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The movie opens in 1958 with two test pilots flying up as high as they can go. It is their dream to someday fly to the moon. The two pilots are in their twenties but when they talk their voices are dubbed by Clint Eastwood and Tommy Lee Jones. Their plane breaks up and is destroyed and they must parachute out.
Upon returning, their boss who has the voice of James Cromwell is pissed because this is the third plane they have destroyed. He is about to announce the new division being created called NASA and embarrasses them all, especially Eastwood by telling the press that the first American in space will be a monkey. Cromwell has it in for these guys and makes sure that they never make it to space.
We now cut 42 years later to the present and NASA is being informed that a Russian communication satellite has lost its navigation system and is falling towards earth. A Russian General is there by Cromwell's side explaining that if Russia loses this satellite, it will create a civil war inside his country.
In looking over the electronic system of the satellite, the engineers claim it is too outdated and they can't figure it out. Funny thing though, it is the same system installed in SPACELAB years earlier.
I wonder who designed that system....
Cromwell has to swallow his pride and asks Eastwood for help. Eastwood, realizing this may be his one shot to get to space, tells Cromwell the only chance they have is for Eastwood and his three partners from the 50's, go up in the shuttle and correct the problem there. They only have about a month before the satellite falls to the earth.
Cromwell agrees and Eastwood enlists Tommy Lee Jones, James Garner and Donald Sutherland.
They all take their physicals and begin the training. During the physical, Tommy Lee discovers that he has pancreatic cancer and only has about 8 months to live.
The four of them along with 2 top astronauts blast off towards the satellite. They reach it and Tommy Lee and Garner perform their tasks beautifully in harnessing it.
When they go inside to repair it, Eastwood discovers 6 missiles. This is not a communication satellite but instead, a nuclear device, pointed at strategic points in the US.
It seems that Cromwell knew all along about this and he was helping the Russians to avoid the embarrassment of them revealing the fact that they stole the SPACELAB plans from Cromwell's house years earlier.
Eastwood aborts the mission and when they are back inside the shuttle, calls NASA to figure out what to do next. While talking to NASA they discover that one of the astronauts is back out there, trying to fix it himself. He is under orders from Cromwell to complete the mission.
Eastwood orders him back in since only he knows how to fix it. The astronaut screws up and starts the satellite self destructing. Pieces start flying all over, damaging the shuttle. The satellite separates from the shuttle and is now heading faster then ever towards the earth.
Eastwood and Jones get in their suits and fly out to the satellite and stop its descent momentarily.
The missiles are still on board and Tommy Lee comes up with an idea.
He will climb aboard and engage the satellite's rockets sending it rocketing further into space, then when he gets out far enough, he will release the missiles, sending them even further out to explode.
He knows this is a suicide mission but hey what the heck, he's going to die in 8 months anyway.
He straps himself on the front of the broken up satellite and just like in Dr Strangelove, flies away with the missiles.
Eastwood lands the shuttle without any computer help using an impossible maneuver just like Tommy Lee did in a computer simulation earlier in the film.
The final shot is a long zoom in to the moon, all the way to the lunar landscape with broken up spaceship pieces scattered about. Laying up against a rock is the dead body of Tommy Lee looking towards earth. He finally made it to the moon.
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