"Third from the Sun" is the fourteenth episode of the The Twilight Zone.
Quitting time at the plant. Time for supper now. Time for families. Time for a cool drink on a porch. Time for the quiet rustle of leaf-laden trees that screen over the moon. And underneath it all, behind the eyes of the men, hanging invisible over the summer night, is a horror without words. For this is the stillness before the storm. This is the eve of the end.
Will Sturka, a scientist who works at a military base run by the government, has been producing a great number of H-bombs in preparation for imminent nuclear war. Sturka realizes that there is only one way to escape—steal an experimental, top-secret spacecraft stored at the base. He plans to bring his co-worker Jerry Riden, along with their wives and Sturka's daughter Jody. The two plot for months, secretly supplying the ship and making arrangements for their departure.
When production of the bombs increases, Sturka realizes that time is running short. He and Riden decide to put their plan in action—take their families to the craft to tour it, and then overpower the guards and take off. Unfortunately, Sturka's superior Carling overhears the two men talking. Later that night, everyone gathers for a game of cards, where Riden reveals that he has found a place to go—a small planet 11 million miles away. During the game, Carling unexpectedly appears at the door; though he smiles and acts polite, he makes it clear that he knows what the group is planning. He also hints at trouble: "A lot can happen in forty-eight hours." After he leaves, Sturka and Riden inform the women that they must leave that very night.
When the five arrive at the site of the spacecraft, Sturka and Riden spot their contact, who flashes a light. When the contact steps forward, though, he is revealed to be Carling, armed with a gun. He forces Sturka and Riden away from the gate and prepares to call the authorities. The women, who have been waiting in the car, watch in horror as Carling orders them out. Jody suddenly throws the car's door open, knocking the gun from Carling's hand and giving the men enough time to overpower him. The group rushes into the ship, fighting off the guards that rush them.
Later that evening, the group has safely escaped their doomed planet and are on course. Riden comments that he cannot believe that there is a planet full of people like themselves. Sturka smiles as he points out on the ship's viewer their mysterious destination, 11 million miles away—the third planet from the Sun, called "Earth".
Behind a tiny ship heading into space is a doomed planet on the verge of suicide. Ahead lies a place called Earth, the 3rd planet from the sun. And for William Sturka and the men and women with him, it's the eve of the beginning in the Twilight Zone.
Preview for Next Week's Story
There's a Longfellow poem: "I shot an arrow into the air, it fell to Earth I know not where." In our story next week, we shoot a spaceship into the air and where it fell only you and I will know. Starring will be Mr. Dewey Martin and Mr. Edward Binns. Next week, we promise you a most exciting journey into space. Don't miss the takeoff. Thank you and good night.
The episode has also been praised for the way it builds up the tension to an impending nuclear holocaust, which was an obvious reference to the dangers of the cold war.
Third from the Sun is often thought of as one of the finest episodes for its ambitious direction. The episode used many new types of camera angles to emphasize the tension going on at the moment.
- Rod Serling as Narrator (voice only); uncredited
- Fritz Weaver as William Sturka
- Edward Andrews as Carling
- Joe Maross as Jerry Riden
- Denise Alexander as Jody Sturka
- Lori March as Eve Sturka
- S. John Launer as PA Announcer (voice only); uncredited
- Will J. White as Guard; uncredited
- Rod Serling (executive producer: Cayuga Productions)
- Buck Houghton (producer)
-  Harry J. Wild (director of photography)
- Bill Mosher (film editor)
- Millie Gusse (casting; credited: Mildred Gusse)
- George W. Davis (art director)
- William Ferrari (art director)
- Rudy Butler (set decorator)
- Henry Grace (set decorator)
- Ralph W. Nelson (production manager)
- Edward O. Denault (assistant director; credited: Edward Denault)
- Franklin Milton (sound; credited: Frank Milton)
- Jean G. Valentino (sound; credited: Jean Valentino)
- Van Allen James (sound effects editor; uncredited)
- Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) (1960) (USA) (TV) (original airing)
- United Productions of America (UPA) (animated title) [As U.P.A.]
- The title refers to the position of our planet Earth in its order revolving around the sun. Earth comes after Mercury and Venus, whose orbits are closer to our sun.
- The spaceship prop was the same one used in the classic 1956 film 'Forbidden Planet'. Footage from the film was also used to depict the ship in space.
- This episode is based on the short story 'Third From the Sun' by Richard Matheson. This story was first published in Galaxy, in October 1950.
- Fritz Weaver, who plays the lead character of William Sturka, is also featured as the Chancellor in the 1961 episode, "The Obsolete Man."