"What an Opportunity!"
An Interview with The Cape's David Kelsey

by Jeff Foust

     Six years ago, David Kelsey had a great job lined up pending his graduation from the University of California at Berkeley. After studying international economics and social sciences, he was recruited to head the marketing division of a start-up company. Yet Kelsey chose to turn down the job and pursue his dream, and television viewers and space enthusiasts may thank his decision for years to come.
[Image of David Kelsey]     After graduation, Kelsey packed up all his belongings into his two-door car and drove south to Los Angeles to pursue his true dream, acting. After a series of minor television and movie roles, and appearances on the stage, Kelsey landed his biggest role to date: a member of the cast of "The Cape", a syndicated television show that premiered in the United States in September.
     Kelsey has the role of D. B. Woods, an astronaut candidate - "ascan" in NASA jargon - in training at Cape Canaveral. (Yes, Kelsey and others acknowledge, ascans are trained at the Johnson Space Center in Houston; they have employed some dramatic license in the show.) Woods and other ascans on the show are learning the ropes from Henry "Bull" Eckert (Corbin Bernsen) and, as one might guess, not suffering from any lack of drama during their training.
     Kelsey spoke with SpaceViews shortly after the two-hour pilot aired, where we are introduced to the characters and their first crisis: rescuing a Russian nuclear satellite before it crashes to Earth. In the interview, Kelsey discusses his character, the show, and the route he took from Berkeley to the Cape.

SpaceViews: Describe your character on the show.

Kelsey: About half of the main characters in the show are astronaut candidates. My character's background is a Ph.D in astrophysics. He has a civilian, not a military background, which is what I think is really cool about the space program today. In the mix of the cast as it is now I'm probably known as the most scientific, the genius, the "goto" guy. I'm not an official astronaut yet, but I've become a very intricate part of the show. In the pilot episode Bull Eckert established me as his "data guy." In an episode in the near future my character will be revealed as the son of a very prominent Congressman who is a former astronaut. The family relationship, as it unfolds, should shed some light on D. B. and where he comes from and the route he's taken to become an astronaut.

SV: How did you get this role on The Cape?

Kelsey: I did what most actors do: I auditioned for the show. I was recommended to the show, and the producers saw me. When I originally went in I read for another role and they wanted to try me in the character of D. B. I went through a series of auditions and tested for it and got cast. I found myself on a plane to Florida!

SV: Are you doing all the shooting for the show in Florida?

Kelsey: It's all being done around the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, which is great. We've also been to Cocoa Beach and Brevard County and Cape Canaveral. They've given us a lot of access to the Kennedy Space Center. They've allowed us to do things which have never been seen before.

SV: You appear to have gotten a lot of cooperation from NASA. What sort of things have you seen or done which the average tourist there might not get the opportunity?

Kelsey: The first day I was pretty overwhelmed. We went to go check out an orbiter on the pad a couple days before launch. I thought we'd drive by it or something like that. We ended up going through the gate, getting tethered up and going up the elevator the astronauts take. I ended up walking the path they take all the way up to the point of one of the solid rocket boosters. It was just awesome! It was incredible! The guy who was taking us around made it very clear that it was a very special event for him as well. Being a NASA employee for over 25 years, he at his level said he didn't get to do this very often. We got the feeling right then and there that some people were going to be letting us in on some stuff that most people don't get. We've also seen things like the launch control room and being able to see the sims [simulations] they run about a week before launch. It's pretty amazing.

I happened to be part of the Los Angeles earthquake [of 1994] and the San Francisco earthquake [of 1989] and they stand out as times when people came together and worked towards something. Most people don't have that opportunity to work towards a common goal unless they're in a tragic situation. It's so neat to come into a community of people [at NASA] who are working together towards something outside of a tragic situation.

SV: Before you started working on the show, were you much of a supporter of the space program, and has the show done much to change your opinions?

Kelsey: Definitely. I think that more than anything, before the show I was very ignorant of the space program. My knowledge of the space program was from a couple friends who were into it. I never had a real personal interest in it. Being here, though, I can't help not being caught up in it. I think I've become much more of a "space guy" now. It's fascinating stuff! I think metaphorically it represents that aspect of us that are pioneers; trying to go further and seek out our full potential.

SV: Have you had an opportunity to talk with astronauts, particularly current or recent astronaut candidates?

Kelsey: I haven't had a chance to speak with many after the pilot aired. I did have the opportunity recently to go out the crew that's going up on STS-80, and they loved it. I was curious to see how they would take to me, an actor from L. A. that's not even playing a full astronaut, and they were just incredible. They were overly excited and thought it [the show] was a very realistic portrayal across the board. They did have little pros and cons here and there, but it was mostly related to individual personality types. They're real interesting guys.

We played the pilot for NASA, and a bunch of guys came up to us afterwards and said, "That's the way it is." We didn't get everything in real time, with solid rocket booster separation at two minutes and twelve seconds and main engine cutoff at eight minutes, but overall they were like, "You got it. You captured the attitude."

I've had the chance to meet Story Musgrave, and since then people have said that D. B. is kind of like Story. He's that intense, he's that kind of guy.

SV: What led to your decision to set aside a career in the corporate world and take up acting?

Kelsey: I was definitely doing the right thing at the time, going to the right school and studying something that sounded neat, but deep down I wanted to be an actor. When I graduated from college I guess I just woke up. I literally had a dream. I saw myself in my mid-30s, very successful, with 2.2 kids and a foreign car in the driveway, and I was miserable! I told myself, "You know what, it's time to do it." And I went home and packed up and moved to Los Angeles to start pounding the pavement. There were signs of it along the way, wanting to take an acting class one semester or doing a play at a nearby community college.

I went to Los Angeles and did the waiter thing and took acting classes at night and did auditions for commercials during the day. One thing led to the next and then this came along. This came along at a time when I felt I was really ready to make my break. It came at a transitional time, in "pilot season".

Pilot season is from January to April, when all the new shows get cast. And a lot of them were made as pilots: for the 30 shows that made it on the air two hundred pilots were made. Of those two hundred you can imagine how many actors were cast. It's a very big time for actors, a chance to land that series that puts them on the map. I just felt like something was going to happen.

SV: What originally sparked your interest in acting?

Kelsey: I guess there's that part of me inside that's been in touch with the fact that life is very short. There's so many things out there that I really want to do. I love to learn about people and learn about myself. I felt like it would be a really neat career to become different people; I can be anyone I want to be. I thought, "Wow, this is it, this is the one."

Actors, the good ones, the ones that inspired me, they seemed to discover something about themselves that relates to the character and to the story so that they're revealing something new to themselves. It just tickles me to see someone reach their potential, and it seemed like a positive way to make a contribution. One of my acting coaches once said, "If I can discover something about myself in such a way that other people can learn from it, then I'm doing my job."

The bottom line is, I have a great job. I have a great time. I get to travel to unique places, I get to see things other people don't get to see. I'm surrounded with other creative people who want to do the same thing.

SV: A few years ago you got involved with Kundalini yoga. Has that altered the way you approach life or your work?

Kelsey: Definitely both. I got involved with yoga at a time when I was between acting classes. I was sort of at a wall in my acting, in that I knew how to do what I did and knew where I needed to go, but didn't know how to get there. A friend took me to a class and I really got into it. I felt great, was thinking clear and very much more relaxed. I was then ready to take my acting to the next level.

[Image of The Cape cast]

SV: You're part of a fairly large ensemble cast. How do you get along with the other actors on the show? Do you hang out together or do you go your separate ways?

Kelsey: We're all here away from home, so we all pal around. We all take care of each other, we're all there for each other. For example, we had to reshoot this scene in the pilot that includes this closeup of me. And generally if you're not in the shot, you're standing behind the camera, playing the scene with the person. Corbin Bernsen's family lives in London, and all he's been talking about for three weeks is flying back there to spend some time with them. Then we get this memo saying they need me the night after we wrap to do this shot. So I'll tell him to go to London and be with his family. And he stayed! He postponed his trip to stay an extra day. And he didn't say anything, he just stood over by the camera for the shot. He set the tone, he was going to be there for us. He displayed the ultimate professionalism.

There's a lot of magic on this project. I can definitely feel it, there's a definite buzz. The show fits into an interesting niche. I think that our audience fits a broad range. I think it will appeal to people who are technically oriented. But not everyone likes to sit around and figure out problems. I think our program might be appealing to intelligent people and still be appealing to people who don't necessarily understand what's going on.

I talked to my friends back in L. A. and only one of them knew much about the space program, and that's because he was from Huntsville! My mom now knows a lot more about the space program because of the show and she loves it! I'm learning all this stuff about the space program, you're probably going to see me up on a soapbox somewhere trying to raise money for it.

SV: If you were offered an opportunity to fly on the shuttle, would you taken them up on their offer?

Kelsey: In a minute!

SV: Even considering the risks inherent with manned spaceflight?

Kelsey: Well, first of all I'd be in rigorous training to make sure I was up to the challenge, and I'd have to have a heart-to-heart with my family. It would depend on what the purpose of my flight would be; I'd want to be doing something. What an opportunity, though. What an opportunity.

Life on Mars: What Difference Does It Make?

by George Osorio

By now we've all seen the headlines in the newspapers, heard the jokes on the late night TV talk shows, and, perhaps, even witnessed some serious discussion about the implications of the recent "discovery" that life may exist, or may have existed at some point in time, on the planet Mars. For some, (UFOlogists, for example) this news comes as no surprise. After all, they are the very people who have tried convincing the general public that the U.S. Air Force is covering up a landing by an alien spaceship in the New Mexico desert. For others, who have rationally considered the possibility of life outside of Earth, the news probably only helped to validate what they already suspected. However, I believe that, for the majority of Earthlings, this news came as somewhat of a surprise, seeing as it originated with the very respectable scientific community.
[Image of Mars]     Even so, I think there may be a few who, like myself, believe that, while the news may be monumental in its implications for the human species, it is of little consequence when it comes to our efforts to explore space. That is to say, if this news is true, it should not change our view of how or why we should go about exploring outer space.
     First, let's go over how this story came out in the open. According to various articles from different sources, researchers at Stanford University were examining a rock obtained from Antarctica, when they discovered traces of elements associated with the building blocks of life inside the rock. Since the rock is believed to be a meteorite that fell to Earth following a trajectory from the planet Mars, the conclusion was made that there is, or once was, life on the planet Mars. Leaving aside all speculation about the fact that this research was sponsored by NASA and that NASA is currently in the process of sending unmanned probes to the red planet, and ignoring the painfully circuitous reasoning that led to the stated conclusion, the question that should now be asked is: what difference does it make that life exists (or existed) on Mars?
     Since Percival Lowell first declared that "Martians" had created canals on that planet, humans have entertained the notion that, not only could some form of life exist on Mars, but we were prepared to believe it resembled our own human species in many ways. The science fiction literature is replete with alien beings, most having the binary characteristics of humans, and most being far superior to humans (though, somehow, in the end we manage to overcome this deficiency.) So this news probably did not create as much of a stir as it could have several decades ago. As such, I suspect most people took the news with mild indifference.
     And rightfully so. Whether or not life exists on Mars, and regardless of what that life form is, our efforts to explore space should rely on our desire to understand our environment and to adapt to it so that our species (and perhaps our entire ecosystem) may survive indefinitely. The exploration of outer space, especially the Moon and Mars, should not be more greatly influenced by what's out there; but by what humans choose for our destiny. The same force that drove Columbus and his contemporaries to explore the New World, even after they knew it wasn't the East Indies, as originally thought, is the force that will (now that we have the technology with which to explore space) drive us to explore our nearest celestial neighbors.
     Sure, we still have social and ecological problems here on Earth that require our attention, and we will probably continue to have them (and others we have yet to experience even after we've settled other planets). To be sure, we need to pay attention to those matters, since they impact the survival of our species; however, our primary objective in the exploration of space, as with every significant human achievement, is to go as far as we can to understand and control our environment, an environment which now includes the vast expanse beyond our atmosphere, and which may now include extraterrestrial life.

Mr. Osorio is a member of NSS and OCSS [Orange County (Calif.) Space Society], and an engineer working on the Space Station Program in Huntington Beach.

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