Start running in slow motion and imitating the world’s most
famous electronic echo, boys and girls. Thirty-two years ago this week,
“The Six Million Dollar Man” debuted on ABC television… sort of. On
Oct. 20, 1973, the made-for-television movie The Six Million Dollar Man: Wine, Women and War first aired,
marking what some TV historians (yes, they exist) consider the unofficial
launch of the campy sci-fi television series that introduced Colonel Steve
Austin, the world’s—or, at least, ABC’s—first bionic man.

However, Wine, Women,
and War
was actually the second Six
Million Dollar Man
television movie. Simply called The Six Million Dollar Man (and later subtitled The Moon and the Desert), the first
movie debuted the previous March.

Another TV movie featuring Steve Austin—The Solid Gold Kidnapping—followed Wine, Women and War in November 1973. Two months later, the weekly TV program began in January 1974,
which led many fans to consider Wine,
Women and War
the unofficial start of the series.

What many of these same fans don’t know is that the basis of
“The Six Million Dollar Man” television show came from the novel Cyborg by Martin Caidin. But the prose
version of Steve Austin was considerably darker than his television counterpart,
played by Lee Majors.

In the books, Austin’s bionics were markedly different—and
included a lethal poison dart gun, which he used to deadly effect on several
occasions. In an effort to make the character more palatable for television
audiences, the small-screen version of Austin took great pains not to kill his

While the literary origins of “The Six Million Dollar
Man” may be somewhat obscure, the TV incarnation left an indelible mark on
American pop culture. In particular, the opening credits of the show have
become especially famous, thanks to that familiar, well-worn narration:

“Steve Austin, astronaut. A man barely alive.
Gentlemen, we can rebuild him. We have the technology. We have the capability
to build the world’s first bionic man. Steve Austin will be that man. Better
than he was before. Better, stronger, faster.”

The visuals accompanying this easily recognized voiceover
included footage of a hi-tech (by early 1970s standards) aircraft spinning out
of control. Supposedly, this depicted Col. Austin’s near-fatal accident that
led to his bionic makeover. In truth, this was real footage of an actual
aircraft accident, which nearly took the life of a real-world test pilot.


What real-world test pilot survived the plane crash shown in
the opening credits of TV’s “The Six Million Dollar Man”?

Astronaut Bruce Peterson flew an experimental Northrop M2-F2
on May 10, 1967—a flight that would end in disaster. (Though officially a
member of the U.S. astronaut corps, Peterson never flew in space, serving his
NASA career as a test pilot.)

Designed to test the flight capability of heavy lift-body
designs, Peterson carried out the last of 16 passive glide tests of the M2-F2. During
the flight, a so-called pilot-induced
overwhelmed the plane, which led to Peterson crash-landing the
M2-F2 in a dry lakebed.

During the crash, Peterson’s M2-F2 rolled six times and
settled upside down, all of it caught on film by military observation cameras.
Horrifying as the crash appears, Peterson survived and largely recovered. He
did, however, lose vision in his right eye due to infection, with no real-world
bionics available to replace his sight.

In the land of television, however, no such restraints
exist. While Steve Austin also lost his eye to his “spacecraft” crash—as
well as his right arm and both legs—he didn’t lose his vision. Instead, he was
fitted with an eyelike 20.1:1 zoom lens and night-vision functionality.

For their parts, his bionic legs and arm came with super
speed and strength, allowing Austin to run, leap and—most important—punch with
extraordinary power and velocity. (Despite its five-season run, the television
show failed to ever adequately explain how and why the bionics seemed to emit
the signature electronic echo.)

Like all good superheroes, however, Austin had his own
kryptonite, which—much like most of the series—flew in the face of conventional
science. Under extreme cold, Austin’s bionics would lock up or malfunction,
suggesting that this “overclocked” human actually faltered in the
precise conditions that enhance the performance of most modern electronics.

While such kitschy entertainment may test the suspension of
disbelief (Austin once fought Bigfoot, for crying out loud!), it does make for
some super-powered Geek Trivia.

Check out the Trivia Geek’s blog!

Keep in touch
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, the
Trivia Geek’s online journal of rants, opinions, crazy ideas, half-baked
notions, bizarre concepts, wild schemes, and trivial observations unfit even
for Geek Trivia.

The Quibble of the Week

If you uncover a questionable fact or debatable aspect of
this week’s Geek Trivia, just post it in the discussion area of the article.
Every week, yours truly will choose the best post from the assembled masses and
discuss it in the next edition of Geek Trivia.

This week, rather than real quibbles, we have bonus
information to share. Apparently, several of you have strong feelings about
networking computers, as evidenced by the responses to the September 28 edition
of Geek Trivia, “Net
losses and Ethernet gains.”

Fellow TechRepublic geek-o-phile Bill Ward couldn’t help but point out that “Ethernet had one other major plus going for it that was a
major factor in its success: Ethernet allowed an amorphous logical topology.
That allowed Ethernet to scale better under growth conditions than Token Ring.
And it’s no coincidence that the Internet took off at the moment that Ethernet
took over from Token Ring.”

Meanwhile, TechRepublic member Darrell.jones reminded us that “the
other thing that criticism of Ethernet did was spur development of 10BaseT.
Thicknet was really not a lot of fun. Beyond that, Ethernet switching kind of
clinched the deal. As I heard [Ethernet inventor Robert] Metcalfe observe, the
Ethernet that won the race was more a kinship of philosophy than technology to
where it started.”

Thanks for the history lessons, Netheads, and keep those
quibbles coming!

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The Trivia Geek, also
known as Jay Garmon, is a former advertising copywriter and Web developer who’s
duped TechRepublic into underwriting his affinity for movies, sci-fi, comic
books, technology, and all things geekish or subcultural.