Earth is on the brink of catastrophe because of environmental changes and political unrest, so the first human trip to Mars, the Bradbury, is going forward to begin colonization of the Solar System. Alexa Brandt conducts the final air-to-ground checks. Once the radiation shield over the flight deck is closed, Alexa confirms that the ship is ready for launch. The pilot Casey Donlin has the AI TINA (Onboard Transport Network Artificial Intelligence) confirm that they're locked into the coordinates, and Rei Tanaka monitors the fuel cells. Flight Surgeon Katherine Langford monitors the crew vitals, while Mission Specialist Jerry Pierson awaits all systems are go. Alexa has TINA play "Family" and the crew sing along while they wait for the checks to complete.
The crew get a message saying not to launch and alarms go off. The launch of five ICBMS s are confirmed, and Los Angeles and Seattle have been hit. The spaceport is the target of one missile, and the missile will hit one minute after they launch. The crew argue whether they launch, and Mission Command orders an evacuation. They argue and Alexa finally orders a launch. Mission Command reports that they're evacuating the facility and wish the Bradbury luck.
Once the Bradbury reaches orbit, Alexa tries to reach Mission Command without success. They pick up reports of nuclear missile detonations, and can't jettison the radiation shield to get visual on Earth if they plan on continuing to Mars. Alexa reminds them that they all wanted to go on the mission and they all knew that their loved ones would wonder if something happened to them. They either orbit Earth until they eventually burn up or crash land, or they go to Mars. Jerry suggests that life in the universe is rare, and the Great Filter theory suggests that test of life is if an advanced form can make it to another planet before it destroys itself. Most civilizations fail, which is why they haven't encountered alien life. Alexa says that they go together and hold on to the world's goal for them, and they'll be okay.
Alexa begins the procedure to head for Mars, activating the rotational pseudo-gravity. The captain notes that everyone on Earth is dead.
As the journey continues, the crew has nothing to do and initially spend their time considering what happened. They try to reach Earth by soft phone but get no one. Alexa says that they need to move on and blocks all communications. The crew exercise and perform routine maintenance during the 200+ day trip, and Jerry tests TINA and gets a brief image of a human figure.
As the crew eat, Jerry brings up the radio broadcast of The War of the Worlds, and Orson Welles using simulated news broadcasts to make people believe a Martian invasion was actually happening. The lights go out and TINA restores them after a minute. They haven't had a software update for TINA from Ground Control because there is no Ground Control, and Jerry talks about reality perception. Alexa finally makes it clear she's not amused, and Jerry apologizes. Despite that, Alexa excuses herself.
Later, Alexa goes to the flight deck and seals the door. She calls her wife Natalie on Earth but gets the answering machine. Alexa hears a banging noise on the other side of the door and goes to investigate. She looks into a cabin and sees Rei and Casey having sex. Rei looks up, sees Alexa, and smiles. Alexa looks away and walks off.
Afterward, Alex confronts Casey and Rei and tells them that they can't have sex. Casey apologizes but Alexa says that they can't risk children. Jerry agrees with Alexa, noting that their supplies are carefully rationed, and Rei complains that Alexa didn't care about her life before.
Alexa lies in her cabin and looks at her wedding ring. Katherine asks if she's all right, and Alexa asks if she regretted divorcing her husband Michael when she took on the mission. The flight surgeon says that she had a choice between Michael or a round-trip journey to Mars, and got neither. Katherine asks about Alexa's nightmare, and Alexa tells her about how she dreams of Earth and being with Natalie and her family, and then she realizes that she's just dreaming and wakes up even though she doesn't want to. The flight surgeon assures her that she's not alone, and their family and they need their mother. Alexa figures that she's commander of nothing but a slow suicide.
As the journey continue, Rei tries to raise Mission Control on the radio but has no success. Casey finally tells her to stop, reminding her that Alexa banned any more transmission to Earth. He wonders what happens if someone responds, and would rather have faith that they're not all gone. A signal comes in and they realize it's an old TV broadcast. Casey walks off in frustration.
Later, Katherine brings Rei some supplies and says that she has to exercise her anger or she'll end up like Alexa.
Jerry checks the condensation and crystallization on a gasket in the toilet and writes down the results in his journal.
At 76 days until arrival, the crew throw a birthday party for Alexa. They serve cake and Rei says that she'll help Alexa with her being down if Alexa helps her. They sing and Alexa joins in, and Katherine breaks into tears. She tells Alexa that she doesn't want to be the mother and Alexa says that she gets it. Jerry announces that he has the best gift for all of them, and says that he's been collecting data since the launch to test a hypothesis. He's proven beyond any doubt that none of it is real.
The alarm goes off and TINA announces that a solar flare is coming. The flare will wipe them out, and Alexa orders the crew to turn the heat shields toward the flare. Jerry insists that it's just a test and sits down as Katherine stares at him and the others go to their stations. He explains that it's an endurance simulation and they weren't informed so the results would be more authentic. Alexa orders everyone to the flight deck for protection, while Jerry says that the odds of a nuclear attack during the launch are astronomical. Katherine tries to get him to his seat, but Jerry yells that they made them think that their families were dead and Earth was destroyed. Alexa finally tells Katherine to leave Jerry, and she enters the flight deck and Alexa closes the door. Jerry goes to the airlock to prove his theory and disappears in a burst of energy.
At 67 days out, the crew clean up after the depressurization and Katherine checks the gasket toilet. Alexa asks if Jerry was right, and Katherine says that there are crystals.
Later, Rei talks about her father dying of Alzheimer's and feeling him after he died. She wonders what the scientific explanation is for the feeling, and Alexa suggests that maybe Jerry was right. Casey jokingly suggests that Jerry is alive and watching them from outside, but Katherine says that he's dead and he lost the sense of where they are. She tells them not to make Jerry a legend or walk out the airlock, and they have each other. Alexa says that TINA is part of their family, and TINA plays "Family"
The Bradbury arrives at Mars and the crew prepares for landing. They touch down, but Alexa wonders if they landed on Mars. They open the porthole and see Mars outside, and realize that Jerry died for nothing.
Somewhere, aliens analyze the crew's landing and realize that they've passed the Great Filter, exceeding their expectations. Jerry is there, and the aliens rescued him after he realized that they were watching the crew. The aliens believe that humanity is worthy of salvation and they prepare to make contact.
Written by Gadfly on May 3, 2019