Happy Breakaway Day!

By Phil Plait | September 13, 2007 3:00 am

On this day, eight years ago, a magnetic anomaly due to a nuclear waste buildup on the Moon hurtled our only natural satellite out of Earth orbit. All hands on Moonbase Alpha were presumed lost.

What? You’re not a "Space:1999" fan? Fine then. But you’re missing out on some classic pure 1970s cheese-o-rama.

I found this image years ago. Sigh. If only.


Comments (63)

  1. Chip

    Sigh…when I was a kid, I always figured that by 1999, and certainly by now we’d all be sporting one-piece color coded jumpsuits, with lightning bolt emblems on the chest, a base on the moon (that I could even visit) and monorails between our cities.

  2. Roy Batty

    Ahhh… had both the model Eagles as a kid, you know, the one with the passenger section with opening doors & the other with the cargo canisters & magnetic winch, both had spring loaded feet …. now them was proper toys!!! :-)

  3. I liked the show, but I could never wrap my head around how the moon was supposed to be able to defy the speed-of-light to travel between planetary systems, while slowing long enough each week to be captured into temporary orbit around an inhabited planet. Later, it managed to escape gravity. All passively. If I ignored that premise and watched the show, it was fun.

    It disappeared too quickly.

  4. snap2grid

    Wow, I was just thinking that this morning! Sep 13th… Unfortunately, I can’t remember what I was doing on the actual Sep 13th 1999 or even if the thought struck me.

    The Eagle is unquestionably the greatest fictional spacecraft ever designed! Still have the die-cast model from the late 70s sitting on my shelf, though I don’t recall the cockpit section ever being green… I nominate Space 1999 for a BSG-style makeover.

    Just to see the Eagles in action again…

  5. 9/13/1999. Never forget.

  6. Andy V

    Guess I’m too young to have watched. But it generated a whole bunch of questions for me. Real Qs:

    What would happen on Earth IF the moon quickly departed?

    No more tides at the least. Tidal eco systems would perish (or evolve). What else? Dark astro viewing nights for ever.

    What about the transition period as it left it’s orbit, for argument, lets say it took a month for the moon’s effect on earth to depart. At some point, for a time, wouldn’t the moon be in a close to geosynchronous orbit? Would the location below it on the Earth be flooded X times higher than the highest tide?

    Wow. I think my brain will be dreaming about this all day.

  7. Way cool. Loved the show; it only looks cheesy in retrospect. (Why would they have ’70’s style haircuts in 1999???) And the Eagle is a great spacecraft, too. I admit to trying to make my own out of spare plastic model parts, circa 1979 or so.


  8. Brown

    You’d never guess that the star of this show would go on to win an Oscar for acting. He only had a slightly better range than one of those damned puppets.

    What I could never figure out was: they blew up about two or three Eagles every show, yet they always seemed to have plenty more. It was the same old “Where did they get all that stuff on Gilligan’s Island?” mystery, just adapted for space.

  9. Grand Lunar

    I only saw “Space: 1999” once, at that was the pilot episode. It was so long ago, I can’t remember most of it.

    That image reminds me of a similar one made of a shipyard. It shows the USS Reliant under construction at Newport News (birthplace of the Enterprise).

    Anyway, coolness!

  10. Ken B

    Forget about the long-term effects on tides of the Moon leaving Earth orbit. That’s nothing compared to the short-term effects.

    Technically, the Moon does not orbit the Earth, and the Earth does not orbit the Sun. Rather, the Earth and the Moon orbit a common point, called the barycenter, and it is this which follows the elliptical orbit around the Sun. While I am not a rocket scientist (in either the literal or figurative sense), I would suspect that, if the Moon were to be flung out of this paired system, the Earth would be flung in the opposite direction. Picture twirling over your head two objects held together by a rope, and then cutting the rope.

    Perhaps someone with a better physics background (it’s been too many years since I studied physics in college) could fill in the details.

  11. BigBob

    Closet Eagle pilots Rejoice!
    You can fly your own Eagle any time you want!

    First download and install Orbiter, the world’s best *free* space flight simulator.
    Next go to OrbitHanger and search for Eagle
    See the many beautiful ‘Eagle’ addons the orbiter community have devised. Take your choice. There are even Eagle sound files.

  12. K

    NO! Don’t let them redo it like BSG! Remember how great the BSG 1st season was? Remember how awful the last season was? How far they strayed from the premise making it into some lame sci-fi soap opera? It jumped the shark like 6 times already, do you really want Space: 1999 to become pathetic? Remember Maia? Yes, she was ugly, but she was cool.

  13. KaiYeves

    At first, I thought you meant Breakaway, the SONG. We’ll get there. Check out the cool designs for Mojave Spaceport on nationalgeographic.com.

  14. Kepler2

    Would the Eagle be a feasible spacecraft?

  15. JeffS

    Yep, I had the Dinky Toys die-cast Eagle too, including the inexplicable green cockpit. (Also had the Interceptor from UFO, also inexplicably green).

    And of course, there is a web page on the subject: http://www.space1999.net/~dinkyeagle/english/Intro.html

  16. Maya was ugly? Have you lost your mind? I had the biggest crush on her when I was 13! Then I met Catherine Schell in 2000 (check the link in the post) and she was every bit the elegant lady, and quite charming. Sigh.

  17. Matt

    Phil, that picture is a hoax! NASA never made an Eagle, and I can prove it! Look at the shadows, they’re all wrong! If you see, the photoshopper used the *apparent* angle of the sunlight casting a shadow from the slope of the cockpit of the shuttle. But this is an illusion because of that slope. The “true” angle of the sunlight can be gleaned from the door of the hangar.

    Plus, quantum mechanics and the uncertainty principle prove that I am the greatest scientist ever, just misunderstood and oppressed by the scientific cabal who are afraid of my theories.

    Man, and you call yourself a skeptic!

  18. I just can’t believe no one I work with watched space 1999. And they call themselves computer geeks. Also my eagle is still in my parents basement, a bit worse for wear though.

  19. KaiYeves

    “9/13/1999- never forget”
    On that note:
    “Alderaaan. Never Again.”

  20. Richard Smith

    We (me and my two brothers) had the Eagle playset, “action figure” scale (70s action figure, not 60s action figure – I wish!). The command module and engines could be detached and put together to form an escape pod. I believe it came with two orange-jumpsuited figures, and had assorted easily-lost fiddly bits such as the ‘n’-shaped weapons. Saw a lot of action, it did.

  21. alfaniner

    “That image reminds me of a similar one made of a shipyard. It shows the USS Reliant under construction at Newport News (birthplace of the Enterprise).”

    I only ever saw a thumbnail version of that one. If anyone can point me to a larger/higher res version I’d appreciate it! (My Google-fu was weak in that area).

  22. Kevin

    It’s been a long time since I’d last thought about that show.

    Much of the acting in that opening sequence looks like it came straight from the Star Trek Outer Space Acting School; probably some graduates of the Imperial Storm Trooper Marksmanship Academy as well.

  23. Ed Myers

    Yep, Space:1999 was my favorite show circa 1975 (late) to 1977 (mid). When it stopping being shown on its usual time slot I actually called the local CBS station to find out why. Kinda ballsy for a 12-year-old sci-fi nerd. I was then (tragically) informed that it had been cancelled. CANCELLED!?? How could they!?

    Over the years I never forgot my favorite show. I could occasionally find an episode on VHS here or there. I now finally own season 1 on DVD. I’d like to get season 2 (since it’s out now), but it only comes packaged as an entire series set. I’ll probably sell my season 1 DVDs and get the entire series. It would be totally worth it.

    As far as all of the “how do you explain _______” questions: do you ask the same questions of a Godzilla movie? Of course not. You just relax and enjoy it. If they stuck to real physics it would take them several generations just to get to Proxima Centari, assuming they happened to be thrown in that direction. That would be a pretty boring show.

  24. Ed Myers

    By the way, I know exactly what I was doing on Breakaway Day! I was showing my then-girlfriend one of the episodes I had on tape. She was appropriately surprised by the date of the incident.

  25. Tim G

    I’m just a little too young to remember the series. However, the ship did give me a flashback to the FedEx commercial

  26. John Krehbiel

    Cheesy only in retrospect? Come on!

    I was in college when Space 1999 was on air. We called it Space 1949. Some friend of mine did some calculations which he claimed showed that the Moon would hardly have been moved, and a force big enough to move it would have split it.

    My favorite silliness was the way they walked around on the Moon’s surface with all the bounce and such of the real moon walks, but inside, walked around normally. That and, as someone else mentioned, that they managed to get to other star systems.

    Oh yeah, and don’t get me started on how nuclear waste is very unlikely (impossible, maybe) to explode that way.

    I’m willing to suspend disbelief (warp drive, transporters, psychic powers etc.) but the premise has to make some sense.

  27. Chip

    Kepler2 asked:
    “Would the Eagle be a feasible spacecraft?”

    In general principle, the Eagle is feasible as a spacecraft because aerodynamics and airfoils are not required in space, or on the moon. The design would be very impractical on Earth or an Earthlike planet. In some ways its forerunner is the boxy shuttlecraft seen in very low orbit above the lunar surface in “2001 – A Space Odyssey”. To fantasize a bit, the Eagle seems best suited only within lunar excursions though on the show they traveled in it to and from other worlds. Its exposed sections and components would make servicing and maintenance easier.

    One of my favorite episodes was where they discovered a space graveyard of alien ships all together. They docked with one of them – the Eagle apparently has highly adaptable airlock mechanisms – and as they explored, it turned out that all the ships were actually trapped in a kind of spider’s nest. Eventually, a creature – consisting of a roar, a light, fog and grabbing tentacles – would reach out and nab an unfortunate crew member, spitting back an emaciated corpse within seconds; pure comic book stuff, but lots of neat sets and weird ships.

  28. flak

    I’m sorry, did someone say BSG sucked? Wha.. Wher… Um, HOW? Still the finest, best produced, acted, and written sci-fi show on television …and it sucks? I’ll grant you season three wasn’t as good as season one, but it’s a loooooonnnnggg was from sucking. Sorry, I know that was off topic, but I had to chime in.

    ps: If you think is sucks then you’ll be glad that the producers say season four will be the last. I think I almost wept when I heard that.

  29. JackC

    Thank you, John Kriehbiel. It is good to know that at least two of us here have some sense. I was an avid Science and SF fan when this dreck came out. One watch was all it took.

    SF has never been the same since 2001 ASO.


  30. JackC

    BSG sucks. It doesn’t suck as bad as the original, but it still sucks. We can start with the gawdaful contrived “cinema verite” (my painful favourites are the “out of ship” shots where, presumably, the cameraman (bot?) is rambling around while floating in freespace…) and just kind of go way down from there.

    I have watched every episode I can catch of this – trying to catch a glimpse of any redeeming value. So far, I can’t find any. I have removed it from TiVo – there is just no need to waste time with this any longer.

    As far as I can tell, the only “attraction” on this waste of film for anyone would have to be the blatantly sexual bits. Gosh – How Unusual.

    But – ever since “Stand and Deliver”, I have just enjoyed Olmos. I just can’t help but enjoy the tiny bit of class he manages to bring to this otherwise cumbersome mess.


  31. Rob

    I think my entire childhood was a succession of Gerry Anderson shows! Fireball XL5, Stingray,Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet and the others. Coincidentally the finally released UFO on DVD here in Australia a couple of weeks ago so I’m enjoying revisiting it. I’d have to say that their noon base operators were even better dressed than those in Space 1999 😉

    Between the shows, the Dinky models and Lego (not the modern version marketed for specific films or concepts but the original “you come up with a design as long as it fits rectangular bricks”) we used to have hours of fun. Of course you had to be disciplined and get up at the right time toy watch your show as we had none of these modern video/dvd/harddisk recorder thingies!. Still there was at least the TV21Century magazine and the Christmas Annuals for the show.

    Oh and by the way, I definitely agree with you Phil, Maya was hot!

  32. Greg B

    But what about the music? Oh man, I have to find my wah wah pedal and do some of that “Wacka wacka wacka” guitar playing.

    Can’t do THAT in Guitar Hero now 3 can you?

  33. Space:1999 had a truly great first season.

    The best episode by far was “Black Sun”, the one where Koenig and Bergman get to talk to a star.

  34. Mark Martin
  35. DavidHW

    They could do a decent BSG-style retcon of Space:1999 by simply removing the conceit of the entire moon being blown away.

    -have a ginormous particle accelerator project set up on the moon;

    -said accelerator creates a new, exotic form of matter (or maybe a black hole);

    -said new matter basically pulls the research station enclosure (rather than the moon) through some kind of event horizon;

    -however, they can only be pulled “through” to another black hole (ore exotic matter mass) formed under similar conditions, i.e., they will only be traveling to places where similar levels of technology (like that which constructed their own accelerator) exist, thus making the story paramount and reducing budgets so that high-falutin’ technocrap doesn’t enter into the picture;

    -the team members that get trapped are “keyed” to the original “quantum parameters” (he-he) of the initial event and cannot stay in any one place too long before the instability of the black hole/exotic matter “rubberbands” them to another destination (think “Sliders” and “Quantum Leap”);

    -their long-term goal is to find a way back to the Moon-Earth — their short-term goals are limited only by the writers’ imaginations in each weekly episode.

    How’s that? :-)

  36. DavidHW

    Oh, addendum.

    Instead of having a “research enclosure” be trapped, simply have an Eagle transporter that was flying within range of the “anomaly” be what’s sent through. That would give them transportation and provide a link to the old show.

  37. Baz

    Even today Space:1999 stands out for its excellent production values and special effects — not to mention the design of Moonbase Alpha and the Eagle Transporters. ITC gave its visionaries enormous freedom to make shows (Thunderbirds, Department S, The Prisoner…) the way they wanted, something sadly missing today.

    Shame about some of the scripts, though. If only they’d had Harlan Ellison on the payroll…

  38. Blondin

    That was great, Phil. Thanks for posting it.

    I’m old enough to have seen all the Gerry Anderson shows since Supercar and I remember watching Martin Landau and Barbara Bain in Mission Impossible and Barry Morse chasing David Jansen in The Fugitive.

  39. Even though that show was way before my time, I’m still fairly familiar with it. (At least, more familiar with it than other people my age.) That show had awesome special effects and an unbelievable sound track. Haha.

  40. Brian

    I remember watching this as a kid in the 70’s, but the only episode that I always seemed to catch in reruns was the one where everyone was devolvoing into cavemen (and women). To a nine year old, that was cool.

    I must chime in about BSG. Some of you must be taking too much khamala extract or something. This show has always been exceptional, including season 3. I’m dying for season 4. I’m just glad there’s a decent sci-fi series on that doesn’t rely on techno-babble (I’m lookin’ at you, Star Trek) to drive most of the stories, and that there aren’t any suspiciously human-shaped “aliens” populating the scene. Check out this great homage: http://youtube.com/watch?v=4Kve1oGPjf8

  41. Julie

    Phil, I’ve never posted here before, but I first met you at the Space:1999 conference in 2000 and went to your talk there. You were talking about lasers being invisible and my husband pointed out that you were using a laser pointer. I’ve been a fan of yours ever since!

  42. Julie, wow! I remember you! Of course, it was just you and your husband in my talk. :( Still, I had a pretty good time at that con; meeting the actors rocked. I have so many stories from there (seeing Barry Morse on the escalator, and having him say “Oh, Phil– I want to talk to you later about something” *rocked* my world) but who can I tell? There aren’t that many fans of the show, sadly.

    And Catherine Schell took me aside late in the con to talk to me about the show and astronomy, too. Wow.

  43. Troy

    1975 was too early for me to be into sci-fi so I never watched the show (I do recall forsaking the Space:1999 lunch box for Scooby Doo however). I do recall in college my calculus book had a challenge question to compute the amount of force required to remove the moon from its orbit, but alas, my calculus skills were never up to snuff enough to do the calculation.

  44. Quiet Desperation

    I still have a diecast metal Eagle.

    *AND* I have a metal Interceptor from the UFO series that still fires its springloaded missile.

    One of the best ship designes ever. It’s basically and engine, a seat and a big honkin’ guided bomb. Simple and elegant and got the job done.


    I’d love to get a hold of one of the SID models.


    Seriously, many of the ship designs from those two shows have rarely been surpassed, IMHO. Even the UFOs themselves were neat.

  45. The ‘UFO’ series (predecessor to Space:1999) mega-set DVDs are awesome! Makes me save me pennies for 1999. We moved to Pittsburgh from UK in 1974, when I was 10. For the longest time I wasn’t sure if I imagined the UFO series or not 😉

  46. Copy that:

    OrbiterSim + Eagles (and Moonbase Alpha!) = NO WORK DONE

  47. Thomas Siefert

    Fell over season one in JB Hi-Fi at a “steal price” (steal something and we will punish you by giving you this DVD) and I bought it on the spot in the hope of reliving my childhood fantasies. For some reason season two is always expensive, even though it is considered inferior by most people including Gerry Anderson.
    When I moved to the UK, I saw most of season two on TV and I realised that I completely forgot the two new characters and that one of the old characters was missing (there may be more differences but I can’t remember them now).
    All in all I found most of the episodes that had made a deep impression on me was from season one.

    Regarding Battlestar Galactica: I think that the camera techniques used is what will make it look dated in ten years, just like jazz music in action movies.

  48. Hello from the “a bit in middle-ages” Poland. Of course, the series was broadcasted in Polish TV. But… I was raised on hardcover science-fiction books in late fifties (the previous century, you know). And I have rather high requirements and expectations concerning science-fiction. Combined with rather exact education, I dismissed almost all seen movie and TV productions (even based on renowned novels) as naive and full of errors. Had I seen them in the childhood, I would now recall them with a tear in my eye. But, of course, I can any minute sit down and start reading Lem’s “Astronauts” (a bit naive, of course) or “Cyberiad” with the same tear in the eye.
    Space1999 aside, I’m a keen reader of your blog, as well as other sceptic pages, and in the first place, of excellent Randi’s JREF place. I love the man. Thank you all for the work you do to enlighten our surroundings. I would like to see such a light in Poland, but it seems it will take ages here to restore from today’s “middleageness”.
    With sincere regards, Marek.

  49. KaiYeves

    It’s okay, Ed Myers, when they canceled plans to complete ISS by 2006 because of Columbia, I wish I could have had those guts.

  50. Marek

    You can’t compare TV stuff to Stanislaw Lem’s. It’s like Daffy Duck vs. Picasso.

    I do hope more of Lem’s works get translated into movie.

  51. Art

    I got to meet Barbara Bain late last year. I’d had a crush on her since “Mission Impossible.” She’s still beautiful and a wonderful person.

  52. DennyMo

    I have a better copy of the Reliant in “dry dock” somewhere at home, but Google helped me find this one.

  53. All that and nobody mentioned that Space:1999 had one of the coolest themes ever.

  54. If you are a real fan, you might enjoy the virtual monbase tour:


    (I have to pimp it, the art on the walls of Dr. Bergman’s lab was done by yours truly)

  55. Gregory

    Space 1999 is what got me hooked on the sci-fi genre. I recall coming home one day from school (I was still quite a young-un) and there hanging by a thread in the back yard tree was a plastic model, already assembled by my dad, of the Eagle. Later I also acquired the plastic model of Moon Base Alpha. It had tiny 2 cm long Eagles. That show was awesome and I agree that Maia was one of the coolest characters ever on a tv sci-fi show. Space 1999 and got me watching re-runs of Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica, and last but certainly not least STAR WARS. I’m still a big fan of sci-fi but find the literature more stimulating than the cheese on tv and in the movies these days. Check out the Coyote series by Allen Steele.

  56. CR

    Can’t belive I missed this thread before now…
    Anyway, fans of the Eagle may want to check out Eagletransporter dot com for info about all the many toys & models of this popular craft. There’s also a discussion forum about Space: 1999 and, indeed, lots of other Gerry Anderson shows & British sf hardware.

  57. Freelance Minion

    The show had many of the typical problems of TV sci-fi mixed with the worst excesses of 1970s filmmaking, but the Eagle is worthy of title best sci-fi ship ever, just because it seems so possible.

    I watched the first episodes on DVD recently and it had a lot of problems (the moon can travel between star systems within a few weeks? Was the Black Sun supposed to be a black hole?) but I totally expect to see those Eagles flying around just a little after the Orion gets its shakedown.


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