In 1963, a top secret space programme was created under the John F. Kennedy administration, in which the United States, fearful of the effects of the Cold War, launch a huge starship secretly into space.
This vessel, the Ascension, contains the best and brightest of the generation in an effort to reach Proxima, a 100 year trip, and make sure humanity survives. The series is based on the actual `Project Orion`, a sort of lifeboat generation ship that was to be send into space decades ago but never materialised.
The vessel has it`s rich classes living in luxury near the top, a middle classe in the center, and the working blue collar class that maintains the ship near the bottom. However, some realise they won`t make the trip due to old age, and that they get to know all 600 crew members sooner or later. A life of a future chosen for them, they would love to turn the ship around and end the mission to live a normal life on Earth with their own choices.
In the meantime, back on Earth there are certain stretches that think the vessel actually exist and that a whole group of people is currently drifting through space, unknown to those on the planet. Their goal is to try and uncover the truth and make it public.
The series opens with the discovery of the body of Lorelei Wright, then flashes back a few days to see what the characters are up to leading to the event, as she is discovered during `Launching Day`, the vessel`s equivalent of New Year, since it launched 51 years ago.
Currently on Earth, a young academic approaches Harris, the son of the scientist that launched and developped Project Ascension, but he seemingly doesn`t know about the vessel, claiming it his father`s unfulfilled dream.
The Ascension herself is a long rocket like `luxury cruiser in space`, with the bridge looking like a naval vessel one, the center living area has a shopping mall feel while the bottom is a raw industrial look, all blended in with television and phones of the 60s.
In the meantime, it is discovered Lorelei was shot with a pistol, which means that this weapon must have been smuggled on board over half a century ago and been hidden ever since, as fireweapons are strictly forbidden on the ship with the risk of puncturing the hull. Christa, a young child that discovered Lorelei, in the meantime starts getting visions that seem to overlay her current memories with those of a previous generation.
Captain Danniger is a blue collar that came to power and the captain`s seat 20 years ago in an event called `The Fire`, while his wife helps keeping him in power by running (and participating herself) in an escort service for the high ranking council members on the ship. That way, she and her girls can uncover the secrets and use them to keep her husband William in control. XO Gault, also a rise through the classes man, is tasked with the investigation by Danniger for the murder, and they discover more and more references to a group called No Future, those that want to end the mission.
Riots and dissension are starting to rear it`s ugly head on the ship as tensions run high during the investigation and stockmaster Stokes is taken in as the murder suspect. While Ascension passes through a large Ion storm, we learn Harris does know about the vessel, and is even working on the project. When everyone goes to sleep in the radiation pods to weather this out, Christa awakes and sees a man in a hazmat suit running through her quarters, and she starts referencing to him as The Globis... the name of the camera`s in Harris`s office.
During the funeral of Lorelei, Stokes is mysteriously set free and retakes the gun, while Harris in the meantime is grilled by Director Warren. Stokes takes Nora hostage, but Gault manages to overcome him and the former stockmaster is blown out of the airlock into space... to end up falling on a huge pillow.
The Ascension indeed never launched, but is standing in a huge hangar, overseen by Harris. This is not a space journey, but a sociological experiment and the people onboard have been locked away for decades in the vessel, genuinly thinking they are in outer space. While Stokes is detained, Harris gets a consultant assigned, and just as she gets to see the ship a bomb by the NF movement goes off and damages the cooling system.
"Deck 23", where the Fire had taken place and is off limits since then (it has a thinner hull due to it, and one might hear sounds from the outside world there), is where Gault manages to find the bomber, the son of Stokes, and manages to dismantle another bomb... 3 seconds before it would have revealed the truth to those onboard the ship.
When someone accidently takes an inocullation meant for Christa, Ophelia reacts allergic. Christa says she refused to take it as in the dream she had she saw someone tampering with the shots, as apparently Harris is trying to administer something to her. Christa seems to know the truth, as when they try to give her her medicine covertly in her daily milk, she watches straight into a hidden camera and pours the glass empty on the ground. Harris reveals to Samantha he has a man inside the ship to try and solve these kinds of situations, and when he tries to inject her, she causes an electronical pulse that fries out the lights in the ship.
Samantha, overcome by what is really happening, seeks out contact with Eva, a conspiracy theorist about the Ascension rumours. This way, she tries to overcome the security blocks imposed on her. In the meantime, Christa has a vision and sees all that happens after 63, with the JFK assassination, 9/11 and Vietnam amongst others, and learns that Dr Bryce`s husband, Robert, is the inside man. The true goal of Ascension is to create genetically enhanced and mentally powered people it seems, and Harris`s team dubs Christa the `starchild`.
When it is the matchmaking celebration on the ship, Christa sees a vision of her dead sister Lorelei, while a video seeing Danniger bedding her pops up, causing the political balance to become in flux on the vessel. Samantha in the meantime steals a security badge and goes to try and break out Stokes, who discovers the ship and learns about the truth.
On the outside, Harris gets the news he will be replaced by Warren in charge of the project and escorted away by Medici and the armed men of the TC (Time Capsule) corporation, to be executed to keep the project secret. As Duke, the security officer aboard Ascension, learns that Gault had an affair with his wife, a drunken brawl ensures. Christa is led to it by the ghost of Lorelei and causes such a major pulse in agony both the ship and the hangar black out, resulting in the first time during the 50 year project that the exterior is blind to the events in the ship. While the airscrubbers due to this malfunction, Samantha plans to flee the country with Stokes and bring out the truth, Danniger and Gault go to repair the scrubbers before the whole crew suffocates, leaving the captains wife Viondra in command. She immediately overrules councilman Roose who wants to take command and proves to be an able leader by sending the crew to the radiation pods for additional air supply in them, buying them time.
While this happens, Medici is send in to retrieve Christa before she should suffocate, and Robert is ordered by Harris to protect the child. Sam realises though that her companion Eva is in truth a honeycomber to lure in those close to uncovering the truth, and she is shot through the head by her. But Stokes gets away and free into the world knowing the truth and becoming a wanted man.
Darringer and Gault manage to save the ship, but again due to the interference of Lorelei`s ghost, Gault rushes in just in time to save Christa from Medici. She unleashes a pulse so strong now, both fighting men vanish. Warren is furious, but Harris knocks her off the platform to her death, regaining control of the project that way, and claiming the ship 'will be going into space', as we see Gault awake alone and stranded on a distant alien world with 3 suns, probably Proxima...
I personally hope, but doubt, there will be an extending series, this series focusses more on the SCI then on the FI, and this might appeal less to the general public. There are no aliens to fight, no flashy light effects and such that give it epic fighting scenes like Battlestar Galactica which the masses eat like jelly.
The one biggest drawback for me personally was that the truth behind the vessel was already revealed at the end of episode 2 of the mini-series, they could have perfectly kept this silent and have the onboard and external scenes seperate until halfway episode 6, and then have Sam and Stokes run in the hangar by accident and discover it all...
Talking Samantha, the other grief might be that the hottie got blown through the eyeball ;-)