By now, you’ve probably heard of The Silent Sea, the latest K-drama to become a hit on Netflix. Set in 2075, it tells the story of a group of astronauts tasked with a risky space mission while the Earth is suffering from a critical water shortage.
The team is diverse in talent, including an astrobiologist, engineers, and pilots. Their goal: retrieve a mysterious sample from an abandoned space station, which could hold the key to saving our world.
Based on a 2014 short film directed by Choi Hang-yong, the eight-episode drama series was released on Netflix in December and takes us on a dystopian adventure to the moon.
The show had us from the get-go, as we’re bombarded with one plot twist after another, but just how realistic is it, really? We asked experts at the Philippine Space Agency (PhilSA) about how space travel is portrayed in the series, and how much of it is really accurate. Note: Mild spoilers ahead.
Can spaceships really hang off cliffs on the moon?
In the opening scene of the series, a spaceship dangles precariously from a cliff on the moon. As the crew of astronauts scramble to escape the spaceship, the large vehicle tips and descends into the abyss.
That scenario is possible, though the moon’s gravity is only around one-fifth of Earth’s, Leur Labrador, a spacecraft specialist at PhilSA, told VICE.
“This means that objects will take a longer time to fall on the moon than on Earth,” he said. “And while the spaceship hanging off the edge will still fall, it would be much slower than how you would expect the fall to happen on Earth.”
Thus, the sudden fall of Dr. Song Ji-an (Bae Doona) while she appears to be sucked out of the hollow spaceship, is “questionable,” according to Labrador, as it seems a lot more “violent” than what we would expect from the moon’s environment.
Are space stations really built to be so big and complex, like in The Silent Sea?
When the crew of catastrophe-plagued astronauts arrive at Balhae Lunar Research Station, they are greeted by sprawling architecture fitted with a complex tech system. It looks like a millionaire’s sleek underground hideout on Earth, rather than a research facility on the moon. Labrador has his qualms about the believability of such a grand structure, given the resource-strapped premise of the show.
“It’s not quite realistic, especially considering that the Earth was suffering from a major drought where resources are much scarcer,” Labrador said of the space station.
According to NASA, the living and working quarters of the International Space Station, which is orbiting about 400 kilometers away from Earth, is larger than a six-bedroom house—pretty sizable, but nowhere near as huge as the booming Balhae base.
Plus, Labrador noted, the financial costs of maintaining the lunar space station would also be astronomical.
“From launching resupply missions to maintaining the living conditions of its temporary inhabitants, maintaining a space station 400 kilomters away from the surface of the Earth is costly,” said Labrador. “Just imagine doing that on a space station 384,400 kilometers away.”
What happens if you die on the moon?
We’ll leave out specific plot details but you might wonder: What happens to people who die in space? What happens to their bodies? Do you get obliterated in space, rot away, or become preserved in a state of fresh death?
Dominic Guaña, a researcher at PhilSA’s Interdisciplinary Space Missions Development Division, told VICE that decomposition can still occur on the moon, though at a much different rate than on Earth.
“The human body contains chemicals, enzymes, and bacteria that are elements of decomposition,” he said. While these substances may cause decomposition upon death, the oxidation rate will be slower due to the lack of oxygen on the moon.
“The extreme environment of the moon… makes it difficult for bacteria to thrive, further slowing the decomposition,” he said. “If these processes would not catch up, we end up with a preserved organic material.”
Can we drink water found on the moon?
Water plays a central role in The Silent Sea—from its scarcity on Earth to its mysterious properties on the moon. What do we know about lunar water?
For decades, scientists have been studying the existence of water on the moon. In 2018, scientists found evidence of water ice on the moon’s surface at its polar regions; in 2020, NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) finally confirmed what experts had theorized for years: Water molecules do exist on the sunlit side of the moon.
According to Archie Veloria, a meteorology researcher at PhilSA, drinking lunar water may not be too far-fetched an idea. “If this water can be mined in the future, then this water may be similar to the water on Earth and may be potable if treated properly,” Veloria said.
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