"Her name is the Arrow One. She represents 4 and a half years of planning, preperations and training, and a thousand years of science and mathematics and the projected dreams and hopes of not only a nation but a world. She is the first manned aircraft into space. And this is the countdown, the last 5 seconds before man shot an arrow into the air."
A manned space flight with eight crew members crash lands on what the astronauts believe to be an unknown asteroid. Their expectations of survival or rescue are bleak. Only four of the crew survive, one of whom is barely alive. After he dies, the three remaining men, Corey, Donlin, and Pierson decide to trek out into the barren desert to see if there is anything that might improve their chances of survival. When Corey and Donlin reconvene, it seems that Pierson is dead and Corey filched the water supply from his dead body. Donlin, the commanding officer, forces Corey at gunpoint to lead him to Pierson's body.
They find Pierson, still barely alive, who with his last bit of strength draws a primitive diagram in the sand with his finger. Corey then kills Donlin and sets out alone, confident that he will survive longer now that he has all of the water supply. Corey later sees a sign for Reno, and then sees telephone poles, which were what Pierson had attempted to draw before he died. Realizing that they had in fact never left Earth and that he had killed his partners for nothing, Corey breaks down weeping.
"Practical joke perpetrated by Mother Nature and a combination of improbable events. Practical joke wearing the trappings of nightmare, of terror, of desperation. Small human drama played out in a desert 97 miles from Reno, Nevada, USA, continent of North America, the Earth, and, of course, the Twilight Zone."
Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) (in association with)
Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) (1960) (USA) (TV) (original airing)
United Productions of America (UPA) (animated title)
"I got 15,000 manuscripts in the first five days. Of those 15,000, I and members of my staff read about 140. And 137 of those 140 were wasted paper; hand-scrawled, laboriously written, therapeutic unholy grotesqueries from sick, troubled, deeply disturbed people. Of the three remaining scripts, all of clearly poetic, professional quality, none of them fitted the show." —Rod Serling quoted in The Twilight Zone Companion
Despite this, Serling did end up producing an idea from an industry outsider when he paid Madelon Champion $500 for the idea on which this episode was based, an idea that came up in a social conversation between the two. Though Serling was frequently approached with suggestions for the series, such a purchase was never repeated.
Much of this episode was filmed in Death Valley National Monument (now a National Park), particularly around Zabriskie Point.
In addition to the usual opening and closing narration, this episode features a rare bit of narration from Serling in the middle of the show—after Corey kills Donlin, Serling narrates Corey's travels through the desert landscape. This was the last use of mid-show narration until season three's "I Sing The Body Electric".
The title of the episode comes from the opening line of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's "The Arrow and the Song": "I shot an arrow into the air, it fell to earth I knew not where." Serling also used this title for a prospective Twilight Zone pilot episode that was eventually shot, in modified form, as "The Gift".
The plot idea of astronauts thinking they had crashed on an unknown planet, only to discover that in fact they had been on Earth all along, would be adapted by Rod Serling in his work on the initial screenplay of the 1968 film Planet of The Apes.
This is one of several episodes from season one to have its opening title sequence plastered over with the opening for season two. This was done during the summer of 1961 in order to give the re-running episodes of season one the updated look that the show had taken in the second season.