In 1958, four hot shot test pilots seem certain to be the first men to go into outer space. Yet the back-stabbing leader, Bob Gerson (James Cromwell) of their organization disbands them to prevent their involvement in the then forming NASA and labeled them as non-team players.
Now, in the present, the foursome are living a rather docile life. Dr Francis D Corvin (Clint Eastwood), the electrical engineer, has a rather pleasant retired life in his desert home with his lovely wife Barbara (Barbara Babcock). William "Hawk" Hawkins(Tommy Lee Jones), the pilot who had a penchant for pushing the test planes to their limits, is now a daredevil crop-duster. Tank Sullivan (James Garner), the navigator is now a Baptist minister. Jerry O'Neill (Donald Sutherland), the designer is now the womanizing designer of roller coasters and other adrenalin pumping leisure facilities. Finally, Bob Gerson (James Cromwell), their former boss is now a mission leader within NASA and still as despicable as he was in his younger days.
Now this is where the real story starts...
It seems that an old Russian "communications" satellite is about to crash back into the Earth's atmosphere and somehow American technology designed by Frank has ended up as the guiding system.
Of course, because of the age of this technology, only the original team can save the day. As Gerson makes many learing statements about the satellite to the Russian general who is working with the Americans to save the day, you know there is something much more nefarious about the satellite.
After some struggles to get the four to pass their physicals in less than 30 days, the four with two young counterparts; Ethan Glance (Loren Dean) & Roger Hines (Courtney B. Vance), are launched on the space shuttle to fix the satellite.
However Glance has somehow been coerced to be in on the subterfuge involving Gerson and in an unexplained action, he tries to make connections on the satellite that causes the whole mission to become a disaster and creates the greatest action sequences in the film....