One Of The Twilight Zone’s Loneliest Episodes Was Inspired By A Real NASA Experiment

The episode was broadcast on October 2, 1959: a time when Cold War sensibilities were at breaking point, and humankind was on the precipice of scientific breakthrough and curiosity. With technological and scientific advancements come key cultural changes, which are often, and understandably, met with doubt and resistance before these fresh chapters can run their course. Humanity’s ambition to land on the moon now seems like an inevitability, but at the time, this dream felt like an Icarus-like overreach, an exercise in hubris when it came to achieving the impossible. Thus, when Serling’s episode dropped, it generated feelings of awe and terror and ended up predicting the Apollo 11 moon landing that occurred almost 10 years later.

A Time article titled “Rehearsal for Space” detailed an isolation-chamber experiment with airman Donald Farrell, where a 7-day simulation of a trip to the moon and back helped denote such a journey’s toll on the human psyche. Farrell was put through certain trials to test optimal conditions required for successful travel, and the airman was able to complete the 7-day stint without any major hitches, be it physical or psychological. Serling seemed to have been inspired by the documentation of this experiment (via The New York Times), which formed the base of his pilot, where an amnesiac (Earl Holliman) stranded in a deserted town is later revealed to be on a simulated trip to the moon and back, a journey which almost breaks his mind and soul.

Just like in the actual experiment, Holliman’s character was connected to tubes that monitored his bodily metrics. While Farrell was able to endure the simulation whilst being self-aware, Holliman’s character questioned his perception of reality and his place in the world around him.

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