episode by Chris Carter
summary by Pellinor
Internal dating: No date given. Probably November 1993, as the previous episode, "Ice", was set at the start of November.
1977. A television news programme reports signs of water on Mars, and shows the rock structure that looks like a face which some are taking as evidence of life there. Lt Colonel Marcus Aurelius Belt is then interviewed and he says there is certainly no life on Mars. Later, however, Belt flashes back to his space walk, and to his voice crying that there's "something out here... coming at me." In the shifting shadows on the ceiling he seems to see the face from Mars descending on him.
Present day. As Belt watches, the space shuttle is about to belaunched. Right at the last second, life-off is aborted due to system failure.
Two weeks later, Mulder and Scully are in the park, waiting to meet someone from NASA who's requested a meeting. This turns out to be Michelle Generoo, who looks nervous and edgy. She says she has reason to believe someone is sabotaging the shuttle programme, as someone has sent her a picture showing damage to the shuttle. She was told about them by someone who says they have "expertise in unexplained phenomena," and this case is indeed unexplainable, as the damage done to the shuttle is such that no-one could have done it without being detected. The official explanation is simple mechanical failure, but she thinks it's sabotage. She has a personal interest too as her fiancé is on the mission die to be launched the next day.
Mulder and Scully go to Houston, while Mulder lectures Scully on the various theories as to who could want to sabotage the shuttle program. One theory he tells her is that the government is itself sabotaging the space program so people won't learn about the existence of aliens. "Oh, of course," she says.
Mulder is very excited about the thought of meeting Colonel Belt, the project director. "You didn't want to be an astronaut when you were a kid?" he asks, when Scully wonders what he's doing. "I guess I missed that phase," she says. When they enter Belt's office, Mulder tells him he's a "big fan" and tells him it's an honour to meet him - that he stayed up all night when he was 14 and watched his space walk. Scully shows him the picture of the shuttle's damage, but he says there's no reason to suspect sabotage. He warns her not to make unwise accusations and refuses to postpone the launch, which is in ten hours.
A techniciany person looks at the picture of the damage and agrees with Generoo that it's impossible. When asked why he hadn't checked this part before, he says there's thousands of parts and thousands of people involved. When pressed, he says that Belt is ultimately the one who makes the decision on the safety of the shuttle. Belt listens in as he speaks. Scully thinks Belt knows more than he's letting on, but Mulder can't believe he's endanger the lives of fellow astronauts.
The shuttle is launched, as Mulder and Scully watch. Everyone claps, and Mulder is very excited. "I have to admit that fulfilled one of my boyhood fantasies," Mulder says to Scully, later. "Yeah, it ranks right up there with getting a pony and learning how to braid my own hair," Scully replies.
As they are about to leave their hotel, Generoo rushes in saying there's a problem with the shuttle and they can't communicate with it. They drive back to Houston, Generoo driving in front. As she drives though the rain, she seems to see the Mars face rushing at her and crashes into a ditch. Mulder drags her free from the car (the rain having utterly stopped in an instant) and she tells them about the thing that came at her out of the fog.
The shuttle is stuck in space unable to rotate out of the sun. Consequently they are burning up. It looks as if someone on the base is interfering with the transmission of controls. Mulder, Scully and Generoo go in search of whoever it is causing the trouble, but find only some frightening scientist who's investigating a malfunction.
Belt wants to give control of the ship to the shuttle, hoping they can perform the rotation themselves. Generoo thinks they should try to keep control from the ground, and try to get them down. Belt gets his own way, of course, and the shuttle is cut loose from ground control. They then lose all contact with the shuttle. There's tense moment, but then everything goes okay. The shuttle manages to move, and communication is restored.
Belt gives a press conference, while Generoo talks bitterly about what he did. Cutting the shuttle lose from ground control was a serious risk, she says, but he was just thinking of the huge monetary worth of the payload they had to deliver. Belt makes no mention of any problems, and Mulder looks disillusioned.
Mulder tracks down Belt, asking him why he lied. Belt says astronauts used to be heroes, but now no-one cares unless things go wrong. Mulder again asks if he thinks someone is sabotaging the shuttle, but Belt says his only answer will be the safe return of the men in the shuttle.
Belt goes home where he once more flashes to the space walk in which he saw "something out here." His face seems to morph into the Mars face, and something cloudy and roughly humanoid seems to leave his body and rush out of the window and up into the sky.
The shuttle astronauts talk about "something weird" hitting the ship, after which there is an oxygen leak. Mulder says exactly the same thing happened to Belt on his Apollo mission. They have only thirty minutes of back-up oxygen.
On the assumption that Belt will know what to do, Mulder and Scully go to his apartment. He's tired and vague-looking, but agrees to come with them. He tells the astronauts to get into their suits and rely on emergency oxygen, and to make sure their payload is delivered. Generoo opposes and storms out in tears.
Scully thinks Belt is "losing it" and wonders if he is the one actually putting the men at risk by putting the payload first. She thinks Beltknows about the sabotage, but Mulder says he's sure Belt wouldn't put the men at risk, and that what he's doing could save them, for all she knows.
Mulder and Scully look through lots of old records, and find that the 1986 Challenger mission was damaged in the same way as this shuttle had been. A photograph of the damage, same as Generoo received, is filed away. The picture was ordered by Belt, but no-one took any action back then.
The shuttle delivers its pay-load, but then they shout about there being something outside the ship. Belt looks disturbed, and cries out "No!"
Belt collapses in his office and is found whimpering under his desk. "It's tearing me apart," he says, then cries out "No!" when Generoo says she's off to bring the shuttle down. "It's out there!" he cries. Mulder leans over him and gets him to focus on his finger, asking him to say what it is he needs to. "Focus," he demands, ordering Belt to tell him how to save the astronauts. Belt says the shuttle has been damaged so it won't survive re-entry. He couldn't stop them, he says - "They don't want us to go. They don't want us to go." He then flashes to a thing entering him during his space walk, and says it's coming back. His face seems to morph into the face Generoo says she saw in the fog (showing the morphing isn't just Belt's imagination), then his heart stops. He is successfully revived.
Generoo, despite what Belt said, goes to bring the shuttle down. Mulder asks Belt what they can do to save it, and he tells them how to change the trajectory. Luckily Generoo is convinced just in time and everything goes well.
As Generoo gives a press conference on television, Belt, in his hospital bed, seems to morph into the strange face again as the cloudy figure returns to his body. Wrestling with it, he falls out of the window.
Mulder says Belt was possessed by something he encountered in space. He never rally knew he was responsible for the sabotage, but was trying at the same time to stop what was happening, by sending Generoo the photographs. "He gave his own life" like a true astronaut, he says, adding that Belt must have known the only was to stop "it" was to die.