In the near future, a team is going on a two-year trip to Mars. Collette plays the ship’s captain, Marina Barnett, who is on her third and final voyage to the colony. Kendrick is the mission’s medical researcher, Zoe Levenson; Kim is biologist David Kim, who studies the respiratory possibilities of algae. They were chosen from thousands of applicants and went through extensive training. But the film reveals in a small and subtle way that these two are indeed ordinary people, not superhuman astronauts. David suffers from dizziness and vomits shortly after takeoff; Zoe’s delicate charm necklace floats down to her face to indicate a loss of gravity, and once they’ve docked, she unbuckles and exclaims to Marina, “Are you kidding?” It was amazing! (“Stowaway” describes space travel, at least initially, not as a smooth, quiet process, but rather as a process that shakes you to the bone, deep within.)
While they are all upbeat and provide refined, shallow responses in a first TV interview from space, their polite work is shattered by the realization that they are not alone. There is a man – hidden, unconscious and bleeding – in the hull of the ship, whom Marina discovers when he crashes through the ceiling above her, breaking her left arm as she tries to get there. ‘to catch. When it comes to, the crew discovers that his name is Michael Adams (Anderson) and that he is a launch crew engineer and graduate student. Somehow he was knocked out during final checks and became trapped, unbeknownst to anyone. Now he involuntarily rushes into space. How is this sort of thing possible? I’m not an aeronautical engineer – I got a C in chemistry in high school, so I write about movies for a living – but I found the explanation for Michael’s presence on board extremely incredible. The film’s production notes detail Penna and Morrison’s extensive attention to detail in their drive to make the story scientifically accurate, and it probably is, but that crux of the plot just seemed impossible.
Either way, he’s there, so four people are now using the ship’s resources instead of just three, which they were already going to be stretched into that cramped area for. He naturally panics when he realizes he’s in space – there’s a great photo of him seeing Earth from afar in the middle of the darkness – and Anderson makes his sense of panic palpable. In addition, he left his younger sister, of whom he is the legal guardian, alone at home. But the real crisis is that Michael severely damaged the carbon dioxide scrubbing mechanism when he crashed through the hull, making it impossible for everyone to get enough oxygen to survive the entire trip.