Q&A: Astronaut Garrett Reisman guest stars on 'For All Mankind'

Veteran NASA astronaut and "For All Mankind" technical consultant Garrett Reisman takes a turn in front of the camera as a guest star in the second episode of Season 2 of the series. Reisman plays the commander of space shuttle Columbia in a scene alongside actors Jody Balfour (left), Sonya Walger and Bjørn Alexander.
Veteran NASA astronaut and "For All Mankind" technical consultant Garrett Reisman takes a turn in front of the camera as a guest star in the second episode of Season 2 of the series. Reisman plays the commander of space shuttle Columbia in a scene alongside actors Jody Balfour (left), Sonya Walger and Bjørn Alexander. (Image credit: Apple TV+)

Garrett Reisman was reviewing the script for an episode of "For All Mankind" when he came across a familiar name.

A veteran NASA astronaut who has served as a technical consultant for the Apple TV+ series since it began, Reisman was used to seeing some of his fellow space explorers being played by actors in the context of the show's alternate history. "For All Mankind" imagines what might have happened to the U.S. space program if the Soviets had been first to land a human on the moon in the 1960s.

This casting was different, though. Now in its second season, the series' storyline has moved into the space shuttle-era of the early 1980s, closer to when Reisman — in real life — became part of the U.S. space program.

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Spoiler warning: What follows contains minor spoilers for "The Bleeding Edge," Episode 2 in Season 2 of "For All Mankind."

"So I'm poring through the script for episode two and I see there's a character in there named 'Garrett Reisman' and I wasn't sure what that meant," Reisman said. "Maybe they were just going to name a character after me as a nice nod and have that character be played by a professional actor."

But Reisman noticed that the part wasn't very big; it was nothing like the extended scenes that portrayed Mercury astronaut Deke Slayton in the first season or European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Wubbo Ockels as seen in the first episode of Season 2. Suspecting something was up, Reisman reached out to the show's executive producers.

"'Hey, I see this character, 'astronaut Garrett Reisman.' Where are you possibly going to find an actor handsome enough to play that role?'" joked Reisman, he recalled.

As it turns out, they already had the perfect candidate for the part.

collectSPACE.com spoke with the real-life astronaut Garrett Reisman about his cameo appearance in "For All Mankind," now streaming on Apple TV+. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

NASA astronaut Garrett Reisman, STS-132 mission specialist, in the commander's seat of the space shuttle Atlantis in 2010.  (Image credit: NASA)

collectSPACE (cS): Had you asked for a cameo, or whose idea was it to insert you, as you, into the show?

Garrett Reisman: It was something that executive producers Ben Nedivi and Matt Wolpert just decided to do. I think in Season 1 there was a thought about putting my name on a mission patch, but they said, "No, no, we've got a better idea. We're going to do something in Season 2."

Ben and Matt wrote the script for Episode 2, so I'm pretty sure it was their idea to throw me in front of the camera, which I told them was a horrible, horrible mistake.

cS: You play the commander of space shuttle Columbia, ferrying Ockels (Bjørn Alexander), Ellen Wilson (Jodi Balfour) and Molly Cobb (Sonya Walger) home from the Jamestown moon base. What was it like playing a space shuttle astronaut, given you launched twice on the real shuttle? [Reisman logged more than 100 days in space flying on two missions, including a stay on board the International Space Station in 2008.]

Reisman: It was funny. I remember after one cut, Matt Wolpert came up to me and said, "You know, I'm just not believing it. You don't seem like a real astronaut."

People go to Space Camp so that they can pretend that they're an astronaut for a bit. Well, I kind of got to go to acting camp and pretend like I'm an actor, and it was just as much fun as I think it is for the people who go to Space Camp, for the same reasons.

In Friday's episode, I have a line which is basically preparing for the OMS [orbital maneuvering system] burn and some technical callouts with Jody Balfour, who plays astronaut Ellen Wilson. She's sitting in the pilot seat, I'm in the commander's seat and we're going through this procedure and I have to turn around and tell Molly Cobb [Walger] to put her seatbelt on.

Garrett Reisman, in close-up, in a scene from the second episode of Season 2 of "For All Mankind" now on Apple TV+.  (Image credit: Apple TV+)

And we shot that — but what you have to understand is that when you shoot a scene, even if is only to use a few seconds, it took the better part of an afternoon to get it done because you have to do it over and over again. You have to do it with the cameras in one position to get the wide shot and then bring the cameras in for close-ups and then the reaction shots.

In the process, you have to take the set apart and pull out the payload bay for the close-up shots, and then you have to put it all back together again. So it takes the better part of the day for this one scene.

So we are doing it over and over and the entire time we are doing it, Cobb is supposed to be in zero-g, so Sonya [Walger] is in a harness with wires holding her up and it is terribly uncomfortable. So she's stuck there every time.

Now, I'm proud to say that for the dozen times we shot that scene, I nailed my line every single time — expect once. And the one time I flubbed, Sonya was still up there in the wires, this was near the end of the day, and she looks at me, shakes her finger at me and says, "You know Reisman? You have one damn line!"

And I just started cracking up, it was so funny. I said to her it was not my fault because who talks like this? Who wrote this? And because my line is a bunch of technobabble, it was lines that I wrote [as the technical consultant]. So I actually wrote the line.

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The checklist prop used by veteran astronaut Garrett Reisman in the second episode of the second season of "For All Mankind" was based on a scan of one of his real shuttle checklists.  (Image credit: Apple TV+)

cS: You mention the set, how close to the real shuttle flight deck was the mockup that you filmed in?

Reisman: Our set was used for some other production, they didn't build it just for the show.

It looked pretty realistic. Let me put it to you this way: the switches were all in the right place. So if I needed to turn off GPC 1 [General Purpose Computer 1] I knew exactly where to reach for that switch. But the look and feel was a little bit different than the real thing.

If you got up close and really looked at it, the main difference was that it was made out of plywood, so you could take it apart. Everything from behind the commander and pilot seats decoupled and separated into two pieces so you could shoot over the commander's or pilot's shoulders and then put it back together again. And not every window had glass in it, so you could shoot through the windows.

And the seats, I don't know where they got them, but they were quite different from the ones we used on the shuttle. But keep in mind this is an alternate universe, so who knows?

cS: Is the flight suit you wore in the episode one of the flight suits you wore while at NASA or in space?

Reisman: That's a good question. I offered to bring my own and they told me no, because it might be slightly different from what the others were wearing. The more important thing was that it matched everybody else, not how authentic it was. So they said no.

I did get a flight suit for one scene that was the standard blue flight suit like we had at NASA. I looked at the label and it was from the same manufacturer. I was even able to give them the size off of my actual flight suit and they went out and bought one from the very same company that makes the NASA flight suits.

I think I did wear my own flight boots. That might have been my only contribution.

A 1983 space shuttle Columbia mission patch that includes Garrett Reisman as part of the crew was created by graphic designer Evan Regester for the second season of "For All Mankind."  (Image credit: Icon Heroes)

cS: What about the checklist you have in the scene. Was that something you had loaned to the production?

Reisman: The checklist was not mine, but it was based on mine.

At one point, Jaime Mengual, who is in charge of our props, he came down to my house and I brought out all my stuff from the attic. So I had all my checklists, my knee board, some space food and my flight suits. He looked at all of it and he took detailed photos. He even took the checklists and scanned them. So the checklist I was using was a prop, but it was based on a scan of my actual checklist.

And if anybody wants to know the procedure I'm executing and reading from, it is actually an OMS [orbital maneuvering system] delta V [change in velocity] burn procedure from the shuttle OMS burns.

cS: You mentioned earlier about the idea of putting your name on one of the show's fictional mission patches and with this cameo, that happened. There is a space shuttle Columbia patch with your name on it. Did you have a hand in its design?

Reisman: No, that was all done separately by graphic designer Evan Regester.

I don't even have one of my patches. I didn't get to keep my costumes. I know you can buy it, so maybe I should get one myself.

cS: This is your second cameo, not only on a show, but on one created by Ronald D. Moore. How did your "For All Mankind" experience differ from your walk-on role in the last episode of "Battlestar Galactica"?

Reisman: "Battlestar Galactica" was an absolute spur-of-the-moment, impromptu thing. Ron invited me to visit the set while they were filming the last episode of the very last season and while I was there they asked, "Hey, you want to be a colonial Marine?" And so they sent me over the wardrobe and got me all kitted out and then I was in the back of a Raptor during a scene where the Raptor gets blown to smithereens. So my character didn't last very long. I mean, it's like a single frame.

Now with "For All Mankind," I have really come up in the world because in this episode on Friday, my official credit is actually "guest star," which is another funny thing. My wife has been giving me a really hard time about it. She's like, "A guest star? So you're like what, like Charo or Red Buttons on "The Love Boat"?

I guess you have to be above a certain age to get that joke, but she teases me mercilessly about it. In reality, it's very minor, I have one line, so it is very much tongue in cheek when I say I am a "guest star."

"The Bleeding Edge," Episode 2 in Season 2 of "For All Mankind," is available now on Apple TV+ (opens in new tab). A new episode is released every Friday on the streaming service.

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Robert Z. Pearlman
collectSPACE.com Editor, Space.com Contributor

Robert Pearlman is a space historian, journalist and the founder and editor of collectSPACE.com, an online publication and community devoted to space history with a particular focus on how and where space exploration intersects with pop culture. Pearlman is also a contributing writer for Space.com and co-author of "Space Stations: The Art, Science, and Reality of Working in Space” published by Smithsonian Books in 2018. He previously developed online content for the National Space Society and Apollo 11 moonwalker Buzz Aldrin, helped establish the space tourism company Space Adventures and currently serves on the History Committee of the American Astronautical Society, the advisory committee for The Mars Generation and leadership board of For All Moonkind. In 2009, he was inducted into the U.S. Space Camp Hall of Fame in Huntsville, Alabama. In 2021, he was honored by the American Astronautical Society with the Ordway Award for Sustained Excellence in Spaceflight History.