The aircraft (an M2-F2 "flying wing") malfunctions causing a crash, which severely injures Austin, who loses his right arm, both legs, and his left eye. Austin's best friend Dr. Rudy Wells is a doctor and scientist who has been experimenting in the science of bionics - the replacement of damaged human body parts with mechanical prosthetics capable of not only replacing the lost function, but enhancing it to superhuman levels. Meanwhile, the secret US government spy agency the OSI has been looking for a way to reduce agent casualties. After Austin's accident, the OSI recruits Wells into replacing Austin's missing limbs with bionics, in hopes of creating a super-agent who is a cyborg.
Steve Austin was created by Martin Caidin in his 1972 novel Cyborg, which depicted Austin as a more cold-blooded character than that depicted in the TV version, which debuted as a made-for-TV movie entitled The Six Million Dollar Man in 1973. Lee Majors portrayed Austin in the movie and subsequent TV series. In the novels and weekly TV series, Austin's superior was Oscar Goldman played by Richard Anderson. In the original TV movie, however, the character was replaced by Oliver Spencer, played by Darren McGavin. The literary relationship between Goldman and Austin was much less friendlier than the TV version's relationship. Rudy Wells remained constant throughout the series, played initially by Martin Balsam in the TV movie, followed by Alan Oppenheimer and finally Martin E. Brooks.
Numerous changes were made to Austin when translating him from book to TV series. His tendency to kill people was downplayed and ultimately eliminated from the series. His bionics were also depicted differently. In the novels it's Austin's left arm that is bionic and it includes a concealed gun that fires deadly poison darts, and Austin also has numerous other replacements such as a steel skullplate that are not mentioned in the TV series. Austin's eye is given abilities for TV not featured in the books, in which it is little more than a glorified camera.
When Charlton Comics adapted the character for both a regular comic series and a black and white magazine, additional changes were made. Several features introduced in the books but omitted from TV, such as a radio concealed in one of Austin's bionic legs, were reintroduced, and in the first issue of the regular comic, Austin's bionic eye is shown to have the ability to fire a laser. In a later issue Austin's eye is powerful enough that he is shown viewing a man standing on a street corner from dozens of miles away.
The Six Million Dollar Man gave birth to one of the best known television quotes in history " 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 " Caidin's series of Cyborg novels ended by the mid-1970s, while the TV series ended in 1978. It began a spinoff, The Bionic Woman, in 1976.
In the 1980s and early 1990s, Lee Majors reprised the role of Steve Austin for a trilogy of TV movies. There have been periodic media reports of a big-screen reimagining of the series being considered. As of 2014, no such production has been made.
One filmmaker who attempted to remake the series was Kevin Smith. His unproduced script was adapted by Dynamite Comics for its The Bionic Man comic book. Many changes were made to the character and his bionics to update for 21st century readers. The comic ran for approximately two years before being replaced by The Six Million Dollar Man Season Six, a more faithful adaptation of the original TV series.
Austin's right arm is replaced by a bionic limb capable of bending steel, throwing an item great distances, and acting as a battering ram. His new legs are capable of propelling him at speeds upwards of 60 mph.
His left eye is equipped with telescopic enhancement, allowing him to see things from miles away; it is also equipped with other functions such as night vision, a camera, and a laser. One of Austin's ribs is also replaced and becomes the antenna for a radio transmitter concealed within a leg.