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Must-see space TV: Astronauts star in new network television series

All four major U.S. television networks now astronaut and space-themed series ready to air or in development. (collectSPACE)
February 18, 2014

— NASA astronaut Mike Massimino is back on "The Big Bang Theory" in a new episode of the hit CBS comedy, but he soon won't be the only spaceman on network television.

Massimino, a veteran of two actual space shuttle flights to upgrade the Hubble Space Telescope and one made-for-TV mission to the International Space Station, is making his fifth cameo appearance on "The Big Bang Theory." In the episode "The Table Polarization," premiering Feb. 27, Massimino reunites with his "crewmate" Howard Wolowitz (actor Simon Helberg) to offer him another chance to go to space.

Massimino may be the first astronaut to be featured on scripted television in 2014, but as it stands now, he will be far from the last. All four major U.S. networks, ABC, CBS, NBC and FOX, have space exploration-themed shows in development or set to air. Add to that cable networks such as National Geographic Channel, and astronauts are soon to be this year's television stars.

NASA astronaut Michael Massimino holds up a mission patch for his fictional flight to the International Space Station, as was part of the storyline on CBS's "The Big Bang Theory." (collectSPACE)

Astronauts, and their wives

Massimino is a real U.S. astronaut playing a fictional one. In ABC's upcoming series, actors — and actresses — will take on the roles of historical NASA astronauts, and their spouses.

JoAnna Garcia Swisher is first lead to be announced for "Astronaut Wives Club," a 10-episode series based on Lily Koppel's same-titled 2013 book about the women behind America's first astronauts. Helmed by Stephanie Savage, the co-creator of "Gossip Girl," "Astronaut Wives Club" is set to launch on ABC this summer.

Swisher will trade in her mermaid tail as "Ariel" on ABC's "Once Upon a Time" for the role of Betty Grissom, the real life wife of Mercury astronaut Virgil "Gus" Grissom, whose spacecraft promptly sank to the oceanfloor after splashing down from space.

Actress JoAnna Garcia Swisher has been cast as astronaut Gus Grissom's wife, Betty, in "Astronaut Wives Club." (ABC/Hachette)

Academy Award-winning actress Halle Berry will step into the role of a more modern astronaut, though not on "Wives Club." Premiering July 2 on CBS, Berry will portray "Molly Watts," a fictional space explorer, in the Steven Spielberg-produced "Extant."

The series, described by CBS as a thriller, follows Berry's character after she returns from a yearlong space mission. Little more has been revealed about the series' plot, other than that "her experiences lead to events that ultimately will change the course of human history."

Space history, of a sort, is also the setting for "Mission Control" by executive producer and comedian Will Ferrell. NBC has ordered a pilot episode for the series, which has been described as a "workplace ensemble in the tone of 'Anchorman' [that] examines what happens when a strong woman butts heads with a macho astronaut in the race to land on the moon."

From space to the 'Cosmos'

Two TV documentaries coming in March will seek to take their audiences to outer space, rather than re-stage it with actors.

In "Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey," FOX and National Geographic Channel are re-launching the late astronomer Carl Sagan's 1980 groundbreaking science series with 13 new parts. Hosted by astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson and produced by "Family Guy" creator Seth MacFarlane, "Cosmos" will premiere on 123-branded FOX channels in 125 countries and 90 National Geographic Channels in 170 countries, making it the largest-ever global launch for a TV series.

The first episode, "Standing Up in the Milky Way," airs on FOX on March 9, followed by an encore presentation the following night on National Geographic.

"Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey" re-launches Carl Sagan's 1980 science-based TV series. (FOX/National Geographic Channel)

Then on March 14, as "Cosmos" continues to air, National Geographic and Channel 4 in the U.K. will produce "Live from Space," a two-hour, unprecedented television special featuring NASA astronaut Richard Mastracchio and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Koichi Wakata live from the International Space Station.

According to the network, viewers will be able to chat via video with Mastracchio and Wakata and have their faces beamed into space to join the conversation. In addition to the astronauts, flight controllers and researchers will also be featured in segments originating from NASA's Mission Control in Houston during the course of the live event.

On the launch pad

Even more astronaut and space-related programming is in the works.

Announced last June, Primeridian Entertainment has hired "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan" screenwriter and director Nicholas Meyer to pen a pilot episode and treatment for a TV series to "examine the tense competition between the US and USSR superpowers at the height of the Cold War, starting with the scramble to capture the remains of the Nazi V-2 [rocket] program."

The still untitled space-race-themed project is being based on Matthew Brzezinski's 2007 "Red Moon Rising: Sputnik and the Hidden Rivalries That Ignited the Space Age."

Bumper 8, a U.S.-modified V-2 rocket, launches in 1950 from the Long Range Proving Grounds in Cape Canaveral, Florida. (NASA)

There was also news in April 2013 of a series pitch by the writers behind AMC's "Mad Men" under the working title, "Cocoa Beach." Based in part on veteran space journalist Jay Barbree's 2007 book "Live from Cape Canaveral," the series would focus on the space program of the 1960s and the journalists who covered it.

"Hopefully, it happens," Dave Netterstrom, the mayor of the real Cocoa Beach, told Florida Today. "We want to let people know we're a cool place to visit and a cool place to live."

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