Writer Peter Harness is no stranger to sci-fi, having written episodes of Doctor Who and adapted HG Wells's War of the Worlds in 2019, but Apple TV+'s Constellation was a whole new challenge for him.


The writer delved into the “dark recesses” of his brain to conceive a "spooky" dark psychological thriller, which he describes as “a ghost story in space".

The series, led by Noomi Rapace and Jonathan Banks, follows Astronaut Jo [Rapace] who returns to Earth after a disaster in space to discover that there are missing pieces in her life. She sets out to expose the truth about the hidden secrets of space travel and recover what she has lost.

“I wanted to do something that was like a ghost story in space. We had the elements of horror and spookiness but also something that was grounded and authentic in science diction. It’s very different from something like Doctor Who, which is science-fantasy. This originated in the dark recesses of my brain," Harness told RadioTimes.com.

“I decided a while ago that I wanted to focus on telling a story that I made up. You have to fight, kick and bite but I thought, "What's the point of being a writer unless you’re going to tell new stories?”

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Noomi Rapace as Jo and Rosie/Davina Coleman as Alice in Apple TV+'s Constellation looking through a set of bars
Noomi Rapace as Jo and Rosie/Davina Coleman as Alice in Apple TV+'s Constellation. Apple TV+

One aspect of space travel that is often not talked about is the psychological effects it can have on the astronauts while in space or upon returning to Earth. Harness spoke with people involved with ESA and NASA, who were glad this neglected side of the story was being told.

“It is true that there are these vivid ghost stories about weird things that have happened in space. [For example,] the Salyut 7 crew who saw angels, that’s a true story. They also see flashes of light that pass through their hands and out the other side and they can’t explain it,” said Harness.

“Some people see alien spacecrafts. They don’t tend to mention it, it’s like fighter pilots who see UFOs, they know it’ll be the end of their career.”

For a better sense of the everyday experiences of space travel, Michelle MacLaren met with American astronaut Scott Kelly, who made four spaceflights between 1999 and 2016

“Scott brought an element of grounded-ness and reality to it. He was really helpful in execution and helping us understand what it’s like to move in space,” she said.

MacLaren added: “He told us a story about how he was on a spacewalk and it was so dark that he got lost. He didn’t know where he was, so for 45 minutes until the sun rose he had to just stay there and had to try and stay calm. He couldn’t see anything and how terrifying that must be!”

The plot of Constellation is heavily rooted in science fiction but it’s the characters at the heart of the story that anchor the series in reality, challenged with feelings of grief, motherhood and internal conflicts.

Rapace was especially intrigued about the mother/daughter relationship and internal conflict of the protagonist throughout.

“Most mothers will be able to relate to the internal conflict that Jo is facing of being away, loving your work and wanting to be the best and then having a child that you feel you’re not completely present with and slipping away from because she’s growing,” said the actress.

James D'Arcy as Magnus and Davina/Rosie Coleman as Alice in Apple TV+'s Constellation
James D'Arcy as Magnus and Davina/Rosie Coleman as Alice in Apple TV+'s Constellation. Apple TV+

She added: “This is something that I’ve been fighting with and trying to figure out for 20 years of my life since I’ve had my son. This is why Peter Harness’s writing is so brilliant because it’s a big-scale psychological thriller with sci-fi elements but it’s also very grounded and the characters feel real. No one is really good or really bad, it’s just life.”

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There are always going to be inevitable challenges when bringing an ambitious sci-fi thriller like Constellation to life. A challenge that Banks had to overcome in preparation for Constellation was a mental obstacle that "intimidated".

“I’ve always held astronauts to a level of such intelligence and also the geniuses of their physicality and what they can do and what they go through," said Banks. “At the same time, they are human beings and with that there was a fair level of intimidation. Also, wanting to portray any military person with dignity and respect.”

The first three episodes of Constellation will be available to stream on Apple TV+ from Wednesday 21st February.

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