‘Quantum Leap’ Showrunner, Technical Advisor on Space Shuttle Recreation for ‘Atlantis’

September 27, 2022

– It could probably go without saying, but just for the record, the space shuttle mission shown on “Quantum Leap” didn’t happen.

First airing Monday, September 26 on NBC and now airing on Peacock, the “Atlantis” episode saw Ben Song (Raymond Lee) join the crew of space shuttle Atlantis, jumping into the body of an astronaut during the launch of the mission. .

Warning: The following article contains spoilers for “Atlantis”, the second episode of the new “Quantum Leap” series.

“It made no sense in an episode like this to base it on an actual shuttle mission,” said Martin Gero, executive producer and showrunner of “quantum leap“, said in an interview with collectSPACE. “It was enough just to say that we were going to be in the space shuttle.

“One of the ways we thought we could get around the fact that it wasn’t a known mission was to make it a classified flight, something about launching a military satellite, c That’s why it was off the books and nobody knew,” Géro said. “But we were doing everything we could to be grounded in the real 1990s and realized our audiences didn’t really care one way or another.”

In the show, it is established that Song took off on Atlantis on March 7, 1998, during the mission that orbited the first piece of the International Space Station. From these few details, it would be clear to those familiar with the history of the Space Shuttle that this is a fictional flight.

For starters, there was no launch on that date. The closest mission was STS-90, the Columbia orbiter’s 25th mission, which began on April 17, 1998. (The launch images featured in the episode are from STS-122, a decade-long Atlantis mission later in 2008.)

The first shuttle mission to deliver an element of the International Space Station actually flew in 1998, but on Endeavor and on December 4 of the same year. The STS-88 mission docked the “Unity” node with the functional Russian Zarya cargo block, which was already in orbit.

Atlantis, as the story goes, did not fly in 1998. It spent the first eight months of that year at its California assembly plant, receiving glass cockpit displays, a GPS navigation system and a new docking port to allow future missions in international space. Station. The work also included the removal of the Extended Duration Orbiter Package, which allowed Atlantis to stay in space longer with additional cryogenics on board.

History aside, the “Atlantis” orbiter differs in appearance from its namesake – and from all other winged shuttles in NASA’s fleet.

“Like any sci-fi show, you start to fray the edges a bit,” Gero said. “For example, the flight deck is actually very close to the actual space shuttle flight deck. But the middle deck is totally different and functions totally differently.”

The cockpit, which was previously used on other television and film productions, was modeled after the cockpit of the actual vehicle, but is much more spacious to accommodate the action planned for the episode and the cameras filming it. The middle bridge, on the other hand, was built for “Quantum Leap”.

“It was done because we needed people to be able to actively work up and down on things that might not make sense to work up and down. So if you’re a big fan shuttle and you went to Space Camp when you were a kid, like me, you know there are things about this episode that will drive you crazy,” Gero said.

Not that the show has it all wrong. One of the main plot points involved having to redirect the shuttle from where it was to deploy the International Space Station module to the Russian Mir space station. Although no longer in existence today, Mir was still in orbit and had a crew on board in March 1998.

“In theory, under the right conditions, and that’s a big if, you could fly a shuttle from what was the start of the International Space Station to Mir,” said Robert Yowell, a former flight controller at the NASA space shuttle who served as a technical advisor. for the episode, says collectSPACE. “The Russians already did this with a Salyut and a Mir years earlier.”

Soyuz T-15, launched in 1986, marked the first time a spacecraft visited and docked with two space stations in the same mission. Cosmonauts Leonid Kizim and Vladimir Solovyov not only made the 29-hour transfer between space stations Mir and Salyut 7, but also made the return trip.

“What’s interesting is that in the episode they’re emptying the International Space Station module. If your vehicle is much lighter, that leaves you with extra fuel, so maybe you could achieve that kind of date,” Yowell said.

Yowell’s contributions to “Atlantis” also included populating the appropriate dialog for key mission milestones, such as technical callouts during launch.

“The writers came to me and said there were a couple of scenes where they needed some extra ‘NASA-ese’ dialogue. So that’s where I helped out,” a- he declared.

“Robert was amazing,” said Gero of Yowell, “giving us what the reality of what it would be like and was also so accommodating, realizing that on the type of show we do, which is action comedy in this episode, that we had to bend the rules just to make it a little more exciting for the folks back home.”

While the show takes a number of liberties, it also includes a few nods to real space shuttle missions and astronauts. At one point there is mention of a later crew not returning home safely due to debris damaging their orbiter’s heat shield, a direct reference to STS-107, the ill-fated final mission of Columbia in 2003.

And then there’s the person Song is trying to save, Japanese-American astronaut David Tamara, who was originally destined to die in the shuttle. The character vaguely evokes the memory of Elison Onizuka, the first Asian American to fly in space, who died in the space shuttle Challenger in 1986.

“We want to be respectful to any real person and try to fictionalize as much as possible, but that’s something that’s been discussed,” Gero said.