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Vulture

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Salvage Plot Synopsis

As the whimsical Salvage score plays over the opening credits, we see Harry Broderick, owner of Jettison Scrap and Salvage Company, putting a World War I Newport through its airborne paces in the skies over California, as the plane’s owner waits somewhat impatiently on the ground for the “test flight” to conclude.


Upon landing, the owner demands $25,000 for the vintage plane. Harry complains that the engine is a little shaky, and that he’s going to have a hard time selling a “60-year old airplane,” and produces $18,000 in cash from his pocket. The owner reluctantly takes it.

As Harry drives his vintage car back to the Jettison Salvage yard, he wheels and deals on a car phone, selling off the fuselage and propeller to a restaurant owner for $20,000 (assuring him the plane is a WWI authentic, right down to the “bullet hole in the seat”). With his next call, he unloads the engine (sans propeller… “termite holes,” he explains) to an aviator for $12,000.

Upon his return to Jettison Salvage, his ex-wife, Lorene, greets Harry . Now Jettison’s business manager, Lorene has been taking careful note of Harry’s recent aggressive transactions and the amount of money Harry has accumulated in the bank. Harry asks if “North American” has called, to which Lorene responds yes, and wonders aloud why Harry is buying rocket engines.

In his office, Harry watches a television newscast recounting the millions upon millions of dollars that have been poured into the American space program, with the bulk of that money having been spent on hardware… much of which now at idle on the moon. As the newscast plays, two of Harry’s employees, Mack and Fred (former NASA employees) carry in the pilot's seat from the now-stripped Newport. Harry pulls a pistol from his desk, and fires a single shot into the seat, producing the bullet hole he had earlier promised the restaurant owner. Harry questions the men about bringing back the “junk” left on the moon during the Apollo missions, to which they laughingly respond, “Sure, if you’ve got 5 billion dollars in your pocket or a used spaceship!”

The next day, Lorene, Mack, and Fred arrive at Jettison Salvage to learn that Harry has worked through the night and slept on the office sofa. Together, they barge in for a “summit meeting.” In the face of this confrontation, Harry finally reveals his plan: “I want to build a spaceship, go to the moon, salvage all the junk that’s up there, bring it back, and sell it.” Fred, Mack, and Lorene at first think he’s either joking or crazy, but quickly come to realize he is dead serious. Lorene asks if Harry plans to pilot the ship himself, to which he responds in the affirmative. Worried for Harry’s safety, Lorene storms out of the office saying “I hope you freeze your tail off up there!”

Fred and Mack then question Harry on how he’s going to be able to afford the mission, and Harry promptly produces a copy of the hard-cover book The Trans-Linear Vector Principle by Addison “Skip” Carmichael, a former NASA astronaut known for both his genius and a daredevil attitude that kept him grounded throughout his five years with the space program. Fred and Mack confirm that Skip’s theories, while untested, were sound.

Harry arrives at the used car lot where Skip is now working to find the former astronaut meditating on the hood of a car. Harry reveals his plan to Skip who starts to walk away saying “I’m a little short on investment funds right now, and I’d appreciate it if you didn’t use my name on your letterhead.” Harry responds by asking “Do you want to talk about the Trans-Linear Vector Principle?” Skip is intrigued.

Harry climbs into Skip’s sports car and heads to a racetrack where Skip can demonstrate the difference between NASA’s method of traveling to the moon versus Skip's Trans-Linear Vector Principle. Racing around the track at top speed, Skip demonstrates how NASA’s method burns up fuel so quickly that the Apollo spacecraft had to rely on “coasting” in order to reach the moon and return to Earth, creating the problem of re-entry friction heat. Skip then putters around the track, gradually increasing speed in order to demonstrate that by remaining in a constant state of acceleration, the entire flight would be powered, there would be no weightlessness, no re-entry friction heat issues, and the entire trip would take only two days. Harry asks why NASA didn’t embrace Skip’s methods. Skip explains that NASA has to play it safe, and use standard rocket fuel… noting that using standard rocket fuel would mean that the fuel tanks would have to be as big as “the World Trade Center.” Harry asks if this means that they would be using a fuel that’s “more powerful but a little dangerous.” Skip says “yes,” but then admits… to Harry’s consternation… that the fuel doesn’t exist… yet. He promises Harry that it will… all they need is Mel Slozar. “What’s a Mel Slozar?” Harry asks.

Skip and Harry arrive on the set of a movie called “The Plot to Blow Up Brooklyn,” where Melanie Slozar, a former NASA explosives expert, is preparing a charge for a scene involving actor Biff Kelly. Biff, who insists on doing his own stunts because his “audience expects it,” relentlessly hits on Melanie, while demanding she double the strength of the charge that will blow him out of a foxhole. Melanie warns that doubling the charge could break the actor’s ankles, but Biff threatens to have her fired if she doesn’t comply. She grudgingly doubles the charge, leading the actor to be humiliated, though unhurt, when the charge proves to be too powerful. Melanie is immediately fired.

As she collects her final pay, Skip and Harry fill her in on their plan, and having no other employment options at the moment, she agrees… though she thinks both men are nuts. Skip instructs Melanie to tell Harry about mono-hydrazine. Harry departs while Skip tries to flirt with Melanie in her truck. Melanie rebuffs Skip’s advances, and hints at a previous relationship by saying things wouldn’t be exactly the way they were at NASA.

Back at Jettison Salvage, Skip, Melanie, and Harry brief Mack, Fred, and Lorene on the Trans-Linear Vector Principle and mono-hydrazine… the highly volatile explosive from which Melanie will refine the fuel for the mission. Melanie reveals that less than 1,000 gallons of mono-hydrazine fuel will be needed. The team concludes that their ship will need to be no more than 30’ tall and 10’ in diameter (roughly one-tenth the size of NASA rockets), and will include a diaphragm in the fuel tank that will rise as fuel is expended, creating 1,000 cubic feet of cargo space in which to store the salvage. Fred notes that rockets and thrusters will be easy to come by, but asks what they are going to do for a capsule? Harry indicates a cement mixer sitting outside the window.

Construction on the spacecraft proceeds, and in the next scene we see the cement mixer being lowered onto the main body of the craft, fashioned from a Texaco gasoline tanker truck. The scene cuts to a printout coming across a Teletype in the FBI offices of Special Agent Jack Klinger, detailing Melanie’s recent purchase of a suspiciously large volume of high explosives.

Harry and Skip return to Jettison Salvage after a jog, to find Lorene putting the finishing touches on the team’s mission jumpsuits, and we learn that the world’s first homemade spaceship has been dubbed “The Vulture.”

Back inside the Jettison office, Melanie reveals that she has stabilized the mono-hydrazine fuel to 112 degrees Fahrenheit, but notes that there is more refinement to be done. Skip notes that Fred has designed a first-class coolant system that will turn the fuel tank into “a giant refrigerator.” Not convinced of the safety, Melanie decided to demonstrate the power of mono-hydrazine to the two men. Using just one drop of mono-hydrazine fuel, Melanie launches a model rocket carrying ten pounds of dead weight. Harry and Skip are delighted by its effectiveness. The trio moves outside so that Melanie can demonstrate the dangers of mono-hydrazine when it over heats. She again places a mere drop of mono-hydrazine fuel beneath a 500 lb engine block. When the droplet overheats, the explosion sends the engine block 20 feet into the air. The men are suitably awed. Melanie then reveals that she will need another month to stabilize the fuel to 150 degrees Fahrenheit, and warns of yet another danger: at just a few degrees before the exploding point, the fuel will produce toxic fumes. “One whiff, and you could be dead,” she admonishes. “We’ll just hold our breath,” quips Skip.

In the next scene, we see The Vulture, surrounded by a massive tent, nearing completion. Inside the tent, Melanie is working furiously on the fuel formula. Skip enters the tent in an effort to flirt with Melanie… who tells him he could have been “one of the top men at NASA” if he hadn’t been such a maverick. Skip continues to flirt, and forces Melanie outside the tent where they bump into Special Agent Jack Klinger, who wants to question Melanie.

Harry jogs back to Jettison Salvage where Lorene tells him to hightail it into the office. In the office, Harry finds Skip and Melanie stalling Jack, who is trying to get Melanie alone for questioning. Melanie insists that she be questioned in the company of her associates. Jack relents, and questions Melanie about her recent purchase of high explosives, which Melanie explains away by saying it was for “The Plot to Blow Up Brooklyn,” the movie from which she had been fired. She then shows Jack her explosives license. Jack appears to be satisfied with the answer, noting that the FBI had been investigating a series of terrorist bombings. He then notices the draped Vulture through the window, and asks if it’s some kind of missile. Harry tells Jack that it’s an experimental NASA spacecraft that he had bought at auction in order to salvage the scrap aluminum and copper. Again, Jack appears satisfied and leaves Jettison Salvage… though the Jettison crew believes he remains suspicious. There are only three weeks left before the first engine test.

Back at his office, Jack tries to piece together what “one highly unorthodox businessman, one demolitions specialist, and one down-on-his-luck space expert” could be up to. He orders daylight surveillance of Jettison Salvage.

At the junkyard, Skip and Melanie argue over the need for a guidance computer in order to successfully launch and land on the moon. Skip insists he can fly The Vulture manually. In order to prove that he cannot, Melanie straps a jetpack onto Skip’s back, and challenges him to rise up 6 feet. At about 2 feet off the ground, Skip begins to cartwheel in the jet pack, proving Melanie’s point that a sophisticated guidance computer is needed.

Inside the converted camper that now houses “Jettison Control,” Mack says he would need at least 3 months and more money than Harry has available to build a guidance computer, and that there are no used computers available. Mack hatches a plan to use a modem to hack into the guidance computer owned by Fleming Aerospace in San Diego.

The day arrives for the first test of The Vulture’s engines. Harry and Skip climb into The Vulture’s capsule as, throughout the junkyard, Jettison employees create a cacophony of noise to mask the sound of the engines. Mack successfully hacks into the Fleming guidance computer, and the engine test appears to go smoothly. The capsule of the Vulture rises above the surrounding tent, and is caught on the FBI surveillance camera. In the final seconds of the test there is a failure in the coolant system, causing the mono-hydrazine fuel to begin to overheat, and Melanie orders all engines to be immediately shut down. Jettison employees race across the junkyard with fire extinguishers as Harry and Skip scramble to get out of the ship. The FBI catches the entire debacle on film.

Skip blames the coolant failure on the fact that The Vulture was tethered during the test, and insists it won’t be a problem at liftoff. The team decides to double the capacity of the cooling system, and further refine the mono-hydrazine fuel. They also decide to install a detector/alarm system to warn the crew when the mono-hydrazine fumes reach the toxic level. Melanie warns that once the alarm goes off, the crew would have only ten seconds to get into their spacesuits.

In his office, Jack reviews footage of the engine test, and, finally armed with hard evidence that the Jettison trio is up to something, starts making phone calls.

In the next scene, we see Skip driving Harry’s vintage car, while Harry jogs alongside. Lorene calls on the car phone, and informs Harry that Jack has apparently obtained a search warrant for Jettison Salvage. Lorene’s boyfriend at the Federal Courthouse agrees to stall the paperwork for 24 hours.

Harry and Skip race back to the junkyard, where Melanie informs them that she needs at least four more days to make the fuel safer. Harry says that if they don’t launch the next morning, the Feds will shut them down. Melanie insists that the only way to ensure the safety of the mission would be for her to go to the moon with Skip instead of Harry, so that she can address any fuel problems that might crop up in flight.

Harry is devastated, and walks out into the night in silence. He stares at the full moon in the quiet night sky. Melanie follows him, and Harry asks her if she really wants to go. “As much as you,” she responds. After a moment, Harry tells her to get some sleep. “You’ve got a long trip ahead of you,” he says.

At 5:30 am the next morning, pre-flight preparations are underway at Jettison Salvage. Lorene makes a call to the Federal Aviation Administration informing them of the flight, and asking that the airspace around Jettison Salvage be cleared. Kramer, the FAA official who receives the call, dismisses the warning as a hoax. The tent is dropped, exposing the Vulture to the FBI surveillance agent. The Vulture’s engines are fired, and the agent promptly calls Jack. Jack orders the agent to “get in there and stop them,” as he races to the junkyard.

As the ship begins to ascend, the phone lines into San Diego go down, and the ship loses its access to the guidance computer. Harry orders the mission aborted, but Skip insists to Melanie that he can continue manually. Melanie tells him to go for it. As Harry screams into his headset for Skip to abort, the ship stabilizes and the liftoff proceeds. Harry realizes that Skip is going ahead anyway, and exclaims “All systems go!” Phone service to San Diego is restored, and the Vulture’s link to the guidance computer is reestablished as the pieced-together craft ascends toward the heavens. With a successful liftoff behind them, the mission officially becomes “Salvage 1.” Federal agents are admitted to the junkyard.

Aboard the Vulture, Skip transmits details of the mission over the International Distress Frequency, urging the world’s cooperation in ensuring its success.

Jack rushes into the Jettison Control camper, demanding to know what Harry has done. Jack decides to call Washington, and Harry requests that Jack have them contact the Russians “just in case they didn’t get the word.”

As the Vulture heads out of the Earth’s atmosphere, media and world reaction is quick. Army forces secure Jettison Salvage, as Jack threatens Harry with a host of criminal charges. Jack pledges to “nail” Harry when all of this is over. Jack then asks Harry once again about all of the mono-hydrazine that he has purchased, and Harry assures him that was for an overseas venture that had nothing to do with Salvage 1. Jack says he’d “hate to think that thing up there has some kind of warhead.”

On the phone with an official in Washington, Jack is informed that “officially,” the US Government is going along with the mission… but that “unofficially” the Salvage 1 team is guilty of stealing US Government property. The official laments, however, that they would have to be tried in open court, and since they had become overnight folk heroes, the media would “crucify” the government if they tried to prosecute. “It would be like trying Charles Lindbergh for flying without a license,” the official complains. The official admits that a number of Congressmen are secretly hoping the Vulture gets lost in space. The official expresses concern over the salvage being sold to the Russians, and Jack suggests that the US buy it. The official notes that while the taxpayers would scream bloody murder over the government buying back that for which they have already paid, it would seem to be their best course of action. The official then suggests they wait it out… something could go wrong with the mission that would force Harry to come to them. The official gives Jack full authority to negotiate.

Aboard the Vulture, Skip pulls out a large brass navigation sextant that he uses to verify the computer’s trajectory. Confident that the “billion dollar computer” has them on the proper course, Skip places a romantic music tape in the Vulture’s onboard cassette deck, and starts to put the moves on Melanie. He realizes too late that he has left the radio on, and all of his advances have been transmitted live to Jettison Control.

Media coverage of the historic flight becomes constant, and the world… including the crew at Fleming Aerospace… watch in awe as the mission appears to go off without a hitch.

As the Vulture approaches the moon, the camera zooms in on the American flag planted on the Lunar surface by the Apollo astronauts, and pans around the plethora of hardware to which Harry’s team is about to lay claim. The Vulture enters lunar orbit, and prepares to rotate for touchdown. At this exact moment, a technician at Fleming Aerospace decides to perform maintenance on the computer that is providing the Vulture with its guidance. The computer is shut down, and the guidance link to the Vulture is lost. Skip struggles to control the ship as it plummets to the lunar surface. The Vulture sets down at a higher rate of speed than anticipated, and one of the rocket engines is damaged when it strikes an outcropping of moon rocks. Nonetheless, the landing is successful, leading Melanie to make the historic announcement to the world that “The Vulture has landed!” The world rejoices as Skip and Melanie finally share a kiss.

On the lunar surface, Skip inspects the damage to the rocket engine, and concludes that he cannot liftoff without the assistance of a guidance computer. Melanie becomes concerned, but Skip assures her Harry will get the computer back for them.

This proves more difficult than Skip knows, however, as an official at Fleming Aerospace informs Harry on the phone that the computer's memory has been wiped. “If only we had know this beforehand,” the official tells Harry, “we would have been glad to help. We would have done it for free.” Harry admits his mistake, and asks if the computer can be reprogrammed. The official says that working around the clock, it would take at least three days. Skip and Melanie, however, do not have enough oxygen to last for three days. Harry thanks Fleming Aerospace for the offer.

On a scrambled frequency, Harry informs Skip of the situation. Skip says that without the computer, the Vulture will roll over onto its side at liftoff. He tells Harry that NASA has a guidance computer in Houston they could use… “the only one in the country.” Having already loaded the salvage, and confidant that Harry will gain access to the NASA computer, Skip and Melanie play “catch” with moon rocks.

At Jettison Control, Harry hands Jack a sale offer for the salvage. Jack is shocked by how little money Harry is asking for the hardware. Harry then admits the low price tag comes with a catch… he wants access to NASA’s guidance computer. Jack smugly says “no,” confident that he finally has the upper hand in the negotiations. Harry then informs them that he has an offer from the Russians, not only to purchase the salvage, but also to give them access to their guidance computer in Leningrad. A shaken Jack speaks on the phone with a Russian official, confirming Harry’s story. Jack agrees to give Harry access to the Houston computer, but chastises Harry for being a poor businessman. “We’d have paid you much than what you ask for the salvage,” Jack gloats. Harry retorts that “All I wanted was the guidance computer. You could have had the junk for nothing.”

On the moon, Melanie takes a polaroid of Skip. Curiously, the polaroid shows no signs of being affected by the moon’s low gravity. Harry informs Skip that they now have access to the Houston guidance computer.

Harry coordinates the return trip with NASA officials in Houston, and orders to Vulture to fire its engines for the journey back to Earth. Houston Control warns Skip that once they reenter the Earth’s atmosphere, the curvature of the Earth will cause them to lose the guidance signal. Skip will have to land the Vulture manually. As the Vulture lifts off from the lunar surface, the camera zooms in on the Vulture flag that has been attached to the pole that flies the American flag on the lunar surface.

As the Vulture rises above the moon, the coolant system springs a leak. The mono-hydrazine fuel begins to overheat. With no other options, Melanie comes up with a plan to use the cabin’s liquid oxygen to cool the mono-hydrazine. This means that the capsule will run out of air just before the Vulture reenters the Earth’s atmosphere.

As Jack overhears the chatter on the radio, he realizes that the Salvage 1 team is using the mono-hydrazine for fuel. Fearing that a crash of the Vulture could destroy the entire city, he orders the North American Air Defense Command to scramble its fighters to destroy the Vulture at high altitude if necessary.

Harry orders Skip to stop talking in order to conserve oxygen, as he and Mack scramble to come up with a plan to vent outside oxygen into the cabin once the Vulture reenters Earth’s atmosphere. Aboard the Vulture, Skip and Melanie pass out from a lack of oxygen. As the ship enters the atmosphere, guidance is lost, and the Vulture plummets out of control towards California.

Jack bursts into Jettison Control, and informs Harry he has three minutes to revive the crew or the Vulture will be destroyed. Mack realizes they can open a fuel vent by radio control, which will allow outside air into the cabin, but will also let in toxic mono-hydrazine fumes. Jack informs them that they now have only two minutes before the fighter jets fire.

Mack opens the fuel vent by remote control, as Jack delivers a play-by-play to his superiors. Over the radio, Harry frantically calls out to Skip and Melanie. He assures Jack that the pair are alive and in control, but Jack insists on hearing their voices. In the capsule, Skip regains consciousness. Harry screams that if Skip doesn’t answer, the Vulture will be shot down. The fume alarm goes off, and Harry orders the fuel vent closed. With a handkerchief over his mouth and nose, Skip attempts to smash the capsule window using the brass sextant. Harry hears the sextant striking the window, and insists to Jack that Skip is alive, and trying to break through the window. Jack screams that he needs to hear voices! The fighter jets lock missiles, and prepare to fire. With less than two seconds to go before they are destroyed, Skip successfully breaks through the window, allowing fresh oxygen into the capsule. “Don’t shoot!” he screams into the radio, and Jack screams for the fighter pilots to break off their attack.

Jack rejoices with the Jettison Control crew.

Houston Control informs Jettison Control that the Vulture is off course, and is headed for a park one mile east of Jettison Salvage. Harry asks if Skip can land the Vulture at the park. Skip replies “We’ll meet you at the sandbox.”

The Jettison Control camper cuts its cables, and forms a convoy with the military, emergency, and news vehicles assembled at the junkyard… and they all race toward the park.

The Vulture rotates for landing, and as it descends, park visitors scramble to scrape up their picnic baskets and blankets and clear an area for the ship to land. As the convoy screams onto the scene, the Vulture executes a flawless touchdown in the park. Our heroes have returned home.


One of the fire engines extends a ladder to the Vulture’s entry hatch. Harry scales the ladder, and opens the hatch. The world lets out a cheer as Harry embraces Skip and Melanie.

On the ground, Jack is visibly touched by the emotionally charged reunion.

In a televised interview, Harry announces that the salvage has been turned over to the US Government, and announces that they would attempt no more space travel. Watching the interview in the Jettison Salvage office, Skip asks what they are going to do for an encore… “salvage Mars?” Skip and Melanie then present Harry with a moon rock, the only one that wasn’t turned over to the US Government. Harry is touched, and the trio realizes that it is all over. Skip and Melanie wonder if there is any way for them to remain a team, but Harry tells them “the salvage business is kind of dull.”

At that moment, a City Councilman knocks on the office door. He informs them that the City has come up with a plan to prevent another drought such as the one that plagued them the previous year. He asks if Harry and his associates would be willing to go to the North Pole and bring back an iceberg. A gleeful Harry exclaims, “On behalf of my associates and myself… you got a deal.”

The Salvage score swells as the closing credits roll.

Written by Commander Taggart