Constellation: Is Pharmolith a Real Antidepressant? Why is it Given to the Astronauts?

In Apple TV+’s psychological thriller series ‘Constellation,’ the astronauts, both active and former, are given a capsule for their well-being. After returning to the Earth from the International Space Station, Johanna “Jo” Ericsson receives it as a vitamin supplement. The same capsule is seen taken by Henry Caldera and Bud Caldera, two former astronauts who have been a part of the Apollo 18 mission. In the fourth episode of the show, Jo sets out to find out the mystery behind the capsule, which is named “Pharmolith.” The more she learns about the drug, the closer she gets to the possible conspiracy that turns her life around! SPOILERS AHEAD.

The Fictional Pharmolith

Pharmolith is a fictional drug conceived by creator and screenwriter Peter Harness and his team for the series. The capsule is a lithium-based supplement like several antidepressants available on the market. Prescription lithium has been used to treat several mental health concerns, including bipolar disorder. It is believed that lithium targets the central nervous system and increases the chemicals in the brain to stabilize mood. Some of the real-life counterparts of Pharmolith are Eskalith and Lithobid. Both these medications are used to treat manic-depressive or bipolar disorder. Even though Jo, Henry, and Bud are not diagnosed with the disorder, they are given the same medication.

Jo, Henry, and Bud are not the only ones who consume Pharmolith. In the fourth episode of the series, Jo discovers a list of astronauts who had the same drug in their prescriptions. Furthermore, they are not chosen randomly. While Jo digs deeper into the careers of these astronauts, she realizes that they had claimed to have experienced or witnessed various strange occurrences in space, similar to how she supposedly saw a dead cosmonaut while repairing the International Space Station. The pattern Jo finds among the consumers of the mysterious capsule can be a part of a conspiracy.

The Conspiracy Behind Pharmolith

Even though the aim and foundation of space research is scientific advancement, such endeavors are a part of the invisible wars fought between countries. The Space Race between the Cold War rivals, the United States and the Soviet Union, is one of the examples of these conflicts. When there are wars in progress, several strategies that are deemed illegal or immoral are used to emerge victorious. Since astronauts are the fighters in this type of war, they are involved in these strategies without realizing that they are key players in the same. As astronauts end up in space, representing their respective nations or agencies, they are exposed to several secrets.

In the case of Jo, the secret can be the supposedly dead cosmonaut. As far as Henry and Bud are concerned, it can be what the former did for the Apollo 18 mission, as the latter claims at the end of the third episode. When the astronauts return to the Earth, learning these secrets and knowing more than what they ideally should, their nations or agencies may want to make sure that what these individuals now know won’t threaten them. If Jo really saw a dead cosmonaut, it would invite trouble to the European Space Agency since the intergovernmental body doesn’t have any record of losing one of its cosmonauts in space.

Jo’s claim has the potency to kickstart an investigation into the activities of the agency and such a dive deep into the past of the body may unravel their secrets and strategies. To prevent that from happening, Jo is given a pill that would make her appear as a psychotic individual who has been undergoing treatment at the agency. The pill becomes a piece of evidence that can present her as an untrustworthy witness as far as her claims are concerned. Thus, the capsules are used to separate the astronauts from their credibility, which makes their testimonies look like words from people with unstable minds and altered realities.

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