NASA Internal email: Proposal by NASA Astronaut Marsha Ivins for a TV Special on Project Constellation and Exploration

Status Report From: Johnson Space Center
Posted: Tuesday, January 23, 2007


Editor's note: The following email was sent by Astronaut Marsha Ivins (a close confidant of Mike Griffin's when it comes to agency public relations) to a number of people across NASA last fall. It has been circulating internally since that time. No word yet as to whether this project has been implemented.

From: Ivins, Marsha S.
To: [Lots of people at JSC, Astronaut Office, NASA HQ, and elsewhere]
Sent: Mon Oct 23 2006
Subject: Proposal for a tv special on Constellation/Exploration

History: I have a friend who works for New Line Cinema who is a screen writer, director, producer and huge space buff. I approached him with a thought about making a Discovery Channel or equivalent special, or series, on this new program NASA has to build the first new space vehicles of this generation, return to the moon, be once again great in an exciting and imaginative way. He loved the idea. Since he works for New Line, all ideas their employees have they have to offer to their studio first before they can shop them around. The proposal was that a division of New Line Cinema, New Line TV (newly formed group), be the producing company for Discovery or any of the other equivalent educational special tv shows (who do not always executive produce their own shows). About a month ago while I was in LA I visited the New Line TV lead and I talked to him and his staff about what we are doing now at NASA, how we plan to do it, what we hope to achieve, how we plan to achieve it. I showed pictures (basically a 160 slide show of past, present and future space) and blew their socks off if I do say so myself.

The head of the group said to me the one sentence we would kill to hear any big time production company say - this is not a story that will make money for us but it's a story that MUST be told. When can we start! - A week later my friend said the head of New Line told him that he'd never seen any New Line group so excited and in fact they have moved out quicker on this idea than on any one they've had to date I'm told.

The way we pitched this idea was that he and I would basically write it (and it's the story we all talk about, why we go back to the moon, how we go back, what we get by going back, all the theme stuff.) They asked a lot of questions about Challenger and Columbia and I spent a lot of time talking about history and what an amazing vehicle and technology the shuttle is and how we have now expanded our needs and goals beyond the designed capabilities of this vehicle. What we have learned, how we think we can apply it to be safer and better. They are totally on the side of telling the wonder of spaceflight story, not the failures of it and telling the wonder of discovery, not just focusing on the perceived ineptitudes of current programs. The plan is that I would be the technical interface with the program and NASA in addition to being a co writer. I explained that I would need the approval and blessing of the agency to do this. I know I have the blessing of the program manager...

So I got a note today from my friend that said this: (the money part is sort of irrelevant to us since we/I do not get paid but he does by the studios, and the studio and the show's studio exchange money. NASA just provides the access and the contacts).

So, Newline is going to close a deal with us (me) for this.

What that means is that we will have an if/come deal. I will be the writer and exec producer on the show should this series or one-hour or some version of this show get picked up and you will be the technical adviser on the show. An 'if/come' deal is a deal whereby no money exchanges hands until we have a network deal. So, they negotiate the possible money up front, but until we actually get 'set-up' nothing else happens. But it's all good.

What I need from you is something on NASA letterhead that clarifies that you will be the technical advisor on the project (we are currently calling it "Return to the Moon") and that you will provide access to and interface with NASA, its programs, facilities, people, interviews, footage etc. to make this show possible.

Your note needs to be worded in a way that makes it clear that through you and NASA 'this' group will have very open access to relevant materials necessary to make this show a reality. This will also grant us a kind of 'intellectual' lock on this project once we take it out so nobody else can produce it -- after we pitch it around town, it would be hard for a production company to go elsewhere and claim they did not hear it first from US!

As soon as I have your document we can finish the deal and then talk about the development of what exactly we will pitch and then the scheduling of pitch meetings, meetings you will be apart of!

I did such a good sell job on this the ball is now back in my court and they are ready to proceed with working up (with me) a proposal they can shop around to Discovery and others. What that also means is they want me, expect me to be the NASA interface and technical advisor, the one to arrange for access to and interviews with the folks we (we in this case being the folks on the distribution of this note in addition to the writer) collectively think can help tell the right story. I totally understand that I cannot and would not do this in a vacuum but keep you all apprised of what we are doing and solicit help in facilitating the right interviews and access. I also understand that they should have access to a lot of stuff but do not get free reign to dig around in places we don't want them digging, and again since I have total control over the story line since there are only 2 of us writing it, we can guide the story. The other cool side benefit is that if Discovery or one of the others picks it up to do, THEY end up making kickass annimations and sequences well beyond our in house capabilities that we then get to use for our own in house use. And we probably don't end up paying for it.

So with your approval and the letter that lets them get moving, he and I will work up the script and plan and then I will run it by whoever you feel needs to see it. And we are potentially on our way some really great outreach. What do you think?

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