How Much Of Quantum Leap Episode 2’s Atlantis Mission Was Real?

This article contains spoilers for Quantum Leap episode 2.Quantum Leap episode 2 sees Dr. Ben Song participate in a mission on the space shuttle Atlantis, a real shuttle that existed even if the mission didn’t. Featuring an unusual form of time travel, Quantum Leap is a story in which a wayward scientist « leaps » from body to body, righting wrongs and correcting mistakes. The original series starred Scott Bakula as Dr. Sam Beckett, but the relaunch features Raymond Lee as his successor, Dr. Ben Song.

The first episode of NBC’s Quantum Leap relaunch set the pattern for the entire show; the background details would be historically accurate, but the actual drama would be entirely fictional. In narrative terms, this approach makes sense; the concept of Quantum Leap would be a little too disturbing if it explored (and, of course, rewrote) real-world tragedies. Quantum Leap episode 2 sees Ben leap into an Atlantis shuttle mission, occupying the body of an astronaut destined to die.

Astronauts certainly do have a hazardous career, and sadly the history of space exploration is littered with accidents. That makes Quantum Leap episode 2’s approach entirely believable, even if the story does include a lot of fiction. Here are all the details that are accurate, and all the embellishments added to create a compelling narrative.

The space shuttle Atlantis really did exist. The fourth shuttle created by NASA, Atlantis’ maiden voyage took place in 1985, and it was only decommissioned in 2011. According to Quantum Leap episode 2, in 1998 Atlantis was used to transport the first pieces of the International Space Station into orbit. Although construction of the ISS did indeed begin in 1998, Atlantis had no part in it – in fact, the Atlantis never went to space in 1998.

In his first adventure, Ben Song leaped into the middle of the Hope Diamond. In Quantum Leap episode 2, he finds himself in the body of an astronaut named David Tamara, destined to die in a tragic accident on the Atlantis mission. Played by Tadamore Yagi, David Tamara is an entirely fictional character. He’s probably named after the American astrophysicist and astronaut Tamara E. Jernigan.

Ben’s attempts to change history almost go badly wrong when the Atlantis’ heat shielding is damaged. Addison compares the damage to the tragic Columbia disaster in 2003, in which a large piece of foam fell from the shuttle’s external tank during re-entry and breached the spacecraft wing – resulting in the loss of the Columbia and all seven astronauts aboard. Oddly enough, while Quantum Leap episode 2’s near-miss is a fictional event, in 1988 Atlantis did sustain damage during launch involving problems with this foam – arguably foreshadowing Columbia’s fate.

Construction of the International Space Station began in December 1998, when a Proton rocket launched the first module into space. It wasn’t until 2000 that the ISS became inhabitable, and it has constantly been updated and expanded. The project was disrupted in the aftermath of the Columbia disaster, when all NASA flights were briefly stopped. NASA plans to decommission and deorbit the ISS in 2031, bringing an end to a mission apparently begun by the heroes of Quantum Leap.

Episodes of Quantum Leap release on NBC on Mondays at 10 PM ET. Episodes are available for exclusive streaming on Peacock the next day.

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