Like the hapless Dr. Poole in 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Expanse was set adrift in 2018—Syfy announced plans to cancel the show after the third season, leaving the critically successful sci-fi series without a home. Luckily for sci-fi fans and science geeks everywhere, Amazon snatched The Expanse from the void and picked up the space-set drama. And starting Friday December 13th, Season 4 will be available to stream on Amazon Prime.
To celebrate The Expanse Season 4 on Amazon, here are five great moments of scientific accuracy from the series that demonstrate why, if you're not already obsessed with this show, you definitely should be.
1. Flip and Burn
At face value, a flip and burn is literally just a spaceship turning around and going the opposite direction. Here’s the thing, though: spaceships zoom through space at tremendous speeds, powered by thrusters that point one direction. To do a flip and burn, you flick the thrusters off, use smaller thrusters to point your ship in the direction you want to go, then flip those big thrusters back on.
Unfortunately, this has the potential to kill a lot of people.
When you turn on those thrusters, you’re essentially slamming on the brakes and throwing the ship in reverse at top speed. This creates incredible g-forces, which are strong enough to cause blackouts and crush bones. In fact, the force is so strong you can’t even move your arms, meaning pilots have to navigate using their fingers.
The genius part? Almost everything you need to know about The Expanse thematically is contained in the flip and burn: humans are constantly struggling to survive against the hard realities of space, and science is both our greatest weapon and most dangerous tool.
Also, it looks really cool.
2. The Infamous Close Quarters Battle Scene
The science nerds at Spacedock have named the battle at Thoth Station as the greatest sci-fi battle of all time, but the one that landed The Expanse a place in the hearts of sci-fi fans everywhere was the Season 1 fight with the Donnager. [Spoilers for Season 1, Episode 4 to follow.]
When the Donnager squares off against a quintet of mystery ships, the battle starts with both sides lazily launching some missiles at one another—to the crew, this battle is already over. Soon, however, the railguns come out for a CQB—a close-quarters battle. Watching the Donnager’s giant guns absolutely demolish an enemy ship with a hunk of metal is breathtaking, but the scene everyone remembers happens inside the Donnager.
Four of our heroes (Alex, Naomi, Shed, and Amos) are all being detained in the Donnager when the battle starts, and strap in to ride out the fighting in zero-g. Just as Shed is about to hand Alex a sedative to calm him down, a railgun shell streaks straight through the hull and decapitates him. As everyone watches the floating ball of blood from Shed's stump get sucked out of a hole in the wall, they realize that the shell has punched a hole right into the vacuum.
It’s a surreal and terrifying scene, and it’s one of the moments that put the show on the map.
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3. Zero-G Beer
This is just one of those little moments that makes The Expanse unique. While Westworld may have fun finding new ways to brutally kill people, The Expanse likes to play around with simulated zero gravity. In this scene, pilot Alex Kamal is just chilling out with some beers and country music from the 1940s when he decides to place some droplets of alcohol in the air and do a somersault off his cockpit to catch them in his mouth.
Remember, The Expanse’s production team doesn’t actually have zero-gravity technology—all of this had to be achieved with practical and special effects, including perfectly timing Cas Anvar’s spin, the positioning of the beer droplets, and the clicking of his heels (magnetic boots are a staple of the show). Zero-g is where The Expanse shines, and they’re not shy about showing it off—in the words of Expanse Stunt Coordinator Matt Birman, “What Gravity did in a few years, we deliver week after week.”
4. The Coriolis Effect Scene
This is another one of those small scenes that acts as a little virtuoso performance to wow fans and impress nerds.
In the above clip, Detective Miller, one of the key characters of the show, is on Ceres Station, which is built into a spinning, hollowed asteroid. Because of the asteroid’s low gravity and the Coriolis effect, Miller pours his whiskey at an angle, causing it to corkscrew out of the bottle and into the glass.
It’s not a crucial scene and the exact angle of Miller's pouring isn’t 100% accurate (here's a thorough explanation why). But the showrunners kept it in anyway as a reminder that the series is set in space—and that space is awesome.
5. The First Test of the Epstein Drive
If The Expanse decided to build its reputation on scientific accuracy and stop there, that would have been fine—its fans love to marvel at physics and space battles, and the show has plenty of both. But The Expanse decided it wanted to tell a story about humans, and that’s what makes the tale of Solomon Epstein so moving. [Spoilers for the first two seasons to follow.]
At the heart of The Expanse’s science fiction is the Epstein Drive, a super-efficient space engine that makes long-distance space travel practical. Even though there’s no real specifics to the inner workings of the drive’s technology, what matters is how it changes things. In the words of Solomon Epstein:
“Because with my drive, the Epstein drive, Mars would be able to move outward. Mine the asteroids. Colonize the belt. And remake the Solar System. My drive would give us the edge we need to finally break free Earth. And build a new world for ourselves. That's the wonderful and terrible thing about technology. It changes everything.”
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The scene where Epstein activates his unexpectedly super-efficient drive is both a moment of euphoric triumph as Epstein realizes that his discovery will change the course of history and a eulogy for Epstein himself, who realizes that his one-way rocket ride is a fitting metaphor for the impact of the drive: once you unleash a technology this powerful, you can’t stop it even if and when you want to.
Featured still from "The Expanse" via Syfy