The For All Mankind space race timeline shows how things might have turned out differently if the space race between the Soviet Union and the United States never ended. The popular Apple TV+ series created by Ronald D. Moore premiered in 2019, following a group of fictional astronauts alongside historical figures like fellow astronaut Neil Armstrong, US Senator and presidential hopeful Ted Kennedy, and President Richard Nixon. In For All Mankind season 1, the show replaces the real-life American astronauts from NASA’s Apollo 10 mission with fictional characters.
Aside from the crew members, many details of the show’s Apollo 10 mission remain historically accurate. Launching in May 1969, Apollo 10 was the fourth crewed mission and the second to orbit the Moon. Like the mission portrayed in the series, NASA considered Apollo 10 to be a dress rehearsal for the first Moon landing. Throughout the series, For All Mankind portrays historical events involving real-life space exploration over the decades interwoven with its fictional narrative. While the show becomes less grounded in reality as the episodes progress, For All Mankind season 4 looks to continue to be influenced by space history — albeit with its own spin on how events unfold.
June 1969 – Soviet Moon Landing & Apollo 11
In the For All Mankind space race timeline, NASA lost when the Soviets’s put the first man on the moon. In the show’s alternative history timeline, Alexei Leonov becomes the first human to land on the moon on June 26, 1969. As a result of the Soviet moon landing in the show, US Senator, Ted Kennedy returns to D.C. for an emergency hearing and cancels his trip to Chappaquiddick Island, altering the course of history. Without the real-life tragedy at Chappaquiddick and subsequent scandal, in the show’s alternate timeline, Kennedy later runs against Nixon during his reelection campaign. One month later, the Apollo 11 mission is the first US mission to make it to the moon, with the same scientists as the real-life NASA mission.
In reality, the Soviets were the first to put a man in space, but not on the moon. Thanks to chief rocket designer and spacecraft engineer, Sergei Korolev, who helped design the rocket that launched Soviet cosmonaut, Yuri Gagarin into space in 1961. The Soviet program suffered a big blow after the sudden death of Korolev in 1966. Under President John F. Kennedy, American lunar exploration efforts intensified in the early 1960s. The real-life Apollo 11 astronauts — Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins — were the first people to step foot on the moon on July 20, 1969.
A huge triumph for NASA, the Apollo-11 team left behind an American flag, a patch honoring the fallen Apollo 1 crew, and a plague, which read: “Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the moon. July 1969 A.D. We came in peace for all mankind.” According to NASA, in a post-flight press conference, Armstrong called the flight “a beginning of a new age,” and Collin talked about future missions to Mars. Russia also celebrated the American’s success according to Soviet cosmonaut Alexei Leonov, who later wrote about the event according to History Today: “Everyone forgot that we were all citizens of different countries on Earth. That moment really united the human race.”
September 1969 – The Mercury 13 & First Woman On The Moon
The For All Mankind space race timeline imagines the first woman landing on the moon. On September 16, 1969, Anastasia Belikova becomes the first woman on the moon on For All Mankind as part of the Soviet’s second lunar mission. In the show, Belikova garners international acclaim and becomes known as the “Russian Meteor Maid” by many American newspapers. As a result, Nixon instructs NASA to put together a crew of female astronauts. The Mercury program recruits and establishes an all-female crew of astronauts including Molly Cobb, Dani Poole, Tracy Stevens, and Ellen Wilson who become prominent characters throughout the series.
For All Mankind‘s fictional space program is based in part on the real-life Mercury 13, a privately funded space program that recruited female astronauts, a fact that helped make Ellen so important in the series. In 1959, the thirteen women recruited to the program successfully completed the same tests as the male astronauts in NASA’s Mercury 7 group. According to series creator Ronald D. Moore, the Mercury 13 program was the original inspiration for the show’s premise. “That (Mercury) program got canceled before they ever actually took flight training,” Moore told Variety. “So part of our premise was to go back and revisit who were the Mercury 13 and where would they be.”
For All Mankind takes a look at what it might have been like for these women had they had the chance to actually participate in NASA’s space program of the time. In reality, only 12 people — all of them men — have ever walked on the moon. All of these For All Mankind missions were part of the US Apollo program and took place between 1969 and 1972. To date, no women have ever walked on the moon – although, in 1963, the Soviet Union did send the first female astronaut, Valentina Tereshkova, into space.
1971 – Apollo 15 & First US Woman On The Moon
The show mostly skips over the famous Apollo 13 flight, which doesn’t experience an explosion in the For All Mankind space race timeline. In the show’s timeline, NASA presents the first all-female astronaut group in 1970. As a result, Molly Cobb also replaces Gordo Stevens for the Apollo 15 mission. In October 1971, Molly becomes the first American woman to make it to the moon. In November 1971, according to the show’s timeline, Ted Kennedy defeats Richard Nixon by a wide margin and becomes the 38th President of the United States. In the For All Mankind political timeline, Kennedy is sworn into office in 1972. This also means that Watergate never happens in the show’s alternative history.
There were no female astronauts on the real Apollo 15, which was the fourth US mission to land on the moon. The real Apollo 15 crewmembers, Commander David Scott, James Irwin, and Hadley Rille, never flew to space again. Molly Cobb’s character is inspired by real-life Mercury 13 participant, Geraldyn “Jerrie” Cobb. Jerrie Cobb was the first woman to pass all the same preflight tests as NASA’s Mercury 7 male astronauts. Had NASA accepted female astronaut candidates in the ’60s, Jerrie Cobb would likely have become the first, but the agency did not allow women into the program until 1978. In reality, Sally Ride became the first American woman in space in 1983. For All Mankind pays tribute to the female astronaut in season 2, when her namesake character joins Captain Ed Baldwin’s crew on the Pathfinder mission.
1973 – Apollo 20 & Jamestown Lunar Base
In For All Mankind, the Apple TV+ show portrays a world where NASA’s space program continues to thrive, and the Apollo Missions are a top priority for America throughout the 1980s. In the series, Ed Baldwin, Dani Poole, and Gordo Stevens set out on Apollo 20, a mission to establish the American lunar base, Jamestown, on the moon’s surface. In reality, Apollo’s goals did go beyond landing Americans on the moon and returning them safely to Earth. NASA dreamed of establishing technology and the capacity to work in the lunar environment, but that never happened.
Unlike in For All Mankind, the program was eventually canceled. The real-life Apollo Program only lasted from 1963-1975. And the last moon landing took place in 1972. Apollo 17 was the last mission to land on the moon. According to NASA, the final American lunar mission was distinguished from previous Apollo flights by its “extended hardware capability, larger scientific payload capacity, and the use of the battery-powered Lunar Roving Vehicle.” Eugene “Gene” Cernan, commander of Apollo 17, left these last words on the moon: “We leave as we came and, God willing, as we shall return, with peace, and hope for all mankind.”
1983 – The Apollo-Soyuz Mission
In the For All Mankind space race timeline, season 2 picked up where season 1 left off in the 1980s, but For All Mankind keeps jumping ahead in time all the way through season 3. While there are real elements pulled from the actual space program, like the Skylab, the space race having more or less ended by this time in history meant the show began to diverge more into its fictional timeline. Though a few real-life elements do remain, most of them are altered to fit into the show’s alternative history. In real life, Ronald Reagan is elected president in 1980, but in the show’s timeline, he’s already been president for four years, having won the 1976 election and narrowly beating Ted Kennedy.
In the For All Mankind space race timeline, by 1983 the Jamestown base is thriving, and the Soviets have also established their own lunar base near Jamestown. The space race never ends, and it continues to be the main point of conflict in the Cold War. The Apollo-Soyuz mission (Apollo 75) in For All Mankind season 2 is also based on a real-life mission. In the show’s narrative, the mission takes place in the 80s, but in reality, the symbolic handshake happened in 1975. On July 17, 1975, the world watched the historical event unfold on television as astronaut Thomas Stafford and cosmonaut Alexey A. Leonov shook hands in space.
1995 – Mars Landing
Due to the time jump in For All Mankind season 2, one thing that doesn’t get shown is the tragic Challenger mission of 1986. In the show, the mission never happens, at least as far as what is portrayed in season 2. Instead, the show skips ahead to the ’90s in the season finale. The final scene in For All Mankind season 2 depicts a space boot stepping foot on Mars. The year is now 1995 and this is where For All Mankind picked up in season 3. This obviously has yet to happen in real life, but NASA did begin to explore Mars remotely as part of a series of Mars Missions in the early 1990s.
To date, no one has stepped foot on Mars, though several countries, including the US, Russia, China, and Japan, as well as the European Union, continue to make progress in their explorations of Mars. NASA’s historic log lists 45 Mars missions between 1968-2018, which doesn’t include those launched in 2020 and several others that are currently in development. The season 3 For All Mankind space race timeline showed how the show’s Mars missions compared, and what sort of progress humans will have made on Mars in the show’s alternate reality. It also led to Ellen becoming the first female POTUS, another huge diversion from history.
How Much Of For All Mankind’s Timeline Could Actually Have Happened?
For All Mankind is clearly a fictional series. However, this does not mean that the For All Mankind alternate timeline is farfetched. Many of the things that the show explores could have really happened, that is because the historical tweaks for the alternate timeline are well-thought-out and don’t deviate much from reality. While the For All Mankind space race timeline changed several things, the technology on display in the show that the United States and the Soviet Union uses to achieve their fictional dreams really existed at that time in world history. Heading into For All Mankind season 4, the show hopefully keeps this level of authenticity.
While the race to the moon ended differently in the For All Mankind space race timeline, the details of the Apollo 10 mission were extremely faithful, other than replacing the actual astronauts. The show is also very accurate when it comes to the depiction of outer space, and the production team clearly did a lot of research into the space saga to make things as real as possible, while also changing how things changed thanks to human decisions. The alternate timeline in For All Mankind could have been true history if a few things had gone slightly differently — as the show itself masterfully shows.