The filming of “Among the Stars” with Disney Plus meant a 2-year journey for astronaut Chris Cassidy. Here is what he learned.
Space fans will be treated to a special fall gift this month with an emotional and accessible glimpse into the adventurous world of NASA astronauts when Disney plus comes out “Among the Stars” Wednesday (October 6). This captivating new six-part docuseries invites viewers for an intimate behind-the-scenes look at the US Space Agency and its many international partners.
Directed by Ben Turner and produced by Fulwell 73, “Among the Stars” follows retired NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy on his third and final space mission using rare footage, personal video diaries and tapes broadcast live, all as the planet enters containment at the start of the global pandemic. The series launches on Disney Plus just in time for World Space Week, which began on Monday.
Cassidy, one of only three Navy SEALs to become astronauts, is at the center of this intense two-year review on a critical mission to the International Space Station to perform repairs on sophisticated equipment called an alpha magnetic spectrometer (AMS).
Related: Soar into space with this ‘Among the Stars’ trailer on Disney Plus
He served for a decade as a member of the Navy SEALs demonstrating military tactical skills including long-range special reconnaissance, direct-acting construction assaults, non-compliant boardings, desert reconnaissance patrols, diving guns and underwater explosives.
“The show does a great job showing the hard work of engineers and planners and fabricating the equipment for repairs,” Cassidy told Space.com. “Then it’s ultimately up to a human being, the astronaut, who can make mistakes, to make that new fix and get the job done.”
Nobel Prize-winning physicist Samuel Ting also looks at complex NASA procedures in Disney’s new space documentary as preparations are made to repair the $ 2 billion device in the most dangerous conditions in a series long spacewalks.
Ting is a Chinese-American scientist who, along with Burton Richter, received the Nobel Prize in 1976 for discovering the subatomic particle J / ψ. He was the principal investigator of a groundbreaking research conducted with the AMS, which was installed on the International Space Station in 2011.
Infographics : How the Antimatter Hunting Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer Works
This pioneering AMS experiment collects elusive charged cosmic rays that could provide vital clues to the origins of the universe. As the series progresses, we’ll see Cassidy’s fellow astronauts and cosmonauts training and planning their next rocket trip as they navigate a number of unforeseen obstacles along the way.
“Among the Stars” was filmed in collaboration with many space agencies, including NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, the European Space Agency in Cologne, Germany, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency near Tokyo and Russian space agency Roscosmos in Star City.
Space.com spoke with Cassidy ahead of the show’s launch to learn more about her memories of filming the show, outlining the real dangers of traveling and working in space, how the project unfolded and what he will miss most when he retires from NASA.
Space.com: What was your experience like working on “Among the Stars” for two years and having cameras constantly on hand?
Chris Cassidy: This is one of the things that opened my eyes. How much backplanning it takes to release a documentary. And there are things happening early in the process that weren’t repeatable. It was fun for me when the crew didn’t know what they didn’t know, helping them understand where they should be so they didn’t miss some of the critical training and some of the things we were testing. And then you have to get used to having the cameras around and having a microphone on all the time and sometimes you forget it’s on.
I’m so happy that the behind-the-scenes look of spaceflight, not just for the crew part, but for all the team needed to make it happen, can be captured as it was.
Space.com: What elements of the documentary best illustrate what it means to be an astronaut?
Cassidy: Well, it’s a real honor and a privilege and we all feel that. But you also feel that there are a lot of things that depend on your actions. The show does a great job of demonstrating the hard work of engineers and planners and fabricating the equipment for repairs. Then it is ultimately up to a human being, the astronaut, who can make mistakes, to make this new repair and to carry out the mission at hand. And that’s one of the things that I hope we encounter. You feel the nerves of it all when you go to perform. It’s probably like stepping onto the pitch in Game 7 of the World Series or something.
Space.com: How was working with director Ben Turner and what were the challenges during filming?
Cassidy: It was great working with Ben and his whole team at Fulwell. It is a real group of professionals and really competent in their profession. Some of the challenges are [related to] the international nature of the space station – international training and travel to Moscow and getting approvals from their side to enter facilities that may or may not be used to have cameras present and access those locations. It was a real challenge for all countries … Japan and Germany and Russia and of course NASA too. Navigating all of this was difficult.
Space.com: Watching this series reminds us how dangerous space is. As private space tourism intensifies, is there any danger in describing space travel as a fun, completely safe and routine playground?
Cassidy: Yeah, you’re on something over there. There will be an accident. I hate to say it and I don’t want to be an apocalyptic person. And it may or may not kill people, but it’s definitely going to be something that makes people realize that it’s really hard and really dangerous.
All systems have built-in redundancies where you can eject from the launch pad during powered flight, or the rocket can separate the capsule from anything catastrophic behind you. But it’s not over until you get picked up on a salvage ship, and there are plenty of things that can catch you. I think people should exercise a little bit of caution when considering going on a tourist mission to space. But ultimately, I encourage everyone to do it. Just do it knowing full well with yourself and your family that there are certain risks involved.
Space.com: How has your participation in this new Disney Plus docusery helped give your NASA career some perspective?
Cassidy: I was just happy that our team could help tell the story in a way that they did. And it turns out that a lot of things made for an interesting TV series. Looking back and forth, COVID was right before our launch and a week or two before that one of our crew had an eye injury and two cosmonauts changed at the last minute during my Soyuz mission. And further on, they had to decide which crew members were going to be in space when the repairs needed to be made. All of these things made great storylines throughout the documentary series.
Space.com: What do you hope viewers gain from “Among the Stars”?
Cassidy: I hope they take away that astronauts are not special people. We just do a cool job and we all think that way. When I watch sports documentaries, I really like the ones that show what it’s like off the court or off the field, kind of like “The Last Dance” was for the Chicago Bulls. I love this kind of backstory. So, hopefully viewers get the same experience with these docuseries to see what happens other than rocket riding and donning a spacesuit.
Space.com: What will you miss the most about being an astronaut and what’s the next step for you in retirement?
Cassidy: Well I have already started a new job. I am now talking about my new office at the National Medal of Honor Museum in Arlington, Texas, near the Dallas Cowboys Stadium. The retreat was therefore short-lived.
But what I will miss the most are the wonderful and dear friends I have made in the space community, at NASA and around the world. I will miss traveling to Moscow, seeing my friends there and having meals with these families. I’m already missing out on having the up-to-date information on what’s going on with space stuff. I need to email my friends and ask them why this is delayed or what the current launch date is. Before, I had these answers and I no longer have these answers.
“Among the Stars” airs all six episodes on Disney Plus starting October 6.