What Is Constellation’s CAL Experiment?

New Apple TV+ series Constellation blends real-life physics with a powerful sci-fi what if. Spoilers ahead.

Noomi Rapace as astronaut Jo in Apple TV+ sci-fi series Constellation
Photo: Apple TV+

Warning: contains spoilers for Constellation episodes one to three.

Astronauts come back different. Leaving Earth’s atmosphere and seeing our planet from a distance is a perspective-altering experience. There’s even a name for it, as coined by writer Frank White in the title of his 1987 non-fiction book The Overview Effect: Space Exploration and Human Evolution.

White interviewed astronauts who reported feeling transcendent awe at the sight of Earth outlined against the backdrop of the cosmos. Some described the feeling as religious, others called it a deep sense of empathy for the planet and its inhabitants, others found it such a paradigm shift that it was extremely difficult to reintegrate into life on Earth – as if they, or the planet, had irretrievably changed.

That’s part of the premise for Apple TV+’s eight-part sci-fi series Constellation, starring Noomi Rapace and Jonathan Banks. Rapace plays Johanna Eriksson, a European Space Agency astronaut who returns from a mission to find things in her life feel… different. As Jo recovers from the physical effects of a traumatic journey home, she can’t shake the sense that her daughter, her home, her husband and details of their family life aren’t quite the same. Is she experiencing a psychological side-effect, or could there be a more sci-fi explanation to do with an experiment conducted on board the International Space Station during her mission?


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