This is the pilot episode of Lost in Space. After changes were made, the series would begin anew with "The Reluctant Stowaway." Footage from the pilot was later used in the first 5 episodes, combined with new footage. While elements of the story were retained, the original pilot is different from the series in many ways, notably the lack of the Dr. Smith and The Robot characters. It is for this reason not generally accepted as canon, due to these extreme differences.
It is October 16, 1997 and a team of engineers and scientists is preparing to launch the first expedition to colonize an Earth-like planet beyond our solar system. Reaching out into other galaxies from a desperately overcrowded Earth, a series of Deep Thrust Telescopic Probes has established the existence of a planet, called Alpha Centauri, capable of providing ideal conditions for human life.
A saucer shaped spaceship named Gemini 12 will carry a single family, chosen from among two million volunteers, to become the first colonists. They will eventually be followed by millions of others. The family will be frozen in a state of suspended animation for the 98 years that the Gemini will take to reach Alpha Centauri. The spaceship's sophisticated astrogator will guide it to its destination.
The family chosen for this bold expedition, the Robinsons, have already boarded the spacecraft and are preparing to be placed in suspended animation. The expedition is headed by Dr. John Robinson, a professor at the University of Stellar Dynamics. For the first time in history, the crew will include persons other than adult males. Dr. Robinson will be accompanied by his wife, the distinguished biochemist Dr. Maureen Robinson and the couple's three children, Judy, Penny, and Will. Joining the family is Dr. Robinson's assistant, Dr. Donald West, a graduate student at the Center for Radio Astronomy. West's theories about planetary habitability rocked the scientific establishment, and formed the basis for the Gemini 12 expedition.
The spaceship takes off, enveloped in a brilliant glow. Initially all goes well, with the suspended animation state protecting the Robinsons from the ship's incredible rate of acceleration, but the spacecraft encounters a swarm of asteroids which pummel the ship, badly damaging it and causes fires to break out aboard. The ship is veers off course and is presumed destroyed. Against all odds, the automated ship survives a crash on an unknown but habitable planet.
Six months after their crash the Robinsons have established a base camp, domesticated local animals, and cultivated a small farm. John and Don monitor the weather from a station established in nearby mountains. During a visit to this weather outpost, the pair make two disturbing discoveries. First, the temperature is dropping rapidly and steadily, and may fall to more than 100˚ below zero. Secondly, some of their weather instruments have been destroyed by a creature that left huge footprints behind. John and Don soon encounter the creature itself, a humanoid giant with one eye. They take shelter in a cave, but when Don tosses a flare at the giant in an attempt to frighten it away, the beast is angered. The giant attempts to reach into the cave to grab John and Don, and when that fails, it uproots a tree and attempts to crush them. Suddenly, a laser blast strikes the giant. It crashes to the ground, unconscious. Using the ship's radio telescope, Will Robinson saw their peril and rushed to save them. Although John appreciates his young son's bravery, he scolds him for leaving the safety of the campsite.
The Robinsons prepare to flee the extreme cold by traveling southward in their vehicle, the chariot. Just as they are about to depart, they realize that Penny is missing. John dons a jetpack and flies off to search for her, warning Don to leave without him if the temperature falls to more than 10˚ below zero. John is able to find the girl and her alien pet, the chimpanzee-like Debbie the bloop and they arrive back at the campsite just before the others are forced to depart. As the Robinsons head south in the chariot, they encounter another cyclopean giant that hurls boulders at them, damaging the chariot. Don dispatches the giant with his laser rifle, and the family camps for the night so Don may effect repairs. Penny notices a budding relationship between Don and Judy when she spies Don kissing Judy's hand.
The next day the family takes shelter in a cave from a terrible electrical storm, and discover the ruins of an abandoned alien city there. Don, Judy and the children become trapped in a chamber just as a devastating planet quake threatens to bring the ruins crashing down on them. John frees them by cutting through the wall with a laser. Their next challenge is to sail the chariot across the inland sea to reach the warmth and safety of the tropics. During this crossing, the chariot is caught in a fierce storm and its power system malfunctions. The vehicle is swept towards a deadly whirlpool. Don climbs outside the chariot to repair the power system and is nearly lost. The Robinsons make landfall, and anticipating many adventures ahead, they offer a prayer of thanks for their survival, not realizing that they are being watched by two strange alien beings.
Some notes on scientific accuracyEdit
This is the unaired pilot episode of Lost in Space, and it is packed with all manner of adventures, from launch into space, to exploring archeological ruins, to danger at sea. It differs in important ways from the final series. The spacecraft is called the Gemini 12 rather than the Jupiter 2, and has only a single deck. Dr. Smith and the robot are absent. Don West is a graduate student in astronomy rather than a military pilot. He is referred to as Dr. West. In fact, a graduate student is someone who is studying to become a scientist who has not yet earned a doctoral degree, and the title of doctor. John Robinson is a professor at a whole university apparently devoted entirely to the study of stellar dynamics. In fact, real universities sponsor research and teaching in a wide variety of scientific and other fields, and none would devote itself solely to a particular branch of astronomy. Maureen Robinson, Judy, and the children are said to be the first, other than adult males, to meet the rigorous standards for space flight. In fact, at the time this pilot was made the first woman had already flown in space. She was Soviet cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova, and she flew in 1963. Maureen's real life American counterpart was astrophysicist Dr. Sally Ride, who flew in 1983, more than ten years before the Robinsons' fictional launch date. Although Maureen's scientific credentials are stated in this pilot, they are never mentioned in the actual series, and she is never portrayed as anything other than a spacefaring housewife and mother. It's interesting to note that the original pilot of Star Trek, also made during the early sixties, likewise featured a scientifically talented woman. She was Captain Pike's first officer, referred to only as "number one". She actually took command of the Enterprise when Pike was captured by aliens. Network executives didn't like her, and she was dropped from the eventual series. We can only speculate that a similar fate may have befallen Maureen Robinson's scientific talents. By the dawn of the real 21st century, a variety of persons other than professional astronauts, including junketeering congresspersons, joyriding billionaires, and even an ill-fated school teacher, have voyaged into space, but no real children have yet "staked their lives" on the risky business of manned space flight.
Alpha Centauri, the Robinsons intended destination, is the brightest star in the southern constellation Centaurus, the Centaur. At 4.3 light years away, it is the sun's nearest stellar neighbor. Like the sun, it is located in the Milky Way galaxy. In relative terms, it is quite close to the sun in the galaxy, whose disk is 100,000 light years across. The pilot incorrectly refers to Alpha Centauri as a planet, discovered as a result of space probes "reaching out into other galaxies". The aired first episode of Lost in Space correctly refers to Alpha Centauri as a star, and identifies the Robinson expedition's target as a planet orbiting that star. The reference to other galaxies is dropped. Alpha Centauri is, in fact, a triple star system. Two of its components are fairly similar to our sun, and orbit each other far enough apart that a habitable Earth-like planet could theoretically circle either one. The third component is a dim red dwarf star orbiting the other two stars in a distant orbit. A possibly habitable planet orbits the red dwarf (named Proxima Centauri) in real life. Due in part to this recent dicovery it is a quite reasonable choice as the target of the first interstellar spaceflight. At the time this pilot was made in the mid-1960's, no one knew whether or not other stars had planets. Today, we know of several hundred planets orbiting other stars (and therefore called extrasolar planets or exoplanets). Most known exoplanets are giants like Jupiter in our solar system, because such massive planets are easiest to detect. NASA's Kepler spacecraft, launched in 2009, is the first space telescope with the ability to detect planets the size of Earth around other stars. It is the real life equivalent of the "deep thrust telescopic probes" mentioned in this pilot. Astronomers expect that Earth-like planets are probably fairly abundant in our galaxy, and Kepler will tell us soon. Unfortunately, Kepler's planet detection method can't tell us whether the Alpha Centauri system, specifically, contains Earth-like planets. NASA has more sophisticated space observatories on the drawing board that will be able to determine this, and to measure the atmospheric composition of extrasolar Earth-like planets. They will tell us whether life supporting conditions, such as an oxygen atmosphere, exist on such planets. If NASA's efforts are properly funded, we could know fairly soon whether there are other habitable planets like Earth, and where they are located.
Driven by competition between the United States and the Soviet Union, progress in space exploration in the 1960's proceeded at a breakneck pace. Within the twelve years following the launch of the first crude satellites, human beings orbited the Earth, walked in space, conducted complex rendezvous and docking operations between spacecraft, sent automated spacecraft to Mars and Venus, and walked on the surface of the moon. During those heady times, persons unaware of the vastness of astronomical distances can be forgiven for thinking that we might be sending families of settlers to the stars by the end of the twentieth century. In fact, Alpha Centauri is so far away that an Apollo spacecraft traveling at seven miles per second would take more than 110,000 years to reach it. As the writers of Lost in Space initially realized (but soon forgot), interstellar travel requires incredible speeds near that of light, and travel times measured in years or decades. Acheiving the needed speeds is theoretically possible within the physics we know. However the technological problems are so formidable that there was never the slightest chance that they could have been solved by 1997. By the most optimistic estimates, we won't be building starships for a century yet. Space colonization is more likely to get its start within our own solar system, with settlements on Mars, or on large space stations built with materials from the moon and the asteroids. While space settlement on some limited scale may be feasible and worthwhile, the notion that millions of families can be wisked away into space, thereby solving Earth's population and environmental problems is a fantasy. It is a dangerous fantasy if it lulls people into believing that it's not necessary to take other measures to solve these problems like limiting family size and reducing our carbon footprint. The Lost in Space pilot was quite prophetic in recognising that by the end of the twentieth century we would face serious environmental problems caused, in part, by population growth. Ignoring our environmental problems, as the ficticious 1997 president warned us (and as our real 1997 vice president has also warned us), "will ultimately lead to a disaster from which none will be exempt".
- In this episode Professor Robinson refers to Major West as "Dr. West", the only time he is given this title.
- The ship the Robinsons and West travel in would be later renamed and was different than the one shown on this episode.
- The term "Maximum dynamic pressure" is technically correct - it applies to the maximum stress created on a vehicle by an atmosphere due to its speed, shape, and the external pressure. For current spaceflights this occurs at altitudes between 35,000 and 45,000 feet.
- No title screen with the episode name was shown, unlike how future Lost in Space episodes would have them. The title music is borrowed from the film The Day The Earth Stood Still.
- There would be another Bloop named Debbie later on in the series that Penny Robinson acquires as a pet.
- The episode was not publicly broadcast until 1993, on the Sci-Fi Channel's "First Annual Pilot Playhouse".
- Development artwork for the series shows the crash-landed ship was to have much more extensive damage, most notably a huge hole in the hull in the back across from the main viewport.
- There were no Robot B-9 or Zachary Smith characters until the actual aired pilot of “The Reluctant Stowaway- Dr. Smith was developed as a foil for the Robinsons as such a character was suggested by CBS after they screened this first pilot.
- Irwin Allen reportedly ran from the screening room when CBS executives started laughing at the pilot. Story Editor Anthony Wilson ran after him to tell him "they're only laughing because they said they love it!"
- Time dilation is completely ignored here. Prof. Robinson writes in his log that they were traveling near the speed of light for almost three years. This could result in a gap of tens, hundreds, or even thousands of years between Earth and our Space Family. It could be the year 10,000 AD back on Earth for all they know.