A recap of Seasons 1, 2, & 3 of For All Mankind, exploring an alternate version of the 1969 space race where the Soviets land on the Moon first and the space race never ends.
Finally, the wait for Apple TV’s hit series For All Mankind is over and I, for one, couldn’t be more excited. For All Mankind is a sci-fi fable about the beauty, complexities, wonders, and devastating unpredictability of human existence. It’s also about space exploration, settling on the Moon, mining on Mars, and spotlighting the lives of NASA astronauts, who are heroes and rockstars of their time. There’s also some international tension in there, too. So before the new season arrives, here’s a recap of Seasons 1, 2, and 3 for you.
For All Mankind takes the perspective of what would’ve happened if the Soviets were the first to land on the Moon. The series explores this possibility through an alternate version of the 1969 space race, wherein the Soviet Union does, in fact, beat the United States to the Moon and the global space race never ends.
In Season 1, Russia totally blindsides NASA and wins the race, laying claim to what the newspapers dub the “Red Moon”. This pushes space exploration well beyond what NASA’s Apollo program can accomplish, and it isn’t long before NASA sees itself in deep crisis, forced to match pace with Russia, who is steady emphasizing diversity by including a woman in subsequent landings.
As a result, NASA develops and implements the first program to train women and minorities who were largely excluded from the initial decades of American space exploration. Season 1 also introduces us to key astronaut Ed Baldwin (Joel Kinnamin, of Suicide Squad), who is a dominant fixture throughout the series, as we follow his story the closest.
By the end of Season 1, NASA reaches the Moon, finds water on the Moon, and subsequently sets up its lunar base, Jamestown, around those findings … but so, too, are its political rivals.
Season 2 of For All Mankind jumps forward a decade to 1983 and brings with it a new head of NASA, and her name is Ellen Wilson (Jodi Balfour, of The Crown). It also brings rising nuclear tensions on Earth between the Americans and the Russians due to an incident on the Moon, and space becomes a large part of the Cold War that sees Marines with guns in space.
Season 2 really amps up the inter-personal drama between characters and their home lives, and the political drama between nations, while weaving in some breathtaking moments captured in space during times of extreme risk, tension, and danger. We also see the innocent trade of a secret between a NASA engineer and a Soviet engineer after their nations announce a joint space mission—eek. By the end of Season 2, the finale—just like in Season 1—jumps us ahead a decade, and in the final shot, it is 1995 and we see a pair of boots walking on the surface of Mars.
For All Mankind’s Season 3 opens in 1992 with the launch of an orbital space hotel, which is pretty freakin’ cool. Also, NASA Head Ellen Wilson is now a U.S. Senator and running for the presidency as the Republican nominee against Bill Clinton. The space race also continues—this time to Mars, just as the end of Season 2 indicated. American engineer and entrepreneur Dev Ayesa (Edi Gathegi, of Briarpatch) enters the picture and co-founds Helios Aerospace, an American aerospace company and space manufacturer, in an effort to lead the race to Mars; however, a growing problem potentially proves to be Helios’s downfall.
The action really beefs up in Season 3 with the Red Planet as the new front in the space race, especially when we learn the boots seen at the end of Season 2 belonged to the sole survivor not of an American mission or a Soviet mission, but of a North Korean mission, which means this poor guy has been stuck on Mars—alone—the entirety of Season 3. North Korea managed to get a rocket to Mars but now can’t seem to get them home.
But that’s not the biggest shocker of Season 3. A domestic terrorist attack that sees most of NASA Mission Control obliterated is, leaving fans of For All Mankind in complete shock and devastation, knowing we’d have to wait a whole year to see who and how everyone was affected, as well as what happens next. Luckily, the wait is over, my friends.
Seasons 1, 2 and 3 of For All Mankind are now streaming on Apple TV+. Season 4 premieres on Apple TV+ on November 10, 2023. Read our review of Season 4 of For All Mankind.