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First Episode | Episodes of Lost in Space | "The Reluctant Stowaway"


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Robinsons '
Overview
Series Lost in Space
Season One
Production
Original Air-Date Unaired Pilot
Written By Irwin Allen
Directed By Irwin Allen
Episode Chronology
Order in Series Unaired Pilot
Next Episode "The Reluctant Stowaway"
Title Image
Noplace

This is the pilot episode of Lost in Space. After changes were made, the series would begin anew with, The Reluctant Stowaway.

Summary

It's 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 existence. 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 into a state of suspended animation for the 98 years that the Gemini will take to reach Alpha Centauri. The spaceship's sophisticated electronic brain 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. Accompanying 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. John and Maureen share a kiss, and the crew members enter their transparent freezing tubes. The tubes close automatically and a bright light from each tube indicates the placement of its occupant into suspended animation. As the count approaches zero, the President of the United States addresses the nation, praising the Robinsons for staking their lives on this bold expansion of man's horizons. The spaceship is enveloped in a brilliant glow, and lifts off as the count reaches zero. Initially, all goes well, with the suspended animation state protecting the Robinsons from the ship's incredible rate of acceleration. Then, the spacecraft encounters a swarm of meteroids which pummel the ship, damaging it badly and triggering an onboard outbreak of fire. The ship is lost, and presumed destroyed. Against all odds, the automated ship survives to crash land 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 duo make two disturbing discoveries. First, the temperatures in their region of the planet are rapidly dropping towards more than a hundred degrees below zero. Second, some of their weather instruments have been destroyed by a creature that left huge footprints behind. Soon, John and Don encounter the creature itself, a humanoid giant with one eye, resembling the cyclops of greek mythology. They take shelter in a cave, but when Don tosses a flare at the giant in an attempt to scare it away, the beast is instead 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 poke it into the cave to crush them. Suddenly, a laser blast strikes the giant. It crashes to the ground, unconscious. Using a Visual Scanner in the spaceship, Will Robinson has seen John and Don's peril and has rushed to the rescue with a laser gun. Although John appreciates his young son's prowess, he scolds the boy for leaving the safety of the campsite. The Robinsons prepare to flee the extreme cold by traveling southward in their planetary roving vehicle, the Chariot. Just as they are about to depart, they realize that Penny is missing. John dons a jet pack and flies off to search for her, warning Don to leave without him if the temperature falls to more than ten degrees below zero. Penny has become lost and is riding on the back of an alien turtle-like creature. When John finds her, she and her alien pet, the chimpanzee-like Debbie the Bloop, ride on the back of John's jet pack. They arrive back at the spaceship in the nick of time. As the Robinsons head south in the Chariot, they encounter another cyclopian giant who hurtles boulders at them, missing each time. Don dispatches the giant with his laser rifle, and the Chariot drives slowly past the inert cyclops. The family camps for the night as Don repairs damage to the Chariot. Penny discovers Don and Judy's budding relationship when she spies Don kissing Judy's hand. Later, the family takes shelter from a spectacular electrical storm in a cave, which they discover contains the ruins of an abandoned alien city. Don, Judy and the children become trapped in a chamber of the city, 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 gun. The next challenge the Robinsons face is sailing 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 helpless Chariot is swept towards a deadly whirlpool. Don exits the Chariot to fix the power system and is nearly lost. Their power system fixed, the Robinsons press on to a landfall in the tropics. Anticipating many adventures ahead, the Robinsons exit the Chariot and offer a prayer of thanks for their survival, not realizing that they are being watched by two strange alien beings. Who are these strange aliens, and what are there intentions towards the Robinsons? We will never know, since there is no continuation to this pilot.

Some notes on scientific accuracy

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. It is a quite reasonable choice as the target of the first interstellar spaceflight and might indeed contain a habitable planet. 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".

Background Information/trivia

  • 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 CE back on Earth for all they know.


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