Commander Charles "Chuck" Prescott [Marshall Thompson] is not so sure that his brother,
Lieutenant Dan Prescott [Bill Edwards], is the correct choice for piloting the Y-13 into
outer space. Although Captain Ben Richards [Robert Ayres] of the Air Force Space Command
says that Dan is the best pilot they have, he bucked the rules when flying
Y-12, went into the ionosphere, had problems landing his ship, and then
promptly ran to see his girlfriend, Tia Francesca [Marla Landi], before bothering to
even make out his report. Still, Capt Richards wants Dan to pilot the
Y-13, after he has been throughly checked out and briefed by Doctor Paul
von Essen [Carl Jaffe].
Y-13 takes off with Dan at the controls. He climbs and climbs. At
600,000 feet, when he is supposed to level off and begin his descent, he
continues to climb, even firing his emergency boost. He climbs to
1,320,000 feet (250 miles) and suddenly loses control of the ship and
passes through some meteorite dust, so he is forced to catapult.
The next that is heard about Y-13 is a report to the New Mexico State
Police that some Mexican farmer saw a parachute attached to some sort of
plane land near his farm on Route 17 about 10 miles south of Alvarado.
Chief Wilson [Bill Nagy] has the presence to notify the military in case it has
something to do with their recent rocket firing. Wilson meets with
Commander Chuck and shows him the wreckage. No way could the pilot have
survived the crash. Tests on the recovered aircraft show that the
automatic escape mechanism as well as the breaking chute operated
perfectly. Tests also reveal some sort of unknown encrustation on the
hull, unusual because not x-rays nor infrared photography nor ultraviolet
will pass through it.
Later that night, a wheezing creature breaks into the New Mexico
State Blood Bank in Alameda and drinks up a lot of the blood. The next
day, the headline in the Santa Fe Daily News reads "Terror Roams State"
and tells of brutal and inhuman slaughtering of cows on a farm right next
door to where the Y-13 fell. Both the cows and the blood bank nurse show
similar wounds -- jagged tears across the throat. When Chuck and Chief
Wilson examine the body of the nurse, Chuck notices some shiny specks
around the wound as well as on the blood bank door. They see the same
specks on the necks of the dead cattle. They also find a piece of what
looks like a "high-altitude oxygen lead" lying under the dead cow's body.
The oxygen lead appears to be the one from Y-13.
Chuck is beginning to suspect that the killings may have something to
do with the crashed spaceship and requests that Wilson send samples of the
shiny specks to Dr von Essen at Aviation Medicine. The next day, Chuck
stops at Aviation Medicine where Tia, who just happens to work there, has
the test results sent down to them while they break for coffee. The
results show that the shiny specks are particles of meteorite dust "that
show no signs of structural damage such as would be expected from passage
through atmosphere." Later, Dr von Essen demonstrates for Chuck the
results of metallurgical tests on the encrustation. Oddly, wherever the
encrustation occurs on the hull of Y-13, the metal is intact, but in
places not encrusted, the metal has transformed into a brittle substance,
like crumbling carbon, that can easily be reduced to a powder. Chuck
theorizes that the encrustation may be some sort of "cosmic protection",
like the primeval creatures that crawled out of the sea and grew skin to
protect themselves from the sun.
Meanwhile, Capt Richards is paid a visit by Senor Ramon DeGareara [Roger Delgado],
consul for Mexico at Santa Fe. DeGareara tells them that the tail section
of Y-13 fell from the sky into a new bullring in San Pedro. It scared the
bull, which jumped from the ring and almost killed His Excellency, the
Minister for Social Services. After taking care of formalities and
arranging compensation for damages, a crew is sent to San Pedro to salvage
the rest of Y-13.
Three more killings are reported, and Chuck is beginning to put the
pieces together. He suspects that the same encrustation that formed to
protect the hull of Y-13 also coated everything inside the cockpit,
including Dan, and that the creature doing the killing is Dan himself,
killing because he needs blood for some reason. Chuck further theorizes
that, when the canopy burst, Dan's blood absorbed a high content of
nitrogen while the protective encrustation quickly formed on his body,
allowing him to survive in the rarified atmosphere of space. In addition,
Dan's metabolism could have altered to a state that starved his body and
brain of oxygen so that he now needs to replace that oxygen by drinking
blood. That's Chuck's guess anyway.
When Dan's encrusted helmut is found in a car with his latest victim,
Chuck's theory is proven right. But how are they to go about stopping him,
since bullets cannot penetrate the crust? Capt Richards and Chief Wilson
put in a call to Washington while Chuck and Tia stay behind to chat about
the wisdom of sending a person into space. Suddenly, Tia screams. The
hulking, wheezing, encrusted creature that is now Dan enters the room by
crashing through a sliding window.
Chuck realizes by the wheezing that Dan is finding it difficult to
breathe. He instructs Tia to get Dr von Essen to open a high-altitude
chamber and then goes after his brother, who is running, wheezing and
grunting, down the hall. Chuck taps into the P.A. system and warns
everyone in the building to stay out of the corridors. Chuck then
instructs Dr von Essen to get on the P.A. and relay to Dan, who appears to
have intelligence under the encrustation, the directions to the
high-altitude chamber. Dan follows the directions while Chuck follows
Into the chamber Dan goes, but Chuck realizes that Dan won't be able
to operate the controls with his encrusted fingers, so he hops into the
chamber with Dan. While Dan lumbers around, taking potshots at Chuck, the
chamber technician quickly increases the simulated altitude to 38,000
feet, enabling Dan to feel more comfortable. While Chuck breathes oxygen
through a mask, Dan sits down and tries to describe what happened.
Unfortunately, he has no memory of the events. All he can remember is
darkness, feeling suffocated, and trying to stay alive until he could find
Dr von Essen. As Tia takes metabolism and blood pressure readings on Dan,
he apologizes to Tia for the way things ended. I just had to be the first
man into space, he says, then keels over dead.
Capt Richards and Dr von Essen open the door into the high-altitude
chamber and let Chuck out. While they concern themselves with the risks of
space travel ("There will always be men willing to take the risk"), Chuck
walks down the hall with Tia following him. [Original Synopsis by bj_kuehl]