The opening scenes of Space Cowboys are set in 1958 where we see the U.S. Air Force pilots and astronauts in training William Hawkins and Frank Corvin testing a special type of new X-plane. Hawk decides to try and go for the height record and the pilots are forced to eject, only just missing another plane piloted by Tank Sullivan. The two pilots get into a fight when they parachute to safety and as a result all test flights are suspended and taken up by NASA instead. This means that the four hopeful test pilots will never be able to realize their dream of going into space.
Flash forward nearly forty years and we discover that NASA is faced with the overwhelming task of preventing the Soviet Union communications satellite IKON from crashing into Earth as it spins out of orbit. Unfortunately, NASA simply doesn’t have the technology or the know-how needed to get the job done.
Fortunately, Frank has what it takes and because one of his original colleges Bob is working as a project manager at NASA he is able to request Frank’s services. After a little persuasion, Frank manages to assemble his dream team once again, although they are now much older and slower than they once were. However, Bob has a few tricks up his sleeve and decides to watch what Frank does and then replace his dream team with younger and more experienced astronauts.
The two teams are forced to work together to save the day and it is a real test of youth over maturity. The older team also have to work hard to settle their old feuds and rediscover their strong bonds and ability to work together. Of course, it is all for the goal of saving the Earth from destruction and there are plenty of laughs to help balance out the more serious moments.