Friday, January 29, 2010

Space:1999 Y1 Ep2: Matter Of Life And Death

Welcome back!

It's FAB FRIDAY people! We look back at Gerry & Sylvia Anderson's epic classic Space:1999.

We return to the isolated moonscape reality of Space:1999 and our moonbase Alpha residents. Space:1999, Year One, Episode 1, Breakaway, was a good table setter. It exhibited the series' potential. It will be interesting to see where things go in this second installment. Nevertheless, the production values are very high. The show looks superb and this digitally remastered set is how a science fiction series should look at least on standard DVD for a show from the mid-1970s. Babylon 5 is a great example of a set allegedly digitally remastered, but the print looks terrible in comparison to Space:1999. You wouldn't think that would hold true for a set two decades older than Babylon 5. Space:1999 was critically knocked, but it's like comfort food for this Sci-Fi Fanatic. I'm not sure if the criticism is fair, but a thorough examination is forthcoming.

When we last left off the denizens of Moonbase Alpha had broken away from Earth's orbit due to a nuclear blast on the moon. The team is in Alpha's command and control center, dubbed Main Mission [Year One]*, when Eagle One returns from its reconnaissance mission. Its report indicates Terra Nova [New Earth] has the resources capable of human sustenance. According to the ship's pilots, the planet is "just waiting there for us." Suddenly an electrical charge hits the ship and its pilots. Aid is needed. A rescue crew is en route for the latest entry of Space:1999, Year One, Episode Two, Matter Of Life And Death.

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Those flashy opening montages with the quick edits are just too damn good to pass up, especially with the image synopsis they throw at you for the episode in play. It's too damn cool. Ron Moore's reimagined version of Battlestar Galactica [2004] implemented a similar approach to each entry's opening. The space tube transport arrives to find the pilots are still alive. When the transport arrives Russell, Koenig and Bergman find an extra passenger on board. The passenger is no ordinary passenger. The man happens to be Dr. Russell's husband. Koenig is probably less than enthused. Still, this is only the second installment of Space:1999 and the Koenig/Russell relationship dynamic hasn't been explored enough to feel that tension. I can't help but imagine the arrival of Russell's husband might have been better served later in Year One. Interestingly, one of the pilots is actor Stuart Damon. While viewing Babylon 5 we noted the appearance of actor Tristan Rogers who played Scorpio on the long-running soap opera General Hospital. Damon, too, was also a regular on the aforementioned soap as Dr. Alan Quartermaine. He's much younger and thinner here. I'm not proud of it, but I had teenage friends that lured me into the world of General Hospital after school and the ongoing Luke & Laura saga. Good grief, don't ask.
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In the medical bay, Russell indicates her husband has been presumed dead missing for five years. I can't help but note that the British/ American ensemble cast is such a unique blend of casting. It's not something you see often, but it's a hell of a hybrid here. More on this splendid cast at the end of the entry. Allegedly her husband's mission failed while locked in orbit around Jupiter. Russell indicates they lost contact. Koenig believes radiation had a hand in it. I'm beginning to think radiation may have a hand in alot in Space:1999, but it makes sense. Nuclear power and radioactive waste has always been a big part of our global conundrums, but it was especially disconcerting in the 1970s when the Cold War was growing colder. Russell indicates that man in sick bay is her husband Lee. She is in a mild state of shock it would seem. Bain plays it beautifully really. Koenig is suspicious as their moon is billions of miles away from Jupiter. The two are informed they are needed in sick bay. One thing is clear, Gerry Anderson was fortunate to obtain a handful of truly seasoned, semi-veteran actors for Space:1999. They are a pleasure to watch as they truly light up the screen. I suspect this wonderful cast and a plethora of terrific guest stars managed to elevate some of the weaker scripting along the way.
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The moon has located planetside of Terra Nova and the team on Moonbase Alpha is eager to head down to the multi-colored planet. Koenig refuses to implement a full station evacuation to the planet below until he knows more about what happened to the Eagle One on on its return. It's a sensible move by a very sound leader in one Commander John Koenig. Pilot Carter is a little anxious and voices the anxiety of the rest of Moonbase Alpha's desire to relocate to Terra Nova. Should we not implement a touch of caution like Koenig ye young Alphans?
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In sick bay, Lee Russell is regaining consciousness. Koenig asks for Bergman's assessment. Bergman suspects he may have been trapped on Terra Nova and adapted to the environment there. The mutations in his body may be eluding the reading capabilities of Earth's medical instruments. Koenig still wonders what we're all wondering. How did Lee Russell get aboard the Eagle One?
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Koenig speaks with Russell about bringing her husband out of his comatose state. Russell wants to proceed with caution. Koenig needs her to move faster. In three days Moonbase Alpha will be out of range of Terra Nova, which is forcing the urgency. The moon is literally moving across space and time. Russell relents and agrees to make an attempt to revive Lee. Koenig attempts to ask the man questions but he fades back out of consciousness once again. Lee speaks with Russell in private once her colleagues have exited the room. Lee is actually alert, but played dead until the men were gone. Lee asks Helena where he is. She explains he is on Moonbase Alpha, which was knocked loose from Earth's orbit due to a nuclear event as covered in Breakway. Lee grabs Russell's shoulders and she is electrified, tossed clear across the room and knocked unconscious.
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I do love those Eagle shots!
In Main Mission, Alpha control, we are treated to a small moment with that cute, little brunette Sandra Benes. With her unique accent she has a very Chekov quality about her. You can clearly sense the influence of Star Trek as Main Mission watches the view screen much like the crew of Star Trek watched theirs aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise. Still, let's be clear, there is a very special flavor and quality to Space:1999 as original and different as Star Trek but never achieving the same degree of acclaim for its outlook and vision of space. There is no question about it.
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Nice belt. I like it!
Koenig is summoned to Dr. Russell's quarters where he is brought up to speed regarding the Russell/Lee incident in the care unit. She believes she passed out. Koenig isn't buying it. Russell tells Koenig she was talking with Lee. He is surprised to learn he was cognizant. He is uncertain Lee is really her husband. We are beginning to learn Koenig is very intuitive and a man of good sense. Koenig is quite close to Russell in her quarters, but we have no reason to believe their relationship is any more than professional at this point.
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Later, Bergman and Koenig review a physical scan of Lee's body heat signature which indicates he is perfectly normal. A second scan shows absolutely no body temperature. Koenig asks the question. "Is Lee Russell dead or alive?" Koenig knows it takes billions of years for a human to adapt to anything. There's no way Lee can pull off such an evolutionary feat in just five years.

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Helena is being tapped as an energy source for her alleged husband Lee. Lee throws a care unit attendant down. As a tussle is underway, Helena arrives and Lee immediately calms. Koenig wants to speak with Lee in his office. He orders Helena to stay away from Lee. His commander instinct is good and he knows something is clearly amiss even if Helena doesn't want to accept it. "What are you doing on Alpha?" Koenig probes with several questions in succession. Lee informs them they are all in danger. Bergman inquires if the planet is inhabited. Lee tells them Yes, but "not in the way you think." He warns them all to stay away from the planet. Koenig knows they are marooned on Moonbase Alpha and cannot sustain life indefinitely.

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Moments later Lee Russell sits down and whispers "Helena" and dies. Dr. Mathias confirms he is dead. It's a touch melodramatic, but good.
Terra Nova is passing by Moonbase Alpha and Bergman is working hard to determine what happened to Russell. Koenig is ready to move to Phase two and get personnel to the planet below. He puts unnecessary pressure on himself and Bergman. Bergman asks for an hour to run skin tests. Koenig agrees reluctantly. It's slightly out of character to see Koenig making such a rash decision to get to that planet. Moonbase Alpha is clearly not in dire straits at this time and an ignorant decision to the new planet could prove lethal. It flies in the face of a sensible Commander Koenig. The move to go there feels irrational based upon the evidence thus far and the lack of facts set before the Alphans in particular Koenig.
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The CommLock. A nifty device with the same screen size and color of that found on my father's kitchen table TV as a child. Go figure.
Dr. Russell isn't completely broken up by Lee's passing, but then again I'm not sure she ever really believed he was alive. She gives some indication of my suspicion to Koenig. She tells him "I guess I never really had him back. I'm alright." Eagle Two is on standby for departure. Bergman arrives in Main Mission and the control console closes for a private meeting. It's a pretty cool technical development as Koenig's command console can be enclosed for private meetings by a sliding wall. Bergman informs Koenig of some pure science fiction. Good stuff.

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This is just sick design work. It's off the charts I tell ya.
Koenig informs the crew they will be exiting and evacuating Moonbase Alpha for Terra Nova. "At best it's a calculated risk." I'd say so. I feel as though Commander Koenig is acting out of some unreasonable desperation here. He is obviously weighing the life support option of remaining on the Moon against their chances of survival on Terra Nova, but at the same time there is far too much evidence pointing to a very big unknown on the planet below and little evidence to suggest they should jump ship immediately. It also points to the potential for death. I'm not sure I would roll that dice. It doesn't feel like there has been sufficient calculation of any kind. Death is not a good option. This is a really frustrating development and flies in the face of the kind of sound and sensibly decisive leader we were beginning to know. Koenig assembles his team with Carter, Morrow, Benes and Russell. He asks Bergman to stay behind to take over his command should something go wrong. It will. It should based upon the evidence here. This is really not a sound plan.
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As Koenig and crew prepare to take off. Two staffers in the Medical Section are electrocuted by the deceased body of Lee Russell and thrown across the room. His body disappears. As the countdown for lift off commences, Bergman contacts Koenig to inform him of the Medical lab incident that resulted from the attempted autopsy of Lee Russell. Bergman informs him the body has vanished and tells Koenig to abort the mission. Seven seconds and counting. Bergman calmly pleads with Koenig to reconsider the launch, but Koenig indicates "we'll just have to face those risks." Off they go to the planet of Terra Nova. Bergman fully embraces the role of good sense first established by Koenig. Sound judgment has left the building or the Moonbase. What the hell is Koenig thinking? All of the evidence points to a major unstable situation with more evidence than you can shake a stick it that points to a significant unknown. Space:1999 is clearly all about the great unknown, but that doesn't mean the denizens of Alpha have to fly in the face of sound human behavior in facing it.
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The set design for the planet is amusingly fake, but still pleasant in all its lavish orangish and red colors. It's also a delight to the eyes because of the steep contrast to the dark mood of the show to date. The Eagle has landed. Carter will remain with the Eagle until the two parties rendevouz back at the bird in 1800 hours. The whole decision seems significantly risky and entirely incomprehensible. I mean, this isn't a calculated risk. This is anti-matter, black hole sized risky! The writers go too far or make some giant leaps with what is a conceivably interesting story and some good ideas and moments, but the missteps are great.
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The parties explore what amounts to a colorized version of a Lost In Space [1965] set. Folks, I'm all about Lost In Space. I'm all about sets and miniatures and real, tangible make-up, so I'm digging this. It's really quite impressive just as the sets on Lost In Space were impressive ten years earlier. Parrots and flora seem to be the order of the day. How did parrots get there? Perhaps they were brought there by man or they aren't real at all. Russell tests an orange, rusty-colored watering hole with one of her handy testing devices. With the touch of three buttons, A-B-C to be exact [this is high-tech stuff], the information and results are transmitted all the way back to Moonbase Alpha. "No impurities" reports Bergman. Koenig and Russell drink to that, "Clear fresh water." I wouldn't call it clear. The rubber fruit is apparently edible as well. I was a little surprised there was no mention of the bird species by either Koenig or Russell.
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Bergman reports a problem to Koenig. The atmosphere sealers and insulation aboard the Eagle are "acting up a bit" according to Carter. The teams heads back to the Eagle. Everything is going terribly wrong and going south quickly. Carter is stuck inside the Eagle which is now engulfed in smoke. Paul Morrow's laser gun misfires. Benes has gone blind. The Eagle explodes. Bergman reports the situation on Moonbase Alpha is deteriorating rapidly as well. Moonbase Alpha explodes and some seriously crazy stuff is happening on Terra Nova. Benes is missing amidst the wind and turmoil on the planet. Things have gone very badly very quickly here. It's pure chaos in minutes. Koenig manages to get Russell undercover before falling rocks literally take him out. All I can say is, they were warned. So much for risking it all. Koenig whispers to Russell that they almost made it. He dies. Helena cries.
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Seconds later Lee reappears before Helena to rub it in. "I tried to stop you coming here." Lee informs her he was transformed by radiation off Jupiter and was scattered into deep space. "Matter never dies, changes its form." He is anti-matter man. He couldn't survive in her world and she cannot survive in his world. "See what you want to see." She is given the power and strength to make it all better and to put things right. Koenig is alive. The flowers and birds are back. All is well. "We cannot stay here John," she tells Koenig. Bergman informs Koenig Operation Exodus is ready. He informs Bergman to cancel. They won't be coming to Terra Nova. Great news and lucky news since moments earlier Koenig was dead. Huh!? What!? What the hell just happened? It's a bit too tidy. Why did Lee come to Moonbase Alpha anyway? If they were all destined to die and then be saved by him, who really isn't him, why would Lee even bother really? There are some gaping holes in logic here that I seem to be missing.
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Back on Moonbase Alpha a bit of sadness comes over Russell as she sees Terra Nova sink away and, in a sense, any representation of what was her husband Lee. She says farewell to her late husband with some closure however questionable his existence. The problem for me was the lack of character development or emotional foundation between Russell and her later husband. Still, this is just one in a whole host of issues touched upon in Matter Of Life And Death. There are some great ideas in this installment that just never quite come to life [pardon the pun]. Perhaps some commentary from Writer Johnny Byrne over at The Catacombs says alot about a rushed re-write and efforts to bring a story into focus from an already established script. Nevertheless, Byrne exemplifies his class and this is just the beginning of big things to come for Johnny Byne on Space:1999. "I shared the credit with Art Wallace, because the basic idea, no matter how far we had departed from it, was his. I could have taken the full credit but I was happy to take a shared credit. Matter of Life and Death had been written too hazily and could've done with a lot more rethinking about it, but it had to be done." There's alot to Byrne's words here and it translated to the small screen.
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The Philosophy of Space:1999: "We're a long way from home, and we're going to have to start thinking differently if we're going to come to terms with space." [Bergman]
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Matter Of Life And Death: C+
Writer: Art Wallace & Johnny Byrne.
Director: Charles Crichton.
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Director footnote: Director Charles Crichton [1910-1999] would direct eight episodes of Space:1999 Year One and six episodes of Space:1999 Year Two. Crichton would become internationally known for his absolutely hysterical and classic film A Fish Called Wanda [1988] starring Kevin Kline, Jamie Lee Curtis, John Cleese and Michael Palin. Crichton would be nominated for two Academy Awards for Best Director and Best Screenplay [co-written with John Cleese]. A lasting, impressive legacy.
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Author John Kenneth Muir, a staunch advocate for the pilot Breakaway, is even less supportive than me perhaps of this entry and gives a host of good reasons why this episode fails in Exploring Space:1999. I'll offer you his key points because they are just too damn good to bypass. He calls the entry "crippled by plot-holes and poor character motivation, not to mention a seriously wrong-headed conclusion." This simply reinforces the episode I experienced. He's not wrong, as I mentioned, Matter Of Life And Death has its problems. He feels the tidy conclusion I referenced the weakest portion of the entry.
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One of the biggest problems for me is thoroughly redressed by Muir and that is the decision-making of Commander John Koenig. He first points to his sound leadership in Breakaway, but then points to the "erratic" nature of his thinking here. For a short series, based solely on what we saw in the pilot, Koenig throws his cautious nature out the window in a radical move and it makes no sense whatsoever. I couldn't agree more. There is a huge disconnect here. Muir calls this misdirection a result of a poor script by its scriptwriter. He points to the fact that none of the characters grow from their poor decisions. They simply are. When it's all over there are no consequences to Koenig's actions. The universe simply gives them another chance. Muir calls it "thoughtful of the universe." Very funny stuff. He indicates the series never paints this kind of portrait of Koenig as a leader ever again. It's a good thing too, because in reality, they would all be dead as of the second installment. Can you imagine a two episode series? He also points to a missed opportunity, whereby Russel's character could have been the focus. Bain is still kept at a distance for us to embrace caring about her and this might have been an opportunity to learn more about her. That's a fair point.
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The scriptwriter also mishandles the concept of anti-matter versus matter. Muir points to another poor example in Star Trek: Generations. The aforementioned film at a 35 million dollar price tag was an utter disaster and Space:1999, with its budget limitations, "should not be judged too harshly." Still, while the ideas are there, Muir reckons the series, despite limitations, still had some firepower technically and were going for the explosive, rousing conclusion rather than a logical script.
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All in all, this is a messy second outing whereby logic is completely thrown out the window in favor of effects. Muir says, "This is not an open-ended mystery that inspires imagination. It is a confused story with an implausible ending." This coming from one of Space:1999's fairest champions.
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The Cast: The regular cast was noted in the Breakaway entry. Here is a brief overview of cast highlights from this impressive international cast.
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Martin Landau [1928-present]. American born. Space:1999's Commander John Koenig. He appeared in 47 of the 48 Space:1999 episodes except Year Two, Episode 21, Dorzak. Landau first landed roles in Maverick, The Twilight Zone [1959-1964; Mr. Denton On Doomsday & The Jeopardy Room], The Untouchables, Rawhide, Bonanza, The Outer Limits [1963-1965; The Man Who Was Never Born & The Bellero Shield], The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, The Wild, Wild West, Gunsmoke and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. [featuring Robert Vaughn who would later star in Gerry Anderson's The Protectors]. Landau signed on for the part of Rollin Hand written especially for him in Mission:Impossible [1966-1969] for three seasons [76 episodes]. He received a Golden Globe Award in 1969 for his role as Rollin Hand in Mission: Impossible. This was followed by Space:1999. Landau went on to appear in film and television including: Meteor [1979], The Return Of The Six Million Dollar Man And The Bionic Woman [1987], Murder She Wrote. I vividly recall our favorite Space:1999 commander resurfacing in the late 1980s. I had all but remembered him as John Koenig and, to me, he had finally arrived outside of that universe. He was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his role in Tucker: The Man And His Dream [1988]. He did in fact win the Golden Globe for his role. He was nominated yet again for Best Supporting Actor for Director Woody Allen's Crimes And Misdemeanors [1989]. This was a huge breakthrough role for Landau. Landau finally won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for Director Tim Burton's Ed Wood [1994] playing the role of Bela Lugosi. He has since appeared in the films The X-Files [1997], The Majestic [2001] and 9 [2009]. He has since received Emmy nominations for his television work in Without A Trace [2004-2005] and Entourage [2006-2008]. This is a mere snapshot of a vast catalogue. Landau was married to fellow actress Barbara Bain from 1957-1993.
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Barbara Bain [1931-present]. American born. Space:1999's Dr. Helena Russell. Bain won three consecutive Emmy Awards for her role as Cinnamon Carter in Mission: Impossible in 1967, 1968 and 1969.
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Herbert "Barry" Morse [1918-2008]. British born. Space:1999's Professor Victor Bergman. Sadly, Morse passed away in 2008 and dedicated his body to medical science. He is best known for his role as Lt. Philip Gerard on The Fugitive [1963-1967]. Morse appeared in The Untouchables, The Defenders, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, The Invaders, The Saint and The Twilight Zone. He actually appeared in The Outer Limits with Carroll O'Connor and Grace Lee Whitney of Star Trek: The Original Series fame in an episode called Controlled Experiment. It was shot as a pilot but was passed over for My Favorite Martian with Bill Bixby. Speaking of Martians, Morse appeared in a version of Author Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles [1979] along with actress Nyree Dawn Porter of Gerry Anderson's The Protectors and actor Roddy McDowall.
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Prentis Hancock [1942-present]. British born. Space:1999's Paul Morrow. He also appeared on Doctor Who, the Tom Baker years.
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Nick Tate [1942-present]. Australian born. Space:1999's Captain Alan Carter. He has quite a resume too. He appeared in a wonderful Aussie film called The Year My Voice Broke [1987] [starring a young Noah Taylor] as well as a number of other Aussie-based productions. He has also appeared on The X-Files, Farscape [A Constellation Of Doubt], Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine [Honor Among Thieves] and Lost [Tabula Rasa].
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Zienia Merton [1945-present]. British-based. Brunei born. Space:1999's Analyst Sandra Benes. She is, for obvious reasons, an extremely popular guest at sci-fi conventions globally. She appeared in 35 episodes of Space:1999 across Year One and Year Two. She appeared in Return Of The Saint [The Nightmare Man] and with Tony Anholt in Hammer House Of Mystery And Suspense [The Late Nancy Irving]. She even appeared opposite William Hartnell's Doctor Who [Marco Polo] [1964].
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Clifton Jones [1942-present]. Jamaica born. Space:1999's David Kano. To my utter surprise he was the voice of Blackavar in the animated film Watership Down [1978]. It is one of my all-time favorite animated films based on the book by Richard Adams.
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Anton Phillips [1943-present]. Jamaica born. Space:1999's Dr. Bob Mathias.
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Suzanne Roquette [1942-present]. German born. Space:1999's Tanya Alexander. She appeared in the HBO Mini-Series Band Of Brothers [2001].
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Moonbase Alpha: It's worth analyzing the layout of Moonbase Alpha for the uninitiated. It was built inside a crater on the Moon. It was designed as a space exploration station and as monitoring station for the nuclear waste disposal being stored on the far side of the moon. It is both solar and nuclear powered. There are 5 Launch Pads on Moonbase Alpha. Eagles ascend on the Launch Pads to the base surface from undergound hangars. The Eagles are stored and maintained underground. Cylindrical Travel Pods are transported across base through Travel Tubes. Alphans reach the Eagle Launch Pads via these Travel Tubes. There are 8 Anti-Gravity Towers surrounding the base to stabilize gravity for Moonbase Alpha. There are peripheral Research locations outside of Moonbase Alpha complete with Launch Pads. The Moon also houses Nuclear Disposal Area 1 and Nuclear Disposal Area 2 as evidenced in Breakaway.
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The base itself is comprised of six sections. Command is the office location of the commander of Moonbase Alpha adjoined with Main Mission. Main Mission is the command and control area of Alpha in Year One. This includes a view screen and Computer. Command and Control would be located underground to a more protected, safer area of the base dubbed Command Center for Year Two. Additionally, there is a Service Section, Technical Section, Reconnaissance Section [Eagles], Medical Section and Security Section. Alan Carter is section chief of Reconnaissance. Dr. Helena Russell is section chief of Medical. Tony Verdeschi is section chief of Security in Year Two.

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