In the MSNBC news office, Jenny is interviewing a NASA scientist, who explains that soon as the sun rises on the portion of the comet that the Messiah is on, the surface temperature will rise 350 degrees in minutes, creating enough pressure to expel jets of superheated gas up through the surface. This will make the mission akin to working in a minefield.
On the comet surface, one of the moles gets stuck at 75 meters. The crew knows this is not deep enough; the warhead will just break pieces off the comet's surface. Commander Monash decides to descend into the shaft dug by the stuck mole to try and free it up, despite warnings from the other crew about the time pressure. Baker tells Tanner that in another six minutes, they won't be able to get back to the spacecraft for liftoff before sunrise.
Tanner orders the tethers be detached; he's taking the craft up to bring closer to the mole crew to pick them up; over Baker's desperate protests that such a maneuver may exhaust too much of the spacecraft landing module's fuel supply to get safely off the comet's surface. Tanner tells Baker to calculate exactly how much fuel will be needed to get off the surface; they will stop thrusters when they hit it.
The mole crew is racing against time; one mole is at the proper depth but Oren is still struggling to reach the stuck one. The shaft went into a natural cave-like fissure in the comet's interior and the mole got stuck against the side.
The mole crew works feverishly but unsuccessfully to free the mole. The landing module reaches the limit on spare fuel and Baker has to speak sharply before Tanner finally complies with her insistence to shut down the module's thrusters and land again.
The stuck mole finally begins drilling again and Commander Monash desperately climbs his tether cable so the crew can get back to the Messiah. The horizon is a mere minute away from sunrise and counting. Outgasses are beginning to explode up through the comet surface. The horizon is bridged. Tulchinsky shouts urgently for the surface crew to lower their visors' solar shields.
The crew is out of time and has to race back to the Messiah before they are caught in outgassing vents. Just as Monash clears the surface, a gas jet shoots him upward before he can lower his visor's shield. The full brilliance of the sun shines through his visor into his unprotected eyes. The rest of the crew reels him in by the tether cable and races desperately toward the Messiah landing module. Mere feet from safety, an outgas jet erupts full force directly under Partenza, shooting him up off the comet's surface. Despite frantic attempts by both the mole crew, and Baker and Tanner, Partenza is blown out into open space and lost.
The rest of the crew barely manages to reach the landing module; Tanner has to order Baker to lift off with the cargo doors open and close them as they go. Damage to the Messiah limits full video feed transmission back to Earth. Tanner relays the grim news that Tanner is lost and Monash is injured (his wife, Mariette, is seen crying as she hears the news). Tulchinsky vehemently argues to go after Partenza. Tanner barely succeeds in persuading him that Partenza is lost, and all of them will die and the Messiah destroyed if they try to locate and retrieve him. That would doom the entire population of Earth.
Continuing news coverage at the MSNBC studio, Jenny gives a summary of Partenza's career in NASA in tribute to his sacrifice for the mission. Relaying updates as she gets them, she informs the people that Captain Tanner is now in command of the Messiah. It has docked with the Orion booster propulsion unit and is preparing to detonate the nuclear warheads. She cautions everyone that the blast effect will again nullify whatever video transmission the Messiah is able to send back to Earth.
Col. Tulchinsky coordinates the arming of the nuclear warheads. Tanner prepares to activate Orion boosters soon as the countdown is complete. Despite this, the Messiah is still caught in the nuclear shockwave and further damaged. All video and audio transmission is knocked out. President Beck is seen in a White House office with Entrenkin, the cabinet, and a number of leading military Chiefs of Staff. A phone rings, and the member answering it looks at Beck grimly.
President Beck goes on the air to deliver the news to the country. The warhead detonation only succeeded in breaking off a significantly large chunk of the comet-- 1.5 miles wide-- large enough to cause catastrophic damage to the planet in its own right. Both this chunk and larger, six-mile main piece of the comet are still heading straight toward Earth. Houston Mission Control cannot communicate further with the Messiah although they are able to continue tracking it via radar. Its condition and the status of the crew are unknown. Beck announces contingency plans that were in place from the moment of the comet's discovery.
The United States and Russia will prepare their entire joint arsenals of Titan-Class nuclear missiles to launch into space as soon as the two comet chunks, now separately named Wolf (the larger, main body of the comet) and Beiderman (the smaller chunk broken loose by the warheads) are close enough for military computers to target them, in hopes that the comet pieces can still be shunted off their current course.
The U.S. has also been excavating shelter caverns in the limestone cliffs of Missouri to use as a form of Noah's Ark. This shelter will be able to contain one million people, and enough animal and plant life to repopulate the Earth after all the dust settles. The shelter will contain all living essentials, food, water, and collections of human music, art, literature, and other physical creations of its culture, to rebuild the planet. 200,000 people have been pre-selected-- leaders, doctors, scientists, engineers, teachers, soldiers and artists-- for participation in the Ark. In one month, a national lottery of 800,000 additional people will be chosen.
During these final preparations, Beck is declaring martial law. The US military will work in tandem with all state and city law enforcements. Extremely strict midnight curfews are going into effect, and minimal road travel will be permitted in the evening hours after local sunsets. Crimes against people and property will be dealt with far more harshly than is the usual national norm. Other countries are preparing similar shelters in whatever manner they can. News networks all around the country are being faxed detailed instructions on how the lottery procedure will work. Showing his human side now, Beck closes his segment with a prayer for human survival.
Jenny's MSNBC news program goes back on the air to explain the lottery procedure. The lottery drawing will be on August 10th, picking 800,000 people by their social security numbers. The general lottery will exclude all men and women over the age of 50. Only the body of 200,000 pre-selected individuals, including people needed for the rebuilding of society due to expertise in particular fields of study, will have any persons over 50 years old. As Jenny speaks, her parents are shown watching the news broadcast; they know this means they will both be excluded from the lottery drawing.
Jenny's report continues to explain that civil defense teams are in place in all towns and cities with populations over 5,000, to organize and prepare underground shelters and instruct people on how to grow food and purify water and properly stock these shelters in whatever manner can be done. For the Noah's Ark shelter in Missouri, the 200,000 pre-selected individuals will be notified as her report is going on. After the lottery on August tenth, all unofficial travel will be blocked, all roads closed until the evacuation of all one million people by military personnel, to the Ark site, two days later.
As Jenny continues her report, the Beiderman and Hotchner families are watching together at the Beiderman home in Richmond. Their phone rings. Ellen Beiderman, Leo's mother, takes the call. The Beiderman family has been pre-selected. Sarah's father, Chuck, abruptly gets up, saying he needs to go back to the house in case his phone rings. However, it is clear that an instant rift has formed between the Hotchner and Beiderman families.