Nat Geo Channel has never shied away from a challenge, and that’s certainly the case when it comes to the unprecedented collaboration with NASA known as “Live From Space.” The one-time TV event on March 14 will involve a live feed from the International Space Station and give NASA a major spotlight just as Nat Geo helps promote its other space odyssey, the much-anticipated reboot of “Cosmos,” that will start running across hundreds of Fox-run nets across the globe on March 9.
Along for the Live From Space ride will be astronauts Rick Mastracchio and Koichi Wakata from the ISS, while astronaut Mike Massimino (who you may remember as the guy who fixed the Hubble Telescope) contributes live from Houston. Incredibly, the show will air on Nat Geo Channel in 170 countries, and on Channel 4 in the U.K. and also simulcast on Nat Geo’s Spanish-language network in the U.S., Nat Geo MUNDO.
We sat down with Live From Space executive producer Al Berman to find out how the heck he plans to pull this whole thing off—and whether he thinks this could be the start of a beautiful relationship with sometimes insular world of NASA.
‘Live From Space’ seems like quite an undertaking. What kind of logistical challenges must you overcome to pull this off?
It’s complex coordinated effort between NASA and Arrow Media. NASA has a huge infrastructure for sending up and pulling down signals from the International Space Station. But obviously, the security is very tight. Every bit of the technical apparatus we’ll use, from the mobile truck to the two-way radios, have to be integrated into the NASA system and deemed secure. This is not a “set up next to the venue and broadcast” operation. NASA has been incredibly cooperative and collaborative with all this.
Separately, the ISS loses signal every 20-30 minutes for varying periods of time. As we get closer to air, those blackout periods become more clear. But we have to build our broadcasts with the expectation of losing signal with some regularity.
And then there’s the fact that two of the stars of the show are 220 miles above Earth. But that’s what makes this so special.
This kind of access is unprecedented at NASA. How did you convince the agency to cooperate, and what kind of “ground rules” did the agency lay down with you?
It’s a very unique collaboration with NASA. The initial push came from Tom Brisley of Arrow Media, who had a previous relationship with the agency. There was tremendous trust between NASA and Arrow, and then National Geographic Channel and Channel 4 bring a pedigree that helps everyone to feel comfortable we’ll do things right.
And as for the ground rules?
Other than working around the astronauts’ daily work schedules, everything was on the table for discussion with NASA. They really were partners in helping us to create a broadcast that will be both incredibly entertaining and interesting, while also adhering to their policies as a government agency.
NASA always has a plan for every scenario. So what’s yours if you lose the feed or if the space station experiences a problem?
We have backups for problems ranging from minor, for which we have taped packages; to major, for which we have an alternate broadcast site at NASA with plenty of tape, already shot by the astronauts, to fill the entire broadcast.
What’s the main thing you hope viewers will take away from this?
I hope viewers take away that space is relevant, beautiful, dangerous and holds hope for the future of the human species. We hope to inspire a new generation of astronauts/space explorers like Rick [Mastracchio], Koichi [Wakata] and Mike [Massimino].
What are the chances you’d be able to do another TV event like this with NASA, or even a full series?
There is endless potential. Right now we’re focused on this project, but hopefully it’s a relationship that we’ll continue to grow.