In 2011, astronauts Brian Harper and Jocinda Fowler are on a Space Shuttle mission to repair a satellite when Harper witnesses a mysterious black swarm attack the orbiter, killing a crewmate and incapacitating Fowler. After an eighteen-month long investigation, nobody believes her explanation, human error is blamed, and Harper is fired.
Ten years later, conspiracy theorist K.C. Houseman, who believes the Moon is an artificial megastructure, steals time on a research telescope and discovers that the Moon's orbit is veering closer to Earth. He attempts to share his findings with Harper, who dismisses him, leading Houseman to go public on social media. NASA independently discovers the anomaly and mounts a mission on an SLS Block 2 to investigate the abnormality. The same swarm that had attacked Harper's mission reappears, killing all three crew members after they drop a probe into a kilometers-deep artificial hole in the Moon.
As the Moon's orbit continues to deteriorate, it falls closer to Earth, causing cataclysmic disasters such as tsunamis, gravitational abnormalities, and atmospheric dissipation. Fowler, now the deputy director of NASA, learns that Apollo 11 had discovered abnormalities in the Moon, and a two-minute radio blackout was to block out inexplicable data in which the Moon supposedly resonated strongly from the impact of Apollo 11's jettisoned fuel tank. A military program code-named ZX7 had created an EMP to attempt to kill the swarm, but was abandoned for budget reasons. Fowler orders the EMP brought out of storage and brings the retired Space Shuttle Endeavour out of its museum to serve the mission. Harper, Houseman, and Fowler launch with the EMP, narrowly escaping a tsunami that destroys Vandenberg Space Force Base.
As the crew enters the Moon's interior, they discover that the swarm is siphoning off energy generated by a white dwarf at the center of the Moon, causing the artificial megastructure's orbit to destabilize as its power source is depleted. Harper learns that the megastructure was constructed by the ancestors of humanity, who were more technologically advanced than their present-day descendants. The Moon was constructed billions of years in the past as an ark to repopulate humanity, which was being hunted by a rogue artificial intelligence that grew too strong. The swarm in the Moon is one of those AIs, which responds to electronic activity in the presence of organic life. As the moon continues to approach the Earth, the President of the United States gives the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Jenkins orders to launch a nuclear strike towards the Moon. However, the Air Force Chief of Staff General Doug Davidson refuses to carry out the nuclear strike order so he can save the lives of his ex-wife, Fowler, and both Harper and Houseman, sacrificing his life in the process.
Meanwhile, Harper's son Sonny escorts Fowler's son Jimmy and their nanny Michelle in an attempt to reach Davidson's military bunker in Colorado. They reach Aspen and reunite with Harper's ex-wife and Sonny's mom Brenda, and his step-family, but are caught in the disasters caused by the Moon's rapid destruction. As the group makes their way towards the bunker, they fight off other survivors and increasingly deadly natural disasters before reaching a safe mountain tunnel. Brenda's husband Tom sacrifices himself to save his youngest daughter, suffocating as the Moon's gravitational pull strips the atmosphere of oxygen during its pass.
Houseman uses the EMP and the crew's lunar module to lure the swarm away from the spacecraft before detonating the device, killing himself, destroying the AI, and allowing Fowler and Harper to escape. With power restored, the Moon begins to return to its regular orbit, bringing an end to the destruction on Earth. The operating system of the Moon, itself a benign AI created by humanity's ancestors, reveals that it stored a copy of Houseman's consciousness; appearing to him as his mother, the AI states that they need to get to work. Fowler and Harper return to Earth and reunite with Sonny, Jimmy, Michelle, and Brenda
Moonfall in Real Life: An Astrophysicist's Verdict
February 10, 2022