Col.Charles Brubaker along with Lt.Col. Peter Willis and Cmdr. John Walker are the team of astronauts leading NASA's first manned mission to Mars. Seconds before the launch, they're pulled from the capsule and the rocket leaves earth unmanned much to Brubaker's anger. The head of the programme Dr. James Kelloway, explains that the life support system was faulty and that NASA can't afford the publicity of a scratched mission. The plan is to fake the Mars landing and keep the astronauts at a remote base until the mission is over, but then investigative journalist Robert Caulfield starts to suspect something.
Caulfield's friend Elliott works for NASA and stumbles onto the fact that the transmissions that are supposed to be coming from deep space are actually based much closer.
May 14, 1978
Under threat to their families, the astronauts agree to fake the Mars mission. Meanwhile Elliot reports his findings to the mission controller who assures him it's only a problem with his console and his readings can't possibly be right.
During the broadcast of the Mars 'landing',Caulfield notices the studio backdrop in the reflection of one of the astronaut's face plates but is too astounded to believe what he saw. That night over a game of pool at their favorite bar, Elliot tells Robert he calculates the television transmissions are coming from a mere 300 miles and complains about being twice ignored by the higher ups when he brings the discrepancy to their attention. Then Robert is called away to the phone and Elliot is gone when he returns, never to be heard from again.
Meanwhile at Ft Jackson,an abandoned training base 300 miles west of Houston, the three astronauts are growing more and more discontent with the sham they're forced to participate in.
During a transmission to their wives, team leader Charles Brubaker drops a hint that all may not be as it seems.His wife picks up on it and Caulfield notices her reaction. Fueled by curiosity, he goes to see his friend Elliot only to find someone else living in his apartment, all evidence proving she's lived there for a over a year and Elliot never did. When he leaves, he discovers to his horror that his brakes have been tampered with and the only way to stop his car is to run it off a bridge.
Sept 19, 1978
Today is the day Capricorn One is due to land. The plan is to have it veer off course, giving the team time to be loaded into a fake capsule before the recovery crew reaches them. Upon re-entry, the heat shield on the real capsule separated from the command module as Dr. Kelloway knew it would. Mission control sees the life support monitors flat line and he realizes too many people know about the astronauts 'deaths' to let them live. Meantime, the sequestered crew realize what must have happened and grasp that they have to become martyred heroes for the plan to work and make their escape in a stolen plane.
Caulfied studied the tape of the transmission to the wives over and over again, paying close attention to Kay Brubaker's reaction to her husband's comment about where to vacation when he got back. He knows something is amiss but doesn't want to bother the widow. Curiosity gets the best of him and he makes an appointment to see her at home. He asks her about it and though she's reluctant to say her husband made a mistake, she finally tells him he said they would vacation at Yosemite like they did last year when they had gone to Flatrock.
Meanwhile the trio make an emergency landing in the desert and go their separate ways to find a town so they can be seen to be alive and the sham uncovered. Caulfield goes to Flatrock and gets shot at as black ops helicopters sent by Kelloway try to pick up the trail of the astronauts, now on foot, who are using survival skills learned as part of their training.They get Walker first, who sent up the flare they each got from the survival kit in the jet, to let the other two know he was captured.
Caulfield revisits Kay Brubaker and confesses he has a gut feeling something is wrong and that he believes Charles was trying to tell her something about the vacation. She shows him the home movies from the trip, telling him about the comment her husband made when he saw them filming a movie in the Western town. He said he couldn't believe something so fake could look so real and that with that kind of technology, you could convince people of almost anything.
Peter Willis was the next to be caught. After scaling a sheer rock cliff, he finds the black ops helicopters waiting for him at the top.Rather than be taken, he shoots off his flare and lets himself fall backward.
The reporter argues with his boss that he's onto something big when he wants to send him on a routine assignment.The editor relents and gives him 24 hours to come up with the story. That night he's arrested while doing research in his apartment on trumped up charges of cocaine possession. His boss bails him out but fires him. Now without the justification to report the story, he gets in touch with fellow reporter Judy Drinkwater to get information from her. Despite the fact it was feds who arrested him, Caulfield got in touch with a rookie agent he met on a previous story. Walter Skinner had impressed him as ethical and tenacious,the kind of guy whom he could trust with the information he had, to take what was originally a story and make it a case that could blow the space program as they knew it to pieces.
They met in an underground public garage. Behind a column that cast them in shadow, Caulfield told him what he had.
"So you think Fort Jackson is where they filmed the transmissions?" Skinner asked.
"Why would the astronauts co-operate?"
"They have families."
"I see." the bachelor said,though not from first-hand experience.
300 Miles West of Houston,Texas
Skinner found an argumentative crop duster named Albain and negotiated a deal to have him fly him over the desert in the vicinity of Fort Jackson. After a while they spotted the black helicopters. Albain said he'd seen them flying around the area lately. Skinner had him follow them and sees when they land near an abandoned gas station.Albain taxis on the road as Brubaker makes his escape from one of the pilots.Skinner waves for him to get on the lower wing of the bi-plane. He grabs Walter's arm and jumps on as the Albain uses the road as a runway to take off. The pilots run back to their copters, giving them just a little lead time. The crop duster shows incredible skills, weaving in and around the mountainous terrain as he led them on an elusive chase. At one point though, the copters were above him and tried to force him down by bumping his upper wings with their landing gear.Brubaker hung on with bleeding hands to the twisted steel cable that formed an X between the two sets of wings. Albain hollered at Skinner to release a lever at his feet when he told him to, then made a quick loop-de-loop maneuver so they were above the copters then yelled. "Now!"
He did and a cloud of pesticides blinded the pilots, sending them crashing into the side of a cliff in separate, fiery blazes.
Memorial Service At Arlington National Cemetery
The President of The United States personally presided over the memorial, giving a heartfelt speech at the podium in back of the eternal flame set in granite and carved with the names of the trio of astronauts. He elaborated on their heroism for the cameras, even though he had never supported the program that took their lives. All the top brass from NASA as well as the widows were in attendance.
A car swung around the corner and parked at a distance from the proceedings. From it emerged a young federal agent,a much maligned former reporter and Col. Charles Brubaker, leader of the Capricorn One team.Words of praise died on the president's lips as TV cameras pivoted away from him to the trio running toward them. Kay Brubaker turned to see the cause of the commotion and was shocked to see her husband, bloody and bedraggled but....alive.