Constellation Finds the True Horrors of Space
How Apple TV+ rebuilt the International Space Station to bring its astronaut story to life.
During a routine mission onboard the International Space Station, a fatal accident changes the course of astronaut Jo Ericsson’s (Noomi Rapace) life. Once she returns to Earth and struggles to reconnect with her family, she finds her mental health in question as her world is turned upside down. Is she losing her grasp on reality? Or is there a deeper scientific conspiracy at play? That push-pull dynamic is part of the emotional foundation of Apple TV+’s upcoming science-fiction series, Constellation, which premieres its first three episodes on Wednesday, Feb. 21 to the streamer.
“We were very keen to make it authentic.”
Created by Peter Harness (Doctor Who) and co-starring Jonathan Banks (Breaking Bad) as quantum physicist and retired astronaut Henry Caldera, James D’Arcy (Agent Carter) as Jo’s husband Magnus, and Will Catlett (The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey) as Jo’s astronaut peer Paul Lancaster, the eight-episode first season takes viewers on a mind-bending thrill ride across the globe — and into the claustrophobic confines of the I.S.S. — to shine a light on the physical and emotional toll space travel has on astronauts.
“We were very keen to make it authentic,” Harness tells Inverse during the program’s official press day. “The I.S.S., the reality of what it's like up there to be an astronaut with this kind of interagency politics, and the toll that being an astronaut can have on you. We were very keen to nail those things as precisely as possible. If it's completely grounded and believable, and your characters are believable, then you earn the permission to do something a bit weird on top of that.”
And to be clear, things do get weird in the series. Aside from viewing the world through the troubled eyes of the main players in this story, Constellation takes a stab at quantum physics and the theoretical possibility that the reality we live in may just be an illusion. To go to those far-out places in the series, they had to make the in-series environment as believable and relatable as possible.
Finding Realism in Zero Gravity
Having renowned astronaut Scott Kelly on set as an advisor didn’t just help the actors get their minds and bodies prepared for life in outer space, but he also inspected the International Space Station set and gave it his official stamp of approval.
“He worked with the actors, the stunt coordinator, and myself, showing us how you move in space,” director Michelle MacLaren says. And in case you’re wondering, mimicking the pace in which astronauts move in zero gravity while in front of the camera was a complicated challenge.
“There is great dignity in these men and great strength in them.”
During the 2024 Television Critics Association Winter Tour panel for the series, Will Catlett shared just how important movement was in his scenes: “Less is more, less is more. If you push too hard on the I.S.S., on this side of the wall, it will send you 30 miles an hour down the other way.” Whether Rapace and Cartlett were dangling from a system of wires or laying on their stomachs on rolling chairs — the balance of moving gracefully while intensely hustling to save a life was no easy task. The duo did all their own stunts, to boot.
“It's very challenging to shoot an action sequence with a lot of energy when, if you move too fast, you're dead,” MacLaren adds. “When Noomi had to hurry through the I.S.S., she couldn’t really hurry. And that was something that Scott really ground into our heads so as to make it as realistic as possible.” Rapace underwent physical training to bring her astronaut experience to life on-screen. “We were on wires, we were working our bodies,” she says. “I trained for a couple of months before, because I had to work my core strength a lot, my balance, and my body control.”
Tackling a number of spacewalk scenes in the show, Rapace had to act while wearing a real Orlan suit, which is the Russian version of NASA’s Extravehicular Mobility Unit — the spacesuit cosmonauts put on when working on the exterior of the International Space Station. It’s one thing to act inside such a heavy outfit while hoisted up on a platform, but when the only person you can hear is the voice of the director inside your helmet, the claustrophobic nature of the shoot takes on a whole new shape entirely. “Michelle was basically like God in my head,” Rapace adds. “I was just following whatever she said because I couldn’t communicate with anyone else.”
Their focus on authenticity also meant bringing these astronauts to life with a certain sense of poise and responsibility. It’s a story component that has stuck with Banks. “I always had respect for the heroism that it took to do that,” the Better Call Saul alum tells Inverse. “I think of the intelligence of these astronauts, the scientists that were up there, and the motor genius and physicality of it all. There is great dignity in these men and great strength in them.”
In Space, No One Can Hear You Scream
On the surface, it would be easy to classify Constellation as a sci-fi thriller. And it is. However, Harness injected horror elements into the series as well, making it feel as if the program can cross the line into body horror or ghost-story territory at any moment. That creative choice was absolutely by design.
“There were these odd little spooky stories about what astronauts go through in space — they do hear dogs barking, and sometimes they see weird things outside the capsules,” Harness stated during the TCA panel, highlighting the lesser-known physical and mental changes space travel can leave on a human, down to altering a person’s DNA.
“Astronauts usually have a significant degeneration in their eyesight after they come back,” he continued. “There are strange physical changes that take place, not just the kind of muscle wastage and the molecular side of things. It’s just so interesting to me, the experience of looking down at the Earth, for everyone who’s ever been up there. Quite understandably, that’s something which has shaken them to their core. And maybe people have had a spiritual awakening and seen things in a completely different way.”
“There were these odd little spooky stories about what astronauts go through in space.”
Constellation is a sci-fi tale, a conspiracy thriller, and a horror story. The series juggles a plethora of heavy concepts and brings into question how we perceive the world versus how it actually exists.
Harness has a multiple-season plan for the series. But whether Apple wants to stay in space that long remains to be seen. Right now, his goal is to tell a thought-provoking story that will make you pay closer attention to your surroundings and loved ones, while pondering some bigger existential questions.
Or maybe he just wants to give you a little fright.
“William Shatner came back from space last year and he said, ‘I just felt this overwhelming sense of grief and terror,’” he says with a laugh.
Constellation will premiere its first three episodes on Wednesday, February 21 on Apple TV+.
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