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Astronaut Scott Kelly on advising Apple space thriller 'Constellation'

February 28, 2024

— Scott Kelly recently returned to the International Space Station — during a trip to Berlin.

The first American astronaut to spend more than 500 days off the planet, including nearly a year aboard the space station during his fourth and final spaceflight in 2016, Kelly was in Germany when he stepped back into his once orbiting home away from home.

"The outside was just plywood, but the inside looked better than the space station training mockup we have at the Johnson Space Center," said Kelly in an interview with collectSPACE. "Well, not functionally, but appearance-wise it looked much more like the real thing."

"But then, the one at NASA was designed for different things," he said.

The almost full-scale space station at Studio Babelberg was built to film the off-Earth scenes in "Constellation," the new psychological thriller now streaming on Apple TV+. The production spent five weeks on the space station set capturing sequences that were set within the microgravity environment of the orbiting laboratory, including a mysterious accident that propels the series' main storyline.

"They really wanted it to look real," said Kelly. "I tried to have them put a lot of junk in it, like cables and boxes and power supplies, and they did as much of that as they could. They even put food and coffee stains on the walls, like there are on the space station, trying to make it as realistic as possible."

Constellation: "Calls From Home" clip. Click to enlarge video in a pop-up window. (Apple TV+)

Space bootcamp

In addition to serving as an advisor for the production crew, Kelly also met with the actors portraying astronauts to help ensure their performances were as true to life as possible.

"We had space bootcamp sessions," he said. "We had some Zoom calls and then we had some meetings as a group in Berlin, and then I had individual chats with them."

The cast of "Constellation" includes Noomi Rapace, who plays Swedish astronaut Johanna "Jo" Ericsson with the European Space Agency (ESA); William Catlett as Paul Lancaster, the NASA astronaut commanding the expedition; Henry David as Russian cosmonaut Ilya Andreev, Sandra Tele as Yazmina Suri, an ESA astronaut; and Carole Weyers as French astronaut Audrey Brostin.

Simulating weightlessness was challenging and called for the skills of set design to cinematography, stunts and special effects. In addition to using in-camera techniques to capture the actors' freedom of movement, the cast (and their stunt team) were hooked up to an elaborate wire harness system.

"I've done that for a commercial one time, just for a short period and it's not easy," said Kelly. "It's uncomfortable, it's painful."

After speaking with Garrett Reisman, a fellow former NASA astronaut and a technical advisor for another Apple TV+ space-themed series, "For All Mankind," Kelly adopted a leveled approach to advising the "Constellation" cast.

"The highest category were things you just didn't want to mess up. Like one time, I was watching Noomi in a scene on the space station where she was almost about to cry. And I was like, 'Don't let that tear drop!' and so they cut away from her. That is the kind of thing you just didn't want to see on screen."

(Without the pull of gravity, tears do not roll down astronauts' cheeks like they do on Earth. Rather, surface tension keeps them balled up around the eye.)

"Then there was the medium category — they should fix this, but if they don't, I'm not going to be heartbroken. And then there was the stuff that was minor, small details no one was going to notice. I'd tell them, 'if you want this to be right, this is how it is, but nobody is going to care about it.'"

"Certainly, people changing direction mid-module without using an opposing force on something, as if they had on a jetpack, that was the worst," said Kelly.

Watching with us

Even though he worked on it, Kelly's first time watching "Constellation" was as it debuted on Apple TV+. The first three episodes began streaming last week, with the fourth premiering today (Feb. 28).

His first impression of the series is that it is "awesome."

"Especially the space stuff," said Kelly. "Obviously, I'm a little biased since that was the part I worked on, but I think it has probably some of the best depictions of life on the space station as I have seen. The other stuff is — well, I understand it can be a little bit hard to follow, but I think that will all unfold as you get further into the story."

Kelly does not make a cameo, though his daughter thought she picked up on a familiar, or rather, family theme.

"My daughter texted me, 'Wait a minute, are those two old bald guys [Henry and Bud Caldera, as played by Jonathan Banks] twin astronauts?" And I replied, 'Do you want me to tell you?' She didn't want me to tell her," said Kelly, whose twin brother Mark was also a NASA astronaut before being elected to the U.S. Senate representing the state of Arizona.

As for the show using the real space station to set up a suspenseful thriller, Kelly thought it was a natural connection.

"I think it's just people's natural proclivity towards being afraid of stuff that they don't understand much about or stuff that is dark and creepy, as you might imagine space to be," said Kelly. "There is certainly a lot of risk involved and it's dangerous, so it just kind of makes sense."

"But that can also be funny," he said. "One of my neighbors texted me upset, 'Why didn't you tell me not to watch that right before bedtime? Now I can't sleep.'"


Record-setting astronaut Scott Kelly (second from left) poses with Noomi Rapace (at center) and other members of the cast and crew of the Apple TV+ psychological thriller "Constellation" on the space station set built for the series in Berlin, Germany. (Apple TV+)

William Catlett, as NASA astronaut Paul Lancaster, learned how to float in microgravity from "Constellation" technical advisor Scott Kelly, who spent nearly a year living on the real station. (Apple TV+)

At top: Noomi Rapace, as European Space Agency astronaut Jo Ericsson in "Constellation," in the series' Russian Soyuz spacecraft set. At bottom: NASA astronaut Scott Kelly in a Soyuz simulator in Star City, Russia, in 2015. (Apple TV+ / NASA/Bill Ingalls)

Noomi Rapace as ESA astronaut Jo Ericsson looks out the Cupola on the International Space Station in "Constellation." (Apple TV+)

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