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Alternate Space For All Mankind, Part 2.

By Andy Cooke.



The famous Earthrise photo taken from Apollo 8.

Picture courtesy NASA (public domain).


Part 1 of this article series can be found Here.



Who are they?

Alternate History novels have a long tradition of mixing real-life characters with fictitious ones. At that point, you could argue that they’re not real Alternate History, failing to meet the most stringent definitions of purity: you are supposed to start with a single Point of Divergence from sober history and build out from there.

 

Of course, if you have the POD far enough in the past, you can use fictitious characters, citing the Butterfly Effect – those who are born in the new timeline will not necessarily be those born in the old one. The slightest changes have a knock-on effect and not only do people not meet at the same time and under the same circumstances, not fall in love at the same time and under the same circumstances, but even the random collision of sperm and ova will be different as the dice roll is reset.

 

You can then go down the route of arguing that as soon as you get a medium to long way from a POD, the people involved can’t be the same as those in OTL, but that’s an entire different conversation and argument.

 

Narrative over purity

Most stories, however, need to balance character, plot, world. Purist alternate history relies on the world strand of that; stories need all three. Using real-life characters can be fraught, even if the individual is dead and can no longer complain about misrepresentation (the family of Titanic First Officer William Murdoch were very angry with his portrayal in the 1997 movie, for example). Fictional characters rarely complain.

 

The degree of invention around fictional characters can vary. Some are barely-disguised real-life characters – with hopefully enough deniability to get away with portraying them in ways they or their family might resent. We might term these “inspired by” real individuals. Others are blends of two or three characters; still others are completely made up.

 

In Stephen Baxter’s Voyage, the lead character – Joe Muldoon – replaces Buzz Aldrin on the Apollo 11 Moon landing. He has some aspects of Aldrin, some of the real-life Deke Slayton, and many of his own. Meanwhile, “Hans Udet” is almost precisely the real-life Arthur Rudolph. For All Mankind has a blend of such characters – real, “inspired by”, blended, and invented.

 

Apollo 10

The first episode shows us the crew of Apollo 10, and these will be two of the primary protagonists throughout the show, along with their wives. Whilst Apollo 11 has the real characters, and the Soviet first Moon landing is carried out by the real-life Alexei Leonov, Apollo 10 Commander Ed Baldwin and Lunar Module Pilot Gordon Stevens do not exist in real life. Neither do their wives – Karen Baldwin and Tracy Stevens respectively.

 

But in some ways, they are very close – teetering between “inspired by” and “blended”.

 

Let’s start with Gordon “Gordo” Stevens. But first, I’ll leap back to real history and talk about one of the original seven Mercury astronauts, who remained in the programme all the way to Apollo.


Apollo 10 launch.

Picture courtesy NASA (public domain).


The Stevens

In OTL, Gordon “Gordo” Cooper was a test pilot was was selected as part of the original selection of astronauts by NASA. He was married, having met his wife Trudy through the local flying club; the only astronaut’s wife (as of the Mercury programme) with her own private pilot’s licence. They had two children but their marriage was very much on the rocks when he was selected for the astronaut programme; however, they decided to pretend to be happily married so as not to damage Gordo’s chances.


Gordo Cooper (Mercury Astronaut).

Picture courtesy NASA public domain images.

 

Gordo had a reputation for being overly casual about training and risk (having entered the 24 Hours of Daytona in 1968 and being forced to withdraw, upsetting NASA management by telling the press that “NASA wants astronauts to be tiddlywinks players”). He flew on Mercury-Atlas-9 and Gemini 5, and by the time of the Apollo programme, he was starting to be sidelined but was selected as backup commander for Apollo 10.

 

In the show, Gordon “Gordo” Stevens is very different. His surname is different, for a start. His wife, who he met at an airfield and is the only astronaut’s wife to have her own private pilot’s licence, is called “Tracy”, not “Trudy”. And yes, they have two children and their marriage is very much on the rocks (they appear to be only still together so as not to damage Gordo’s astronaut career), but the children are boys rather than girls. Gordo does appear casual about training and risk and did fly on Gemini, but on Gemini 7 rather than Gemini 5. And rather than being the backup commander for Apollo 10, he’s the LEM pilot for Apollo 10. Totally different, right?


Tracy Stevens, who has some similarities with OTL Trudy Cooper.

Picture courtesy Apple TV.


Incidentally, Wikipedia – at the time of writing – claims that Gordo Stevens in For All Mankind is based on real-life astonaut Gene Cernan. This seems to be solely based on the fact that Gordo (in the show) flew in the place of Gene Cernan in OTL.

 

Gordo is the strongest candidate for a member of the “inspired by” category, possibly joined by his wife, Tracy (for the reasons laid out for Gordo).

 

The Baldwins

Here, we shift more into the “blended” category. Ed seems to be a mix of Frank Borman and Tom Stafford.

 

Borman was born in Gary, Indiana (marrying his childhood sweetheart, who he met at school), one of the best pilots in the programme, commanded Gemini 7 and then an early lunar Apollo flight (Apollo 8), and had been crucial in testimony to Congress after the Apollo 1 tragedy. He was quoted that he didn’t care much about the science: “I wanted to beat the Soviets to the Moon.”

 

Stafford was an Oklahoman Naval test pilot who flew twice on Gemini before commanding Apollo 10 and later became Head of the Astronaut Office. As an aside, Stafford, after later commanding the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project, became lifelong friends with Alexei Leonov, the show’s first man on the Moon.

 

In the show, Ed Baldwin was born in Gary, Indiana (marrying his childhood sweetheart, who he met at school), one of the best pilots in the programme, and commanded Gemini 7 and then an early lunar Apollo flight. His flight, however, was commanding Apollo 10. We see him giving crucial testimony to Congress about the space programme, and he later becomes Head of the Astronaut Office.

 

His wife, Karen, however, seems more invented than any of the others so far. I don’t know much about Susan Baldwin or Faye Stafford, however, and would welcome being corrected in the comments.

 

Others

Other key people introduced in the first episode include Margo Madison, mentored by Wernher von Braun, and one of the first females in Flight Control. Despite Wikipedia’s claims, she doesn’t appear to be closely based on any real individual (again, I’d welcome correction in the comments).

 

We see real-life individuals: Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, Mike Collins, Wernher von Braun, Deke Slayton and his wife Margo, Gene Kranz, and NASA Administrator Thomas Paine. Other than a few more astronauts in minor roles (at least early in Season 1), other characters (such as Aleida Rosales) appear invented.

 

I haven’t gone into the characters they later brought in for the third episode – Nixon’s Women – because they could well be the subject of an entire article on their own, together with their portrayal of the astronaut training programme.

 

So – these are the main characters they chose to launch the series. I think they were right to blend fiction and fact together – many of the real life individuals did have strong enough characters to draw viewers in, but the necessities of the narrative did require some fictionalisation.

 

Despite us loving the worldbuilding of Alternate History and the stage on which it is set, the characters are always crucial. It is they who often determine whether or not a viewer or reader stays with a story. Dorothy Jones Heydt, in a science-fiction Usenet group, coined the Eight Deadly Words: “I don’t care what happens to these people.” These are the words usually said, or thought, by readers or viewers just before they abandon a story.

 

The characters in For All Mankind manage to make viewers care enough that the Eight Deadly Words are not remotely on the horizon.


No chance of not caring about these guys. Apollo 8 crew heading out to launch.

Picture courtesy NASA (public domain). 

 

 

Discuss this article Here.

 

Andy Cooke is a very prolific author. His books range from political punditry to ending the world. These include the series The End and Afterwards and The Fourth Lectern , which predicted the rise of UKIP on the British political scene. He has also written the portal fantasy series for young adults, The Shadowlands Chronicles , and Skyborn , a post-apocalypse story with airships.

 

 

 

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