When Mulder and Scully are told of sabotage attempts to NASA Space Shuttles, the agents investigate the reports and find that the space agency may be under alien control.
News footage from 1977 shows the discovery of Mars, as well as what appears to be a face sculpted into the landscape. Lieutenant Colonel Marcus Aurelius Belt, the commander of the mission, is today a supervisor of the shuttle program, plagued by flashbacks of something that took place during the mission, and experiences nightmares of the face.
FBI Special Agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully are approached by Michelle Generoo, a communications commander for NASA's mission control center, who believes that someone within the space agency is sabotaging launch attempts. A recent space shuttle liftoff was aborted seconds before commencement, and Generoo fears the next launch will be similarly compromised. She also has a personal interest, as her fiancé will be aboard the next mission. Mulder and Scully travel to NASA and meet Belt, who is a childhood hero of Mulder's. Belt dismisses the agents' concerns, stating that nothing can possibly go wrong with the mission. He allows the agents to watch the launch from Mission Control. However, contact is lost with the shuttle, once in orbit.
While driving with Mulder and Scully through heavy rain in order to reach Mission Control, Generoo sees a ghostly face come at her through the windshield, causing her to crash. Mulder and Scully tend to Generoo, and the three continue to Mission Control.
The shuttle has moved into direct sunlight and mission control are unable to rotate it into a safe position, a situation which will cause the astronauts to burn up in short order if it cannot be rectified. Generoo believes the uplink is being sabotaged by someone within mission control. Belt orders the uplink to be cut, allowing the astronauts to rotate the craft manually, a bold move which pays off. Although the mission is now very risky for the astronauts, Belt orders them to proceed, angering Generoo and the FBI agents. Belt then goes on to lie to the press about the status of the mission. Mulder confronts him about this, and Belt states the shuttle program will likely be cancelled, if the mission is not completed successfully.
Belt returns home and has another flashback, screaming as some sort of astral presence leaves his body and flies out a window, heading into the sky. The astronauts aboard the shuttle then report hearing a thump outside the shuttle and begin to experience an oxygen leak. One of them reports seeing some sort of ghostlike entity outside the ship.
The agents examine the records, which show that Belt knew about the equipment flaw and possibly the O-ring failure on the Challenger. Belt collapses, saying the astral force lived in him, controlling him. At his urging, they alert the shuttle to change its trajectory and they are able to land it successfully. In hospital, Belt continues to wrestle with the presence possessing him, and eventually leaps from the window to his death, experiencing a lengthy flashback to his last space mission as he falls.
Mulder theorizes that, while Belt was compelled to sabotage the launches by the entity possessing him, he was also the one who sent Generoo the evidence of what was taking place. He lauds Belt's final sacrifice, stating that, in the end, he gave his life for the mission, as befits a true astronaut.
- Chris Carter wrote this episode at a particularly stressful time for him in September 1993, when he was meanwhile required to be instrumental in launching The X-Files and having to deal with such things as the network, studio and media. Carter said of this installment, "It came at a really funny time. I was under a tremendous amount of pressure [...] and here I was trying to get home at night to write." (Cinefantastique, Vol. 26/27, No. 6/1, p. 26)
- The "face" etched into the rocky surface of Mars by solar winds exists in reality. It was actually found in almost exactly the same way as is reported in this episode's teaser and was likewise dismissed as a "trick of light and shadow." (The X-Files Magazine Volume 1, Issue 9, p. 31) In his writing of this installment, Chris Carter was inspired after seeing a photograph of the Martian area and thinking – while lying on his bed in his Vancouver hotel room – how weird it would be if the face came down on him, as happens to Colonel Belt in the episode. (The Truth Is Out There: The Official Guide to The X-Files, p. 121) Noting Carter likes to take his ideas from the news, Co-Executive Producer Glen Morgan once pointed, as an influence, to the disappearance of the Mars Observer around the time this episode was being written. "Chris wanted to use that as well as the other elements that maybe we're all familiar with, such as the face on Mars," Morgan explained. "Even if you're not familiar with it, you kind of learn about it from the show." However, Carter revealed about the episode, "It took a lot of research on my part, and [...] I didn't know if it was going to work." (X-Files Confidential, pp. 52 & 51)
- After the series had exceeded its budget on some earlier episodes, "Space" was partly designed to be an inexpensive installment of The X-Files, as it could be made using archive footage from NASA. (The Truth Is Out There: The Official Guide to The X-Files, p. 122) Chris Carter remembered, "I had all this NASA footage that was available to me pretty cheap, and I thought, 'We've been spending too much money, here's a way to really show them that not only am I producing a good show but I can find ways to produce it for less.'" (Cinefantastique, Vol. 26/27, No. 6/1, p. 26)
- Chris Carter imagined Mulder as having been awed by astronauts since childhood, wowed by meeting Colonel Belt in this outing, but had not hero-worshipped astronauts in his own boyhood and had regarded it as a given that the U.S. would someday reach the moon. Carter conceived Mulder's fascination with astronauts because "it was interesting to take Mulder, who's a very cool character, and find what his 'aw shucks' quality is." (Cinefantastique, Vol. 26/27, No. 6/1, p. 41)
- This episode was subject to some considerable revisions. "They made a lot of last minute changes," reflected Susanna Thompson. "I think some of this might have had to do with what they were and were not allowed to show in terms of NASA. I remember reading later that Chris Carter wanted to show some of the actual events in the shuttle and NASA wouldn't allow him." Many rewrites involved the Michelle Generoo character. (TV Zone Yearbook 1996, Special #23, p. 23) One script revision was submitted on 4 October 1993.
- The "J.S.C. Simulator Corridor and Hangar" area was located in Richmond, at the Canadian Airlines Operation Center. The NASA Mission Control room was found in Vancouver, at Robson Square Conference Center. Director William Graham's room at the Sutton Place Hotel in Vancouver was used for the teaser sequence set in a 1977 Pasadena bedroom. (X Marks the Spot (On Location with The X-Files), pp. 38 & 39)
- William Graham's involvement with this episode began with a request from Co-Executive Producer R.W. Goodwin, as the two were friends. "He had asked if I would direct an episode of The X-Files during his first season on the show," said Graham. "I had just come back from vacation at the time and didn't have anything on the books, so I said, 'Sure' [....] I thought it would be a good opportunity for me to work on the series." (TV Zone, issue 83, p. 13)
- Although William Graham didn't know much about The X-Files upon being invited to direct this installment, conversations with R.W. Goodwin and Chris Carter educated him about the series as well as this outing in particular. Regarding how he planned the episode with Carter, Graham explained, "We did talk about the script and the concept of the show simply because I hadn't done an X-Files episode before. We had some long meetings about that." (TV Zone, issue 83, pp. 13 & 14)
- This episode's production period was in September 1993 and was ongoing when The X-Files' pilot episode was first broadcast. As a result, the production personnel were somewhat overwhelmed with reviews and other input pouring in. (The Truth Is Out There: The Official Guide to The X-Files, p. 122)
- In the opinion of Location Manager Louisa Gradnitzer, this episode highly benefited from the input of Art Director Graeme Murray. "The story was visually challenging, and having Graeme Murray on board helped to turn our ideas into reality," she related. (X Marks the Spot (On Location with The X-Files), p. 38)
- Originally, William Graham visualized the scene in which Lieutenant Colonel Belt leaps to his death while looking out the window of his own hotel room. "I experimented with my video camera on how to do that effect and did a demonstration that I brought in and showed at the production meeting," Graham recollected. (TV Zone, issue 83, p. 14) The director appreciated his hotel room being used for the episode. "Billy quite liked the idea that he could walk to work, and at wrap merely take three steps to slumberland," relayed Louisa Gradnitzer. While filming at the hotel, every conceivable precaution was taken to ensure minimal disruption to the neighboring tenants. (X Marks the Spot (On Location with The X-Files), p. 38)
- The NASA footage incorporated into this episode was relatively cheap to acquire. (The Truth Is Out There: The Official Guide to The X-Files, p. 122) Examples of the reuses include the NASA footage in the teaser, which is actually genuine. (The X-Files Magazine Volume 1, Issue 9, p. 31) Also, Lt. Col. Belt's dream sequences are a simple re-coloring of footage of Ed White's Gemini 4 space walk.
- Susanna Thompson was present during the filming of the teaser scene in which a stressed Colonel Belt wakens and sees the "Face on Mars" image. The actress remarked, "One of my favourite memories was watching Billy [Graham] guide Ed Lauter through the scene [....] He stood off to one side of the set and verbally guided Ed through the whole thing. 'OK, Ed, you're sleeping and it's uneasy. You're tossing and turning,' and Ed's doing all this as Billy's telling him, 'and now you wake up and... Mars face!' Of course, there was no Mars face there. It was just Ed reacting to a pretend circumstance in his own imagination, but I found it very interesting to watch that whole exercise as it unfolded." (TV Zone Yearbook 1996, Special #23, p. 23)
- Amid the making of this episode, Susanna Thompson found Chris Carter and William Graham were very helpful to her. Recalling advice from Graham considering the variety of rewrites she was given, Thompson stated, "He said to me, 'I understand this is happening. I'm not happy with what's going on and neither are you. We need to keep filming and we're going to do the best we can.'" (TV Zone Yearbook 1996, Special #23, p. 23)
- At the Canadian Airlines Operation Centre, permission was granted to film during the airline staff's work day. The simulator's operations manager asked if any members of the production crew wanted to fly simulated 737s and 747s, but Louisa Gradnitzer at first thought he was joking. Before long, word of the simulator's availability filtered out to the crew. Even William Graham eventually sought out the opportunity to try the technology, though production was scheduled to move to another location. The crew was forced to wait at the new location while the director took his turn. Noted Gradnitzer, "Approximately one hour of production time was lost due to 'trips abroad.'" (X Marks the Spot (On Location with The X-Files), p. 38)
- Because this episode was filmed at a time when the producers of The X-Files were struggling to raise funds for the series, settings such as the NASA Mission Control center had to be cheaply improvised. The episode's budget was so restricting that the jeopardized astronauts in the space shuttle could not be depicted on-screen. (The Complete X-Files: Behind the Series, the Myths and the Movies, p. 43)
- From R.W. Goodwin's viewpoint, the biggest challenge this episode presented was re-creating the real NASA Mission Control center. He believed the re-creation had to look authentic due to much of the actual place having been shown on television. The creative staff of The X-Files initially obtained as many photographs of the actual location as they could. Graeme Murray thought, owing to the large amount of images available, that the Mission Control center was fairly easy to re-create. (X-Files Confidential, p. 53) Involving video playback and machines showing hi-tech-looking graphics, the set was labored over by The X-Files' art department. "They vacuum-formed all these computers, stations, and everything else," offered Goodwin. (X-Files Confidential, p. 53) Reported Louisa Gradnitzer, "Construction ordered over fifty computer terminals prefabricated with plastic and useful for a one-time situation only." (X Marks the Spot (On Location with The X-Files), p. 39) The intention to make this an inexpensive episode backfired, as the construction of the large set made this the most expensive installment of Season 1 to produce. (The Truth Is Out There: The Official Guide to The X-Files, p. 122)
- To depict Belt's plunge to death, a camera was dropped from a construction crane. This was arranged by the Wall Center, a hotel and office complex that was then under construction. (X Marks the Spot (On Location with The X-Files), p. 39)
- Chris Carter and Visual Effects Producer Mat Beck endeavored to tackle the episode's visual effects work. "We were under a tremendous time crunch in postproduction," remembered Carter. "I was working until four in the morning two or three nights to make the effects right." Some of the effects were made the responsibility of other visual effects artists not employed at Fox. Glen Morgan recalled, "I think that was a nutty episode, with like [only] four days for the effects [....] We ran out of time and money." Unable to complete all the effects, Mat Beck had to cut corners and make do where he could. (X-Files Confidential, pp. 51 & 52)
- Chris Carter was dissatisfied with this episode and was frustrated by the episode's logistical constraints, such as the fact that the endangered astronauts in the space shuttle could not be shown. (The Truth Is Out There: The Official Guide to The X-Files, p. 121) He felt strongly this was the worst episode of the first season and criticized, "It's not my favorite episode, and I think our least successful [....] I still think it wasn't a bad story. I just think it wasn't realized in the proper way." (Cinefantastique, Vol. 26/27, No. 6/1, pp. 26 & 41) He also admitted, "It wasn't a great episode, although I thought it had some great stuff in it, and Ed Lauter was terrific." (The Complete X-Files: Behind the Series, the Myths and the Movies, p. 43) What Carter especially disapproved of was the episode's effects work. "I'm still not very happy," he complained, "with some of the special effects in it [....] 'Space' was the first time that I thought the effects didn't live up to my expectations, but I think the rest of the episode was very strong." Furthermore, Carter blamed the time pressure he and Mat Beck had been under while working on the visual effects, commenting it "didn't allow us to do what either of us would have liked to." (X-Files Confidential, pp. 51-52)
- William Graham was pleased with the shot showing Lieutenant Colonel Belt's viewpoint of falling from out his hotel room window. "The wonderful skyline of Vancouver was the perfect backdrop," Graham observed. (TV Zone, issue 83, p. 14)
- Co-Executive Producer James Wong had a mixed reaction to this outing. "It was a great script and a pretty good episode," he enthused. "The problem came from the fact that some of the special effects were farmed out and they just didn't turn out well, so they looked cheesy and made the show less effective. I thought it was really neat the way they incorporated all the NASA footage in that episode. When I look at it, though, all I see are the problems." (X-Files Confidential, p. 52)
- Glen Morgan had a similar response to the episode. "I thought it was a really great idea, that there must be a saboteur in NASA, because people must have wondered what the hell was going on," he critiqued. "I think we maybe could have done a better job of conveying that the aliens were controlling this guy. Ed Lauter did a good job, though." Morgan also believed the creative staff of The X-Files "were stuck with some effects that didn't work." He concluded, "Hopefully we learned from that." (X-Files Confidential, p. 52)
- Graeme Murray likewise regarded this installment as somewhat unclear. "It was an interesting show," he reflected, "but a little confusing, because at the end you kind of say, 'Now what the hell was that about?'" (X-Files Confidential, p. 53)
- This turned out to be one of Louisa Gradnitzer's favorite episodes to have worked on. (X Marks the Spot (On Location with The X-Files), p. 38)
- R.W. Goodwin was meanwhile proud of the art department's efforts on this episode. He opined, "I think the art department really came through [....] I thought it [the re-creation of NASA Mission Control] was all very effective. A real tour de force for the art department." (X-Files Confidential, p. 53)
- This episode achieved a Nielsen household rating of 6.5, with an audience share of 11. This means that roughly 6.5 percent of all television-equipped households, and 11 percent of households watching television, were tuned in to the episode. It was viewed by 6.1 million households. (The Truth Is Out There: The Official Guide to The X-Files, p. 248)
- This is widely considered the worst episode of The X-Files' first season. (The X-Files Magazine Volume 1, Issue 9, p. 31) "Space" is, for example, frequently at the bottom of online polls conducted to determine the popularity of episodes, or lack thereof. (Wanting to Believe: A Critical Guide to The X-Files, Millennium and The Lone Gunmen) One such poll was in mid-1995, when this episode shared the bottom placement with "Ghost in the Machine". The same poll's most popular candidate was "The Erlenmeyer Flask". (The X-Files Magazine Volume 1, Issue 3, p. 29)
- Cinefantastique (Vol. 26/27, No. 6/1, pp. 26 & 41) rates this episode 1 out of 4 stars and characterizes it as "the first season's worst episode" in which "little [...] happens." The magazine considers the dangers which the latest space shuttle mission encounters as being predictable but calls the scene wherein Mulder excitedly meets Colonel Belt as "one scene that does work."
- In his reference book Wanting to Believe: A Critical Guide to The X-Files, Millennium and The Lone Gunmen, writer Robert Shearman scored this installment 3 out of 5 stars. He commented, "The oddest thing about 'Space' is watching the science fiction of The X-Files come [disconcertingly] into collision with the science fact of NASA." Shearman expressed bafflement at the episode's unpopularity, though, contemplating it might either be due to the episode's focus on the realities of the space program or that the story apparently criticizes the notion of American heroism. "There's no question that one of the episode's biggest flaws," Shearman criticized, "is that Mulder and Scully have literally nothing to do but stand in mission control and emote in the background [....] But it's hardly the worst crime that The X-Files can commit, particularly within a first season which is still only beginning to realise how to put them at the heart of a story at all [....] I don't really buy Mulder's puppy dog shock that Belt would lie to the press – but I loved the way that by the end of the episode, Michelle Generoo is prepared to take part in exactly the same cover-up her principles oppose. Fair enough, NASA seems a bit understaffed, and the episode relies a lot upon stock footage. It looks cheap. But even here this only serves to demonstrate how NASA has been undermined since the glory days of Mulder's youth. And the fact we haven't the budget to cut to the crew of the space shuttle brings a claustrophobic verisimilitude to those scenes in which the scientists battle to save the lives of the astronauts [....] At the end of the day the plot strains a bit with its tale of alien possession and ghostly faces." Shearman voiced frustration with the episode's conclusion, stating the end feels too rushed and seems to be straining too much to be like a typical ending to an episode of The X-Files. He complained, "I wish it had the courage of its convictions more, that it had gone even further with its realism, with its strangely languorous pace. But then, it'd probably be even more unpopular than it already is – if such a thing were possible."
Cast and CharactersEdit
- In her role as Michelle Generoo, Susanna Thompson found it difficult to deal with the fact many rewrites were "thrown" at her. "Luckily, I was working with a terrific group," she reminisced, "especially Gillian [Anderson] and David [Duchovny], both of whom were very empathetic to my situation." (TV Zone Yearbook 1996, Special #23, p. 23)
- Tom McBeath as Scientist
- Terry David Mulligan as Mission Controller
- French Tickner as Preacher
- Norma Wick as Reporter