McCauley and his team are at the Moonbase working on the Mars exploratory ship. Captain Jim Nicholls is reporting to Major Ingram and becomes upset when he discovers that they're having him work on the backup power systems for the fuel pumps. Major Ralph Devers says that McCauley believes that the backup systems are important, but Nicholls is worried that the Russians will get to Mars first if they continue with delays. McCauley comes in and overhears them talking, and says that if they beat the Russians it won't be by putting themselves at risk. He tells Nicholls to finish his work and then adjust the backup system on the next shift.
Once Nicholls leave, Devers and McCauley discuss how the Russians have been their neighbors for three months. They glance outside and see one of the Russian astronauts walking toward them. An officer escorts him in and the man introduces himself as Major Golov. Golov extends Colonel Tolchek's invitation to McCauley and two of his men to come to the Russian moonbase for dinner. McCauley agrees and, once Golov leaves, Devers figures that the Russians want to find out about their progress.
Nicholls calls in to tell McCauley that he's found a way to improve the recycling pumps. The colonel checks on Nicholls' work, and irritably tells him that it's doesn't match the approved specifications. He tells Nicholls to restore it to its original condition and meet him later. After the end of the shift, McCauley tells Nicholls that their work represents years of supervision and quality control, and that the Russians will be just as careful. Once the colonel lets Nicholls go, Devers says that they should prepare for their dinner.
McCauley, Ingram, and Devers make their way to the Russian moonbase. Colonel Tolchek and the base commander, Mikhail Markov, greet them. As they settle down for dinner, the two sides talk about their separate expeditionary trips. Tolchek probes for information about their departure and McCauley points out that they're both well aware that they only have a three-day window of departure. When Tolchek wonders why they haven't left already, McCauley admits that they're making adjustments to their backup systems. The colonel boasts that they aren't making any engineering changes and McCauley congratulates him on his confidence. Tolchek proposes a toast to their mutual success and the best team winning. As they drink, McCauley asks if Tolchek considers it a competition. The colonel assures him that he doesn't, but both men admit that their younger officers have a different idea.
Later, General Miles calls McCauley and confirms that they have the expedition course calculated. McCauley will make the final decision based on his assessment of the Mars 1. Once McCauley signs off, he wonders if Nicholls is right but Devers tells him that it's his duty to have last-minute doubts. McCauley gives the orders for departure and he goes to the ship with Nicholls and Devers. As they start their five-minute countdown, Ingram tells them that the Russians have just begun their ten-minute countdown.
At the Russian base, Marko informs Tolchek aboard the Russian ship that they are seven minutes from launch, and the Americans have lifted off.
As the Mars 1 continues smoothly through space, Devers picks up the Russian ship's departure on radar. As they monitor its progress, they realize that it has gone off-course. Ingram informs them that the Russians are transmitting a distress signal from Tolchek just as the Russian ship explodes. The Russians inform Ingram that Tolchek and his crew are alive in the remains of the cabin, safe in their spacesuits... for the moment. They only have two hours of air, and the nearest American rescue ship is four hours away. Markov explains that they can't get one of their own ships there in at least six hours so they are writing off Tolchek and Golov.
McCauley considers and then tells Ingram that he's aborting the mission to rescue the Russians. Ingram relays the message to Miles, who tells his superiors that McCauley made the call on his own. Miles then calls McCauley and warns him that their superiors won't be happy that they're aborting the Mars mission. However, the general lets McCauley make the call. Mars 1 approaches the Russian ship and tries to contact the crew without success. While Devers holds the ship steady and Nicholls mans communications, McCauley spacewalks to the Russian ship. He confirms that Tolchek and Golov are alive and brings them both over. Back on the ship, Nicholls wonders what will happen to McCauley. Devers figures that his friend should get a medal, but he's not sure that their superiors will agree.
Once the Russians are aboard, McCauley administers oxygen to them. Tolchek is surprised to see McCauley there instead of on his way to Mars. The Russian admits that they wanted so badly to make it to Mars first that they failed to make some necessary modifications. McCauley glances at Nicholls and said that they had similar concerns about Mars 1, but delayed so they could made the modifications. Tolchek thanks them for making the modifications, and McCauley goes up front. Ingram informs McCauley that he's to call Miles on Earth. When the colonel makes contact, Miles tells him that his orders are to proceed to Space Station Astra. From there, a ship will take McCauley and the Russians directly to Earth. Once he signs off, McCauley figures that his superiors are ready to court-martial him.
Once McCauley reports to Earth Command, Miles tells him to put on his uniform and accompany him, but says that he has orders not to explain or let McCauley contact his family. They then fly to Washington and arrive at the White House, and are escorted to the Oval Office. The President wants McCauley there... so he can offer his personal congratulations on choosing to save the Russians. He thanks McCauley for demonstrating the American position on saving human lives. The President tells McCauley that he will make a statement to the nation later, but right now McCauley's family have been brought to the White House and are waiting in the next room.
Sometime later, McCauley returns to the Moon. This time he invites Tolchek and his men to have dinner at the American base, and the two sides share a toast to good relations between their countries.