Encouraged to explore as a child by her late father, Dr. Eleanor "Ellie" Arroway works for the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) program at the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico. She listens to radio transmissions hoping to find signals sent by extraterrestrial life. Science Advisor to the President David Drumlin pulls the funding from SETI because he believes the endeavor is futile. Arroway gains backing from secretive billionaire industrialist S. R. Hadden, who has followed her career and allows her to continue her studies at the Very Large Array (VLA) in Socorro County, New Mexico.
In 1958, two U.S. Air Force pilots and aspiring astronauts, William "Hawk" Hawkins (Tommy Lee Jones) and Frank Corvin (Clint Eastwood), are testing a modified X-plane when Hawk decides to try to break a height record. The plane stalls and they are forced to eject, narrowly missing a B-50 Superfortress piloted by navigator "Tank" Sullivan (James Garner) as they parachute to safety. On the ground, Frank punches Hawk for putting their lives at risk, but their fight is broken up by engineer Jerry O'Neill (Donald Sutherland). Their supervising officer, Bob Gerson (James Cromwell), chastises Hawk for his recklessness, before taking them to a press conference, where it is announced that the Air Force will no longer be involved in space flight tests as this has now been handed off to the newly created NASA, ending the four's dreams of reaching space.
Epic film in two episodes, based on a true story of creation and development of Russian space and missile industry. Due to secrecy demand, all names were altered in the script, although most of the characters are easily recognizable. Sergei Korolev was prototype for the lead character Bashkirtsev, played by Kirill Lavrov.