The thrilling space race continues with a new season on Apple TV+

After introducing us to its brave men and women, and leaving some of them in dire straits at the end of season one, this Apple TV+ series about the U.S. space program in an alternate timeline where the Russians made it to the moon first—kicking NASA in the rear end and keeping the “space race” an ongoing concern—skips a decade ahead, to 1983. “It really enabled us to expand the scope of our world,” says co-creator Matt Wolpert, of the time jump. “When we come in, in season two, there’s 30 astronauts stationed on the moon. Seeing everybody lined up on that crater’s edge is a striking image.”

For3Apple TV+But even as the race continues to move forward at lightning speed, what the writers are most eager to explore in the show’s sophomore season is how, on an individual level, the more things change, the more they stay the same. “When you look at your own life or the life of most people, what is interesting is how much people can change in a decade, but also, on the other side, how much you’re still who you are,” says co-creator Ben Nedivi. “The trauma and experiences you had early on still impact you in ways that you maybe don’t even recognize.”

While a new generation of young bucks roam the surface of the moon, our now middle-aged protagonists still carry the weight of the sacrifices that took the Americans there in the first place. After the death of his child in season one, Ed Baldwin (Joel Kinnaman, The Killing) has made the decision to trade the action in space for an office on the ground. “He finds some level of comfort with it and I think that it’s become a way to manage the pain as well,” says Kinnaman. “It’s a sacrifice that he needed to make, but yes, I think he is definitely dying inside.”

Ten years have passed since their tragedy, and although the Baldwins seem happier than ever, a darker truth always lurks beneath the surface. “I think a lot of people will be surprised to see that they’re seemingly in a pretty good place. They seem to have found a way to move through and manage [their loss],” says Wolpert. “The journey for them over the course of the season is coming to terms with some things that they haven’t really fully processed. Maybe some of the choices they made in those nine intervening years, down paths that they thought would lead them to a happy place, really was just papering over things that were not dealt with.”

These milestones from their youth aren’t the only things our aging astronauts must deal with. The series continues to explore the idea of happiness that is tightly interlaced with ambition. “You come to the realization that some of your dreams just aren’t going to come true,” says Kinnaman. “My happiness is pretty tied to a sense that things are progressively getting better. And when that trajectory all of a sudden starts descending instead of ascending, then I think there’s a lot of soul searching that comes into play. What is life really about, what is really important?”

For5Apple TV+Shantel VanSanten, who first committed to the project knowing only that she would play an astronaut’s wife and that Outlander and Battlestar Galactica creator Ronald D. Moore had a history of creating multifaceted female characters, says the show has made good on the promise to explore its women and their complex relationships fully. “It doesn’t matter if you’re middle-aged, you still have stories to tell—in fact, it gets even more complicated,” she says. “Now [the Baldwins] are in it, they have history and it’s tougher and you definitely can disappoint one another. It was interesting to play the slumps and the humps to get over, and the parts that were really beautiful, where you got to rediscover each other.”

The real challenge of the series, according to Nedivi, remains balancing the scope of the sci-fi with the deep dives into its lead characters. And yet, “it’s also the opportunity,” the co-creator explains. “That we’re able to jump through time allows us to show, ‘Look at the size of the base on the moon.’ But the same time, you’re thinking, ‘Why does Gordo [Michael Dorman] look like that? Is he still with Tracy [Sarah Jones]? To me, that’s the best kind of television, where you’re trying to figure out the clues.”

The rise of an imaginary space program may be a rewarding backdrop, but for the writers the true luxury is in exploring decades of deep emotional connections, irrespective of who the leader of the free world happens to be. Says Nedivi: “It’s great being able to tell the story of not only a lifetime, but a love story over decades.”

For All Mankind airs on Apple TV+