National Geographic convened a panel during this year’s virtual San Diego Comic-Con to discuss its upcoming space series The Right Stuff, a remake of the classic 1979 book and 1983 film. The network provided a behind-the-scenes clip to show off what to expect when the series eventually debuts on Disney+, while the show’s executive producers admit that the first season doesn’t go far enough when it comes to addressing some of NASA’s “Hidden Figures.”
What we do see of the series is pretty familiar to anyone who’s watched Apollo 13, First Man, For All Mankind, or any of the hundreds of documentaries about the history of space program: The ambitious astronauts are alternatively living it up in Florida while working under the intense pressure of the program, which could kill them at any moment. Showrunner Mark Lafferty noted that the story of the space race isn’t just a historical thing: it’s applicable to the present as well, and that’s why they felt like it was the right time to produce a series such as this. The panel didn’t say when the series would debut on Disney+, only that it’ll come soon.
Former NASA Astronaut Dr. Mae Jemison moderated the panel, which included the cast and crew of the series—Patrick J. Adams (John Glenn), Jake McDorman (Alan Shepard), Colin O’Donoghue (Gordon Cooper), Michael Trotter (Gus Grissom), Aaron Staton (Wally Schirra), Micah Stock (Deke Slayton), James Lafferty (Scott Carpenter), Nora Zehetner (Annie Glenn), Shannon Lucio (Louise Shepherd) Eloise Mumford (Trudy Cooper), Patrick Fischler (Bob Gilruth), and Eric Ladin (Chris Kraft—funny enough, he also stars in Apple’s For All Mankind as another Mission Control member, Gene Kranz), as well as executive producers Jennifer Davisson and Mark Lafferty.
Jemison opened by asking what made this version different from the works that it’s based on. Lafferty noted that he’d long been a fan of the book and film, along with many of the people involved in the project, and that early on, they “wanted this to be a family drama,” more than anything else and that “the intricacies of these characters really informed this massive effort that they were doing.”
Davisson noted that in light of this summer’s social upheaval, the show does represent a bit of a missed opportunity in only focusing on the astronauts and the families of the Mercury program, but that they might tackle them in future seasons. That admission came in response to a question from Jemison —the first Black woman to launch into space—about how the show tackles some of the “Hidden Figures” stories that are part of the larger story of the space race.
“It’s a missed opportunity because there are these incredible, incredible untold stories within the space program that we can’t wait to peel back and dive into like did here with these seven guys in season two. Whether it’s Katherine Johnson of Hidden Figures, but Ed Dwight, who I don’t think a lot of people know about who was meant to be one of the first Astronauts who was an African-American man, and really get into some of the really complex things that were going on in our country as it pertained to race, and how that really affected what happened in the program.”
Davisson notes that the first season of the series will tackle the role of women in the space program, both how the wives of the astronauts supported their husbands—already well-trod territory—as well as the women of Mercury 13.
Davisson notes that those stories will have to wait until season two. “What we missed in season one, we can’t wait to get to in season two.” Hopefully, National Geographic will greenlight a second season to make that happen.