(October 12, 2020) AIAA Member Spotlight on André Bormanis

André Bormanis
AIAA Member

*Writer, consultant, and television producer, currently serving as a writer and co-executive producer of the Fox / Hulu television series, The Orville.
*Writer and consulting producer on the latest season of the Fox / National Geographic television series Cosmos, based on the award-wining PBS series created by Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan.
*Head writer and co-executive producer of the Mars documentary / drama series for the National Geographic channel.
*Star Trek science consult
*Writer / producer on the Star Trek: Enterprise series
*Writer and consultant for the Disney XD animated series Tron: Uprising

Mr. Bormanis is a writer, consultant, and television producer, currently serving as a writer and co-executive producer of the Fox / Hulu television series, The Orville. He was also a writer and consulting producer on the latest season of the Fox / National Geographic television series Cosmos, based on the award-wining PBS series created by Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan. In 2016 he was the head writer and co-executive producer of the Mars documentary / drama series for the National Geographic channel.

In 2010 and 2011, he worked as a writer and consultant for the Disney XD animated series Tron: Uprising, based on the feature film Tron: Legacy. In 2009, he was a writer and supervising producer for the ABC Studios series Legend of the Seeker. The previous year, he was a writer and producer on the CBS / Warner Brothers television series Eleventh Hour, and in 2005, for the CBS / Paramount television series Threshold. Prior to Threshold, he was a writer / producer for the Star Trek: Enterprise television series, and science consultant for Star Trek: Voyager, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and the Star Trek: The Next Generation feature film series. He has written stories and teleplays for both Star Trek: Enterprise and Star Trek: Voyager, is the author of a book, Star Trek Science Logs, published by Pocket Books in February 1998, and is a contributor to another book, New Worlds, New Civilizations, also published by Pocket Books. He co-authored the narration for Centered in the Universe, a planetarium show currently running at Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles. He has written numerous magazine articles for popular science publications including Sky & Telescope, Mercury, The Journal of Materials, and The Colorado Plateau Journal, and is a frequent contributor to the online space policy forum The Space Review.

Mr. Bormanis received a B.S. in Physics from the University of Arizona, and an M.A. in Science, Technology, and Public Policy from the George Washington University. His master’s thesis, directed by Dr. John Logsdon, was entitled A Program in Transition: Policy Aspect of U.S. Planetary Exploration.
Looking back, there were several key experiences in my childhood and early adulthood that paved the way to my career working at the intersection of art and science…

When I was seven years old, my family moved from Chicago, IL, to Phoenix, AZ. It was 1966. From the back yard of our house in those days, you could still see the Milky Way on a clear summer night. My father told me that the Milky Way was made of stars that were too far away to see as individual points of light. I was astonished by this. I checked out a book from the school library and started to learn more about astronomy. This was also the time of the Moon Race, and my father, through his work at the Motorola Government Electronics Division in Scottsdale, had some involvement in the Apollo program.

As a child, my favorite toy was Lego. It’s about the only thing I ever played with. Fueled by my interest in the space program, I started building spaceships out of Lego, creating ever more elaborate models as I got older. There were no Lego spaceship kits in those days, so I used pieces from house and Big Rig Truck models to build ships that featured airlocks, viewports, crew quarters, legs that folded out for landing on alien planets, and other features I learned about from science fiction television shows (mostly Lost in Space in those days). I took a piece of black cardboard and punched tiny holes in it with needles, then put a lamp behind the cardboard to create a starfield my miniature astronauts could see through their viewports. The astronauts themselves were inch-tall plastic figurines of characters from some of the cartoon shows I watched. I wrapped their bodies in aluminum foil and their heads in Saran wrap so they could go on EVAs. I converted bare patches of dirt in our backyard into alien planet landscapes, using ripped up sponges I spray-painted gray to make giant (at that scale) igneous boulders. I scattered colorful minerals and crystals around and added lichen and other foliage from model train sets to fill out my miniature landscapes.

When I was eleven years old I joined the Boy Scouts. One of our first summer camping trips was to Oak Creek Canyon, near Sedona, AZ. I knew I’d be able to see the Milky Way better from such a remote location, and sure enough, it glowed like a solid white band of light from horizon to horizon. I was amazed at the sight of it, and the sheer number of stars I could see with my eyes.

Coming home from that trip, I was determined to get a telescope. I looked in the Yellow Pages under “telescopes” and the first company listed was called Ad Astra. I called the number and asked the man who answered the phone — a brilliant optician named Max Bray — if he made reflectors or refractors. He said that he made telescopes that were a combination of both. I had never heard of anything like that! My dad drove me to Mr. Bray’s shop in downtown Phoenix a few nights later, where he set up a three-inch Maksutov Cassegrain telescope he’d made and pointed it at Saturn. The image of its small yellow disk encircled by a white ring literally took my breath away. I was hooked on astronomy and space science for life (and Max Bray and his son Wade, an acoustical engineer, became lifelong friends).

By the time I was in High School, I was also hooked on science fiction (particularly the “space opera” subgenre), the original Star Trek, and Carl Sagan. These three influences greatly encouraged my growing interest in writing and storytelling.

I majored in physics at the University of Arizona. One of my professors, Dr. Donald Huffman, was impressed with a report I had written for my senior year experimental physics lab. He told me there weren’t a lot of scientists who were also good writers, and he encouraged me to consider getting involved in technical writing. A short time later I was writing articles for popular science magazines, like Sky & Telescope, and eventually I worked up the nerve to take a screenwriting class at Arizona State. My teacher, an accomplished novelist and screenwriter named Stephen Geller, liked my work, which gave me more confidence to explore creative writing. I had already written a Star Trek spec script, and under Steve’s guidance wrote a screen adaptation of a science fiction novel (Fiasco, by Stanislaw Lem).

In 1991 I was offered the chance to earn a master’s degree in science, technology and public policy at The George Washington University under a NASA Space Grant Fellowship. It was an amazing opportunity and I loved learning about the interplay between NASA research and national science policy.

While I was at GWU, I also started shopping my scripts to agents in Hollywood, hoping to find one who could get me a meeting to pitch story ideas to the producers of Star Trek: The Next Generation, which was on TV at the time. After a number of rejections, I finally found an agent who was interested in representing me. She discovered that the Star Trek producers were looking for a new science consultant. They wanted someone with both a creative writing background and a science background, someone who understood the script writing process and knew the Star Trek series. To make a very long story short, they interviewed me, they liked me, and they hired me. And as luck would have it, they needed me to start literally to the week that my NASA Fellowship ended. And so in May, 1993, I moved from Washington DC to Los Angeles to be the new Star Trek science consultant.

Eventually I sold a few stories to the Star Trek: Voyager series, which premiered in 1995, and they soon asked me to write a full script. They liked that script well enough to ask me to write another one, and several more after that. Eventually I became a full-time writer / producer on the Star Trek: Enterprise series, and I’ve been writing for television ever since.

André Bormanis standing next to the big alien “Unk,” on the set of The Orville, from an early season 2 episode. (Courtesy of André Bormanis)
Ad Astra III
Bob Spacecraft

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