A new MagellanTV original series takes readers on the voyage of a lifetime.
It’s an exciting time for the field of space research. Recent technological advances like the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope are giving scientists an opportunity to study the cosmos in a way never imagined before. Yet the inherent intricacies of space technology and astrophysics may feel beyond comprehension for many.
The documentary series Space: The New Frontier aims to demystify space research by providing viewers with a unique, in-depth perspective on the evolving world of space exploration and Earth’s place within the observable universe. For its fifth season, MagellanTV has partnered with the creators of the series for 10 new, illuminating original episodes.
We asked Andrew Thomson, series producer, about the unique joys and challenges of creating an innovative series like Space: The New Frontier, and what he hopes viewers will glean from the eye-opening journey ahead.
Stream Season Five of Space: The New Frontier on MagellanTV.
Matia Madrona Query: Tell me about the origins of Space: The New Frontier.
Andrew Thomson: The show is an evolutionary progression stemming from much of my earlier work in space and technology documentaries. My previous programs were more historical in nature, i.e., history of manned space flight, evolution of technologies, and past discoveries.
Season One was probably the most difficult to produce. I had to condense the current understandings and observations (at that time) of our Sun, the planets, moons, asteroids, and comets into focus. From there, the following installments expanded on that knowledge.
Query: What has been your mission behind the documentary series?
Thomson: My mission behind the series is twofold. Primarily, I envisaged a more up-to-date series focusing on the current and evolving technologies and projects in space and its exploration. I wanted to investigate what is happening now and bring the audience up to speed on the huge advances we are making in this area every day. Secondly, it is a subject I am passionate about, and making this documentary series enabled me to further my knowledge and understanding.
Throughout the five seasons, we go from the latest project proposals for exploration, to the development of the spacecraft, testing, and launching, the journey, and then lastly, the exciting discoveries that the project makes. For example, probes like Cassini, Juno, New Horizons, solar probes, and the space-based telescopes.
Query: How does Season Five go about making complex topics approachable to the audience?
Thomson: Viewers who enjoy this type of programming are inquisitive to begin with; they have a passion for knowledge. In producing a specific episode about a difficult subject like gravity waves, or dark matter, I do the research and try to understand it in my own terms and then create the episode. I don’t dress it up or dress it down. If I can understand the topic, then the audience will (I hope) as well.
Query: What can you share with viewers about the behind-the-scenes making of the series?
Thomson: Read, research, find footage, film interviews, create animations, edit it together, write the script, add music and effects. Repeat ten times . . . and start again.
The ease of access is the key to producing programs now. The Internet brings the world to you, but it also makes you insular. For instance, my voice-over talent lives in Britain, some of my music is written in Canada, the audio engineer lives in the same city, but I never see him. Video content can originate from Europe, the U.S.A., Japan, Russia, or even space.
All you need is a hot computer and reliable software, great Internet speeds, lots of drive storage, and 30 hours a day to put it all together!
Query: What have been some of the challenges?
There have only really been two major challenges to surmount in the making of the series. The first was creating footage to explain complex ideas or special visuals; 3D animations can be very time consuming to manufacture. The episode on Venus in this new season required several shots that didn’t exist. I created some shots, but, due to time restrictions, I had to engage an artist in India for additional modeling and renderings.
The other was, of course, the pandemic. When space projects were either canceled or delayed for a year or so, this disrupted the progression of the series. Everything had to come to a standstill, and it proved to be quite frustrating. Other than that, I really enjoy the process. Problem-solving is not so much of a challenge as it is an opportunity to think outside the box.
Query: Space: The New Frontier features insights and knowledge from some of the world’s most renowned astrophysicists and scientists. What has the experience been like to collaborate with such a broad range of experts?
Thomson: I have from time to time been fortunate to interview scientists in person, but not enough of them, unfortunately. They are scattered all over the globe, and some aren’t even on the planet!
However, I have found them to be fascinating people in their own right. These projects are their careers, their lives. They talk about little else, and they are committed, genuine people who are a lot smarter than me.
Query: How can our deepening knowledge of space and the universe allow us to better understand our own planet?
Thomson: This is key. It is what exploration is all about: finding other worlds similar to our own. Even Venus gives us insights into how our world evolved, what could have been different, and how lucky we are.
The study of our major star, the Sun, in comparison to other stars, explains some of the conditions needed for life. The research on asteroids, the building blocks of planets, the source of water on our world, allows us to learn about these elements and deepens our knowledge of the mechanisms that create and maintain the planet.
We now have the ability to deflect cataclysmic asteroids, so it makes us unequivocal stewards of this planet. We must learn and adapt, save this world and all that live on it, because another suitable home is a very, very long way away.
Query: Season Five topics include the new Sun probes, hybrid/robot exploration of the Moon, the icy moons of Jupiter, and black hole research, among many other areas of focus. Is there a particular topic that especially fascinates you personally?
Thomson: Spacecraft propulsion is my go-to technology. If we intend to go to the other planets in the Solar System, then chemical rockets are not the answer. Ion propulsion is evolving – combining it with nuclear and fusion technology will help reduce the time humans are exposed to the dangers of deep space.
To go to another star system, you need something revolutionary – even light speed isn’t fast enough. We need warp drive, the ability to bend space time. The theory stands up; laboratories are studying the technology and it is within our ability. We just need fusion power, and that is getting very close indeed.
Query: What do you hope viewers ultimately take away from Season Five?
Thomson: I think the latest season of Space: The New Frontier shows we are pushing the boundaries of our knowledge, particularly in the areas of extremes of space, black holes, and the earliest moments of the universe. We are coming up with big answers and ending up with even more questions. The James Webb telescope, in particular, may reveal our theory of the Big Bang is wrong!
Also, the abundance of exoplanets – with very few exceptions, every star in the sky has at least one planet orbiting it, and that increases the odds of finding life elsewhere: the holy grail of space research.
Matia Madrona Query is a freelance writer and the editor of BookLife, the indie author wing of Publishers Weekly. She lives in New York’s Hudson Valley.
Editor's Note: This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.