November 13 1997, Helipoint, Pennsylvania. A military police car drives down the street to the main helicopter hangar. A person gets out. An astronaut is flown in with a helicopter. Still wearing a space suit he's guided to the interior of the helicopter hangar. He get's a clean uniform, and is taken to an office room, where Felix Kronenberg already awaits him. He wants to shake hands with astronaut Billy Hayes, but he remains cool toward him and refuses.
They begin talking about a recent catastrophe and the suspicion of espionage that Billy is involved in. Felix says that he just wants to help Billy, who doesn't believe him, for Felix has no idea of what happened out there, on Florida Arklab. Felix says that that's just the problem: Florida Arklab doesn't exist anymore...
Space station Florida Arklab: "A joint project of the American and European space agencies, built to study autonomous life systems in space and the possibilities of influencing the climates and weather on Earth, within the guidelines of the research project C.O.R.A."
The station consists of two separate sectors, A and B. Hayes moves through a non-gravity maintenance shaft between the sectors. The project control wants him to check the main reactor and repair the station's B-system.
Sector A, maintained by the European Space Agency ESA. In the news we hear about a military putsch in Saudi Arabia. Mission commander Max Marek transmits a recorded tape with the weather forecast down to a television station.
Meanwhile Hayes repairs the reactor using control modules, and the reactor is activated. Hayes moves on to the American sector and connects it with the reactor and the station's systems. A radiator test is automatically initialized by the mission control on Earth. Radiator groups on the station are opened and brought into position.
Back to the heli hangar office.
Hayes tells that he didn't understand why he had to re-activate the American sector so shortly before they were to be replaced by a differnent crew, and why he was not allowed to tell Max anything about this. Billy just followed orders without knowing the background of this secret operation. He asks Felix about it, but doesn't get an answer. Max led all the preceding radiations and completed the mission program successfully.
Billy tells Felix about the life on the station. He had to merely clean the station, and Max cared about the animals and plants that were brought to the station for tests. Besides, Billy was quite interested in the American sector and looked for findings of the sector's old crew. He doesn't know why he didn't understand what was going on there.
When Billy still is in the old crew's quarters, Felix orders him not to speak to Max about the covert operation. Max was too irritable and nervous. The atmosphere is tensed.
On the station Billy and Max search for a ran away frog. After finding it, Max sends a homevideo tape for his girlfriend Eva Thompson down to Earth, who is also an astronaut. He tells her that something has to change, that he wants to give up his job so that they can be together for a longer time.
The data of the last CORA "initial radiation" is uploaded to the station. The evaluation of infrared records shows an influence on the Earth's weather.
Billy asks Max about what happened in sector B. He replies that the officially it was a technical defect in connection with human error, but others say it was a reactor accident.
Again the news show the crisis going on in the Middle East region, bombardments. Max and Billy while away the time with playing games and shadow-boxing.
At the investigation Billy says he almost forgot the secret radiation test because of the crisis in Saudi Arabia and the imminent taking of hostages on the Riad airport. He doesn't get it yet that he was so blind and didn't see the true reasons for the mystery-mongering.
At night an automated radiation by mission control fails: The radiator groups won't extend. 1 minute until coordinates of area to be irradiated. The crew has to be waken up and informed.
The crew is alarmed of the error in the automatic control system of the American sector. Felix instructs Billy to use identity code "LAURIN" for manually initiate radiation. Max wants to know the reason for the irradiation, Felix doesn't say anything, Max doesn't initiate the procedure, Billy steps in and extends the radiators.
After 30 minutes the irradiation is stopped, the reactor is deactivated and the radiators are retracted. Again, Max asks Felix about the reason, and Felix says that is was actually meant to be secret, and they shouldn't know anything about it. Max insist on an answer. The project control intervenes and removes him from office. They say that all this is top secret and no radiation ever happened.
Here's the first time Billy actually starts worrying about it. The common, ordinary research laboratory had become a security matter. The purpose had changed, Max had become superfluous.
On Florida Arklab, Hayes get's instructions by Felix to keep an eye on Max. Billy isn't keen on that. Max eavesdrop on the call. Max and Billy slowly prepare their relief. Max complains to Billy about why he didn't tell him anything about the preparations of the secret irradiation. They decide to find out the true reason for the irradiations.
Max warns mission control of the fact that intense radiation of heat can lead to natural disasters. The result: Disciplinary proceedings and an advanced relief as a punishment.
Max gets a message from Eva. She says that it's okay for her that he wants to quit his job, but she has doubts. In her opinion Max and she have drifted apart and so she suggests a separation.
Billy wonders about the fast relief and expects another irradiation. But he's so exhausted that he immediately falls asleep in the evening. At night, Max wants to further investigate. He finds out that he needs the identity code that Billy was given for the first irradiation. He wakes him and gets the code of him.
In the news he hears about strong US combat units that were seen over Saudi Arabia. The USA heavily denys this: The satellites didn't show any US air actions.
Via ID-code LAURIN Max is able to get more info. Although the purpose of radiation is inaccessible, he finds out about the "Laurin Effect" that was reported in January 1995 where an infrared night satellite detected the radiation of heat, but not what was beneath it. So it was some kind of a camouflage effect. Max takes photos of the report. The reports result was that CORA initial irradiations at night must have a special permission.
Max asks the computer: "Has new control data for radiation been transmitted?"
The answer is: "Information not valid. Access special information on nimrod."
It takes Max some time until he realises the hidden message...
Max catches another automatic irradiation that is just being initiated. The timer shows 17 minutes until target area reached. Max moves in a space suit to the B-sector and waits there. Then suddenly, the B-sector is activated. The radiator groups are opened. Max cannot intervene: The manual controls are disabled. He alarms Billy. Billy has to try to stop the irradiation from the A-sector. ... 4 minutes left until target area reached ... sector A is blocked, too. The single reactor segments are activated. Max moves on in direction of the main reactor...
Felix calls Billy that he has to stop Max from sabotaging the station. The irradiation countdown already runs... Max tries to remove the control modules, but the reactor is run one way or another. They risk a reactor meltdown. Segment 5 is stuck. It threatens to overheat.
At this moment, mission control abolishs the block of manual controls in sector A. Max tells Billy to immediately retract the radiators, because then the automatic shutdown will be activated. Billy hesitates, for a retraction of radiators in operation will cause the heat radiation to affect the station itself. Max urges him to act. The radiators retract, the reactor slowly shuts down, the cooling system activates. Max is injured by heat. The station takes damage.
Billy fixes Max up, Max tells him about the secret irradiation. A constant radiation of one area will confuse the whole climate zone, the monsoon rain might be in danger. But because the control module is stuck it will not be possible to run another irradiation without risking a meltdown of the station's reactor core.
Felix calls again. He has a message from the project lead: Max is dismissed, the crew to replace them will arrive in just a few hours. They will be reliefed by Gregor Vandenburg and Eva, Max' girlfriend.
From the US point of view the operation is totally legitimate, because a freeing of hostages could avert a heavy crisis.
The replacement crew's shuttle docks with the station and the crew goes aboard. Eva goes down to the crew's quarters of sector A and talks to Max. Max fears that the mission control has sent Eva intentionally to play her off against him. In the command module Gregor talks to Billy. Gregor's orders are to make sure that the next initial irradiation will take place.
Max has always believed in the positive aspects of influencing the Earth's weather. Now, the USA has turned it into a weapon. He decides to call people's attention to the menace of misuse. Gregor initiates the next irradiation.
The news show US elite forces marching into Saudi Arabia the last night. In a UNO special session the USA again denys this. The political situation on Earth escalates. Should a covert operation of the US prove true the Soviet forces in the region will intervene, and the world peace will be in danger.
Eva doesn't know of Gregor's Mission. Eva wants to prevent him from initiating another irradiation, which would mean the station's destruction. He draws a gun. She's force to go back to the other module.
In the other module Max prepares the video transmission to the European mission control. 4 minutes until transmission range is reached. Eva wants him to send the message. The project lead wants Gregor to cut off the connection to the European mission control, by force if necessary. 2 minutes left. Gregor successfully sabotages the transmission. Billy runs up to the control module to try to trace the problem. Eva tells Max of Gregor's gun.
In the control module Billy sees a transmission from Earth that tells Gregor to activate the reactor in 2 minutes. He blocks the countdown. Gregor shows up and tries to force him at pistol-point to re-activate the countdown. Billy refuses. Gregor shoots. Hit by a grazing shot Billy falls down to the others in the lower module. Gregor re-initiates the countdown.
Max wants to prevent the catastrophe, and runs up to stop Gregor. Gregor shoots him. Max falls down to the others, deadly hit. The overheat alarm sounds. Mission control tells Gregor that there's no need to worry at all. Everything runs within expected parameters. The manual controls are being disabled. Gregor closes the lock between the modules.
Billy tries to get to the bio lab through the maintenance shafts. The reactor overheats. The station again takes damage and starts falling apart slowly. Mission control wants to keep running the irradiation at all costs, up to critical limits. Gregor is advised to inform the crew and leave the station with the shuttle as a precaution. Gregor panics and tries to escape.
As the reactors core slowly melts, Billy reaches the bio lab. 4 minutes left until reactor meltdown. Eva goes to the lock, but can't go any further. Billy is able to open the lock from the other side, and they both advance to the shuttle. The station cannot be saved anymore. On their way to the shuttle they find Gregor, dead. The use the supply lift to move on and escape with the shuttle.
The station explodes.
Back to the investigation in the hangar office.
Felix tells Billy that the radiators were opened to the very end of the station when the reactor core collapsed. So when the USA notice their fault it was already too late: The monsoon rains began too early, the flooding disaster is indescribable.
Billy and Felix go out of the office to the heliport. Felix tries to calm down Billy that further investigations will follow. This investigation can be seen as a good signal. Felix doesn't know what the project lead wants to do now, but he thinks or pretends to think that everything will be alright again. Billy doesn't believe him. Billy is brought to a helicopter where Eva already waits for him. The helicopter leaves the heliport. Felix gets back to the office.
In the news Felix hears that in Saudi Arabia rebel troops have occupied Riad. He also hears that there was a reactor accident at space station Florida Arklab. 2 astronauts have died on the station, 2 were able to escape via a space shuttle. Alas, because of the high radiation level those 2 died later in the hospital.
Felix Kronenberg takes out the tape that recored the investigation and destroys it. He goes out and is picked up by a military police car.