distraction. Yeah. Yeah. Just Google search and random things. Are you supposed to be doing your job in space? Yeah. So you get these shows and you're watching Battlestar Galactica on your laptop? I'm watching Battlestar Galactica, Colbert Report, Daily Show, and New York Yankees games. So I'm watching that. Wow. That's what I'm watching. Wow. You're not watching the Yankees games in real time, right? No. No. Pre-recorded. Wow. Still though. So that was a nice, like, a bit of home that I would play the radio broadcasts while I was working and just in the background. So I feel like you're the crack of the bat and it's kind of like you're in space, but you're still kind of connected to home. That seems like something that would go on in a movie. Yeah. Like some guy who's working on a spaceship in the movie who's listening to a baseball game and going, shit. Three balls, two strikes. Yeah. Doesn't that... Pay off. That really does seem very, like, some classic George Clooney movie about space. Yeah. Yeah, that's real. Yeah. Wow, man. Dude, how weird did that feel? That just feels so surreal that you were that guy up there with a laptop. Yeah. And like Battlestar, I'm watching Battlestar and they're like, now I'm in the final season and they're like finding Earth and I'm like, it's right there. Ah. You're in a spaceship. How many people have watched Battlestar Galactica while in a spaceship? You might be the only person ever. Well, my commander was watching it too, so there's at least two of us. So they ask you, like, are there any celebrities you'd like to chat with while you're up there? And they will go out and get them for you, the kind of morale boost thing. Oh, wow. And so I said, I want to talk to Ron Moore and David Icke, who are the creators of Battlestar. So we had this great Skype session. Wow. It was so cool. And that's why, before I was going to mention this, when we were talking about, you know, science fiction and science fact and how there's this crazy feedback loop about you got to think about it first. Like you go back and look at 2001 and you see these guys using tablets. In 1968, that movie came out. And you know, Steve Jobs saw that and said, I want to make one of those. Right. And so there's this crazy, like, interplay between fiction and fact. And and I got to talk to Ron Moore about all this. And then he invited me to come on the set for the for the final episode of Battlestar. Wow. And you're not supposed to like the first 30 days you're back from a long duration mission. You're not supposed to like go anywhere. And I'm like, look, they're only going to shoot this once. It's two weeks from now. I'm going. And the last time I checked, this is a free country. I'm you're not going to stop me. So I went and I went all the way up to Vancouver and I got to go on the set. I met all the cast. I got to be a focus puller on the camera guy. I got to do that. That sticks, you know. Oh, wow. I just had a blast. And then they made me an extra. I was a colonial Marine in the back of a ship that gets blown up. I'm sure that show is super complicated to make, but I would love if they brought it back. Yeah. I don't think people appreciate it enough because it was on sci fi, which is not the most popular network. And it's also a reboot of a classic show. So maybe it had like a bit of a stink to it. But that was so much better than the first version of it. It's a great fucking show. It's really intense. Yeah. It's awesome. It's really, really well made. I love everything about it from the plot to the acting. It's sensational. Yeah. This is my favorite sci fi show of all time for sure. Yeah, me too. It's blasphemy for Star Trek fans. Yeah, but it's really good. It's fucking good, man. I mean, you couldn't have it without Star Trek. You couldn't have it without the original Battlestar Galactica. But at the end of the day, it's. Yeah, they all kind of build on each other. And that's what. And so they're, Ron went off and did Outlander after that. Oh, okay. And now he came in one day, he calls me up and he says, I got this new idea. Can I come by? Can I get together and maybe I could bounce the idea off of you? I was like, yeah. So he came to SpaceX and I gave him a tour of the place. And then we sat down at the in the cafe and he said, okay, so I'm thinking about doing a show about NASA back in like the 70s and be kind of like a period piece would be kind of like we'd have a cast of characters, but they're all working on Apollo. And it would be true to real life, but it would be the drama of the people behind the scenes. I saw it. Sounds pretty cool. Yeah. I'm also talking around with a slight twist that where we use an alternate reality. And in this alternate reality, things we start at that point, but things turn out differently. And we start talking about like how close the Russians were to actually beating us to the moon, which not a lot of people know about. But when I was over there in Moscow, I got to see actually there in they have a warehouse where they still have their lunar lander, for example, that they built. They were really working hard on it. So we started what ifing like, well, what if the right thing? What if the Russians got there first? What would America done? How would things be different today if that seminal moment of Neil and Buzz stepping out on the moon was instead Alexei Nionov, a cosmonaut doing it? Right. And I was like, that is freaking genius. I mean, that was like a I thought I want to see that show. That's like a great premise. And he pitched that to Apple and they bought it. And then he called me up and said, you want to work on the show? I'm like, yeah. So what is your role? What do you do there? I'm a technical consultant. One of a couple. We have a we have a another group of people, a couple of people that help out too. But I get involved in like everything. So I was in the writers room where we're first coming up with basic ideas and sketching out like multiple seasons and character arcs and all that kind of stuff. And then I got to then I get all the scripts and I read them all and I give notes on all the scripts and then I come to the set and I meet with the actors, the cast and I give them suggestions about like how to look real when they're in space. And then I like work with the VFX guys. I work with the stunt team. I get phone calls from like the hair and makeup people like how to what do ladies do with their hair if they have long hair when they do a spacewalk? I'm like, you're calling the wrong guy. But I can ask a friend. Right. So so all that was so much fun for me. It's like, you know, you know how like you can pay a whole lot of money and go to fantasy baseball camp. Yeah. And like you get to like have batting practice with the Dodgers or something and they humor you because you paid a lot of money. Well it's kind of like that. I keep waiting for them to say like, okay, the fund is over. Get out of here. Go back to your day job. You know, but I'm like, I'm just loving it. That's wild. So how much correcting do you have to do? How much do you get to script and go, hey, that doesn't happen. You can't do that. That's not it depends. And every production is different. The nice thing about For All Mankind is they really, really want to get it right. I've worked on other projects where they say they want to get it right. But then they like completely blow off the laws of physics. And you know, I'm okay with that. Like the Martian with the hand cutting thing. Yeah. Because at the end of the day, like I said, this is some of my students like nobody goes to see a movie for the orbital mechanics. You go for the story, the characters, the actors. Yeah. It's hard if you're an expert in something to watch a movie where they fudge stuff and it doesn't make sense. Yeah. Like for me, martial arts movies, martial arts movies do dumb shit. I'm like, come on, man. You know, or if I watch a movie about a pool player and I can tell the guy can't really play pool, I get upset. So for you, when you're watching something like Gravity, right? That was a big one. A lot of people got really like Neil deGrasse Tyson. I know he hated it. He hated it. He went into. I liked it. And the problem is now that I have this job, now I'm getting more persnickety about it. I'm sure. Now I'm watching. I'm like, that's not right. Yeah, everything. The gravity, the hair. He used to not care though. Like when I first saw Gravity, I loved it because it was a good story. It gripped me. But you knew that those space stations were not close to each other. Oh yeah. The inclinations, the orbits are totally different. You're going to go from one to the other with a fire extinguisher. I knew that was complete bullshit. Don't get me wrong. But that leap where they're treating you like you're a moron, they're treating you like there's no way you're going to be able to research this. But something like you, someone like you rather, that's your life. So you know that's nonsense. So you're sitting there watching some hokey solution for something that would never work. Yeah. If it gets to the point where like, but that's a beautiful thing about like doing this with television is you don't have to actually be right. You just have to be believable, which the bar is like when I'm teaching my class at USC, I got to be right. But when I'm like, yeah, well maybe this could happen, you know, with a TV show, it's easier. But this TV show, you're just saying they really want to try to get it right. They really do because it's really important to them. And so yeah, I've ended up making like wholesale changes to episodes become like the original idea. I try very, very hard not to interfere with their creative process because they're really, really good at that. And I'm not worthy, but I'm like, yeah, okay, I see what you're trying to do. You want this guy to be the hero. You want this person to feel remorse. You want this and over the course of time, this person has a change of heart. I get the story, but what if instead of doing it this way, what if the events occur like this because this could actually happen, right? And so I tried to change it and it was one like, like episode nine and a little bit of episode 10 of season one. I ended up sitting and working very closely with the writers and changing all the technical content to make the story work in a believable way. And when we do that and then you see it on the screen, it's like so incredibly rewarding. It's really fun. That must be, especially as someone who's a sci-fi fan. You've had two dream lives here. Like three or four really. It's incredible that you've gone from that, from NASA to SpaceX and now to be able to create television shows that you can actually enjoy. Wow.