Nickelodeon's 'The Astronauts' got tips from real NASA astronaut
November 12, 2020
— The cast of Nickelodeon's "The Astronauts" needed to learn how to act while in space.
Fortunately, unlike the characters they play — a group of kids who sneak onto a rocket and accidentally initiate the launch sequence — they had a real astronaut to help them get ready.
"We got to talk to him about what it's like in zero gravity," Miya Cech said of her and her castmates' conversation with NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy. "We got to talk to him about when we push out for something what happens or when we're just floating there, how should we be moving and what should we be doing?"
Cech plays Samantha "Samy" Sawyer-Wei, the daughter of an astronaut, in the new live action series. She is joined on board the Odyssey II by Bryce Gheisar ("Elliott Combs," the son of the spaceship's billionaire owner), Keith L. Williams ("Martin Taylor," the son of a flight controller), Kayden Grace Swan ("Doria Taylor," Martin's younger sister) and Ben Daon ("Will Rivers," the son of a journalist who is investigating Elliott's father).
Cassidy, a former Chief Astronaut and Navy SEAL, was preparing for his own launch to the International Space Station when he spoke to the cast of "The Astronauts." He has since returned to Earth after 196 days off the planet, bringing his total time in space after three missions to more than a year.
"We also talked about the launching scenes, like when we're first taking off," Cech said in an interview with collectSPACE. "He told us you're really shaking and your eyes start to water. He told us about body language, what our faces should look like and stuff like that."
"He gave us a way better understanding of how serious it is," added Daon.
"You experience up to five Gs [five times the force of gravity] and with that strain and pressure, he [Cassidy] said, somebody will almost always vomit going up, which fortunately none of us did in the show," Daon said with a smile. "It just made it feel so much more real, the fact that they cared enough to give us the proper education to portray it."
Adding to that sense of realism were the spacecraft sets created for the show. "The Astronauts" is Nickelodeon's first collaboration with executive producers Brian Grazer and Ron Howard and the Kids and Family division of their company, Imagine Entertainment. Grazer and Howard's earlier credits include the 1995 feature film "Apollo 13" and the 2016 National Geographic docudrama "Mars."
"Getting into the command module and strapping into those seats for the first time was super surreal because when we do all the controls and stuff for the takeoff, it personally was so exciting and I felt like I was in it, especially when filming, [but] when you're watching it, too. It just feels so cinematic both ways," said Cech. "It feels like you're actually in it and you're actually launching in a spaceship and you're going through these crazy adventures with all of your friends. For me, that was really awesome."
The cast-turned-crew took Cassidy's advice to heart for the scenes showing them floating in the weightless environment of space.
"There actually is a lot of real physics that applies to it. The ship spins in a way that has a centrifugal force, where we can all stand, but then whenever you're in different parts of the ship, you are in anti-gravity," Gheisar told collectSPACE. "[To appear like we were floating] we used wires and the parallelogram, which is this thing that lifts you up."
"It has a weight on the back of it and you strap your legs to it," added Williams. "And basically, they only show your upper body and edit the legs."
After getting a taste of playing an astronaut, most of "The Astronauts" said they would like to fly into space for real someday.
"I live near Houston in Texas, so I've been to [NASA's Johnson Space Center] before. And, I watched all the documentaries and I've seen 'Apollo 13,' so it is pretty surreal being on this kind of a set," said Gheisar. "[SpaceX's] Elon Musk is kind of living my dream right now. He said he wants to retire on Mars and that's something that I would definitely, definitely want to do."
But not everyone was up for the one-way trip. Unlike on the show, Swan wanted her return ticket booked in advance.
"I would love to go to space, as long as it was planned and I knew I would be coming home. I would be fine with that," she said. "I wouldn't want to stay there."
"The Astronauts" premieres with back-to-back episodes on Friday (Nov. 13) at 7 p.m. (ET/PT) on Nickelodeon.
In "The Astronauts," a new live action series from Imagine Kids+Family on Nickelodeon, a group of kids sneak onto an empty spaceship and accidentally launch into space. (Nickelodeon)
In "The Astronauts" on Nickelodeon stars (from left to right): Keith L. Williams, Miya Cech, Bryce Gheisar, Ben Daon and Kayden Grace Swan as a group of kids who launch to space. (Nickelodeon)
NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy, seen here aboard the International Space Station in September 2020, offered tips to the cast of Nickelodeon's "The Astronauts" about how to act as if they were in space, as their characters are in the live action series. (NASA)
Blasting off into space with no proper training, a malfunctioning onboard AI system, and their parents watching from Earth, the kids in Nickelodeon's "The Astronauts" embark on a journey of survival using only their smarts and friendship as tools. (Nickelodeon)