Netflix Docuseries From ‘The Last Dance’ Filmmakers Will Chronicle First All-Civilian Space Mission to Orbit Earth


The team behind the blockbuster Michael Jordan docuseries “The Last Dance” are now taking their jam to space. Netflix has picked up “Countdown: Inspiration4 Mission To Space,” from producer Connor Schell and director Jason Hehir, which will chronicle this September’s SpaceX Dragon mission Inspiration4, in which four civilians will travel into space on a three-day trip.

Unlike the recent suborbital flights led by billionaires Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos, Inspiration4 will reach an altitude higher than that of the International Space Station and make history as the first all-civilian mission to orbit. “Countdown: Inspiration4 Mission to Space” will have exclusive access to the mission, and will be produced and uploaded to Netflix in five parts leading up to and following the mission. It’s the first Netflix documentary series to cover an event in near real-time.

Schell (through his Words & Pictures shingle), Hehir and their “The Last Dance” team are behind “Countdown: Inspiration4 Mission to Space,” along with Time Studios and marketing firm Known. The series starts with the selection of the four crew members, followed by commercial astronaut training and eventually, the liftoff. The final episode will premiere soon after the completion of the mission, and feature footage inside the spacecraft of their journey and return to Earth.

The first two episodes of “Countdown: Inspiration4 Mission To Space” premiere Sept. 6, followed by episodes 3 and 4 on Sept. 13. Inspiration4 is scheduled to launch on Sept. 15; the final episode will air at the end of the month.

Connor Schell and Hehir are executive producers along with Libby Geist and Aaron Cohen for Words & Pictures; Ian Orefice, Alexa Conway, and Rebecca Gitlitz for Time Studios; Ross Martin, Brad Roth, and Mark Feldstein for Known.

Shift4 Payments founder/CEO Jared Isaacman, 38, is leading the mission, which will also include physician assistant Hayley Arceneaux, 29, as chief medical officer; professor of geosciences Dr. Sian Proctor, 51, as mission pilot; and Lockheed Martin engineer Chris Sembroski, 41, as mission specialist. The flight is meant to raise funds and awareness for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

In airing next month, “”Countdown: Inspiration4 Mission To Space” will also succeed in where many other unscripted shows about civilian space travel haven’t: Actually happening. There have been many failed attempts over the years to chronicle civilian space flight, starting with Mark Burnett’s 2000 show “Destination Mir.”

At the time, NBC agreed to pay Burnett between $35 million and $40 million for “Destination Mir,” which included the nearly $20 million that Burnett agreed to pay MirCorp — the company that held the lease to Mir. “Destination Mir” was planned for the 2001-02 TV season, and would have followed a group of Americans as they underwent cosmonaut training at Russia’s Star City compound and competed, Survivor-style, for a chance to be sent in a rocket to the former Russian space station. The finale would culminate with the live broadcast of the winner’s launch in a Soyuz capsule to Mir.

Burnett tried again a few years later with the “Destination: Space,” partnering with the Russian Space Agency and a Russian TV network on a show that would have put someone aboard a Soyuz mission to the International Space Station. But after the 2003 Space Shuttle Columbia disaster, U.S. networks cooled to the idea.

Separately, in 2002 ‘Nsync member Lance Bass took flight training in order to board a Russian rocket to the International Space Station. Bass and Destiny Productions hoped to raise $20 million fee via sponsors and a network deal to chronicle his journey on a reality show. But Bass and Destiny didn’t come up with the money, and the flight didn’t happen. Producer Phil Gurin also acquired a Swedish TV format to send someone into space with “The Big Mission,” but that also didn’t happen.

Most recently, in 2013, Burnett was once again pitching a space show to networks, this time to send a winner on one of Virgin Galactic’s first suborbital space flights. The show was expected to pit contestants against each other for a chance at a seat on the second flight of Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo from Spaceport America in New Mexico — after Branson and his family flew on the first one. But those flights never happened — and in 2014, Virgin Galactic’s first SpaceShipTwo space plane crashed. It wasn’t until this summer than Branson finally made it to the edge of the atmosphere.

Meanwhile, besides “Countdown: Inspiration4 Mission To Space,” Netflix will also mark the trip with “A StoryBots Space Adventure,” a hybrid live-action/animation special that will launch on Sept. 14, the day before the targeted launch.

The Inspiration4 crew will participate by answering some of kids’ most pressing questions — like how does a rocket work, how do they train, and how do they eat and sleep in space. “StoryBots” writer Erik Weiner will write the special, which will also feature a new original song performed by Big Freedia.

Evan and Gregg Spiridellis are the creators behind “Storybots,” and the special comes from Mindshow.