Project Distant Star Return is a project orchestrated by NASA under HYDRA's control to return an ancient Inhuman to Earth. Created in 2001, the project used the Monolith to send a team of 4 astronauts to collect data about the planet.
However, the project's main funder and leader Gideon Malick was actually using the project to complete HYDRA's original goal. Distant Star Pathfinder was the project's first phase, and its goal was to send men to Maveth. Distant Star Return was created to attempt to bring people (and Hive) back to Earth.
Thousands of years ago, a rogue Kree faction created the Inhumans on prehistoric Earth. The ruling Kree hierarchy, deeming the creation of the Inhumans a mistake, conceived the Monolith as a means of wiping them out by transporting them across space to another planet. An early Inhuman, Alveus, was created to lead an Inhuman army.
However, thanks to its great power and growing ambition, Alveus proved to be so dangerous that humans and Inhumans put aside their differences and banded together to banish it to Maveth. However, Alveus' followers, believing it to be destined to rule the world, formed a secret society with the sole purpose to bring their leader back to Earth. Over the centuries, that society took possession of the Monolith and became known as HYDRA.
Distant Star Pathfinder
In early 2001, one of HYDRA's leaders, Gideon Malick, approached NASA and offered them to run a space exploration using the Monolith. As funding was tight, the agency readily accepted the proposal, as it would be funded by Malick. The whole operation took place in the external Distant Star Facility under the oversight of NASA. While posed as a project to research the Monolith and explore Maveth, Malick sought to use the project as a means on finding Hive and bringing him back to rule Earth.
Sending Men to Maveth
In 2001, NASA successfully sent an astronaut, Will Daniels, and three scientists, Taylor, Brubaker, and Austin, through the Monolith. The scientists' job was to survey the planet on the other side of the portal; Daniels' job was to protect the scientists until a rescue team could come to retrieve them. It was expected the mission would take one year, but for some reason, the portal was never opened again and the four volunteers remained trapped on Maveth. The Monolith was later given to S.H.I.E.L.D. for safekeeping, possibly because S.H.I.E.L.D. was at the time largely controlled by HYDRA, while Gideon Malick became one of HYDRA's infiltrators in the World Security Council.
With Gideon Malick officially serving on the World Security Council and the Monolith stored on S.H.I.E.L.D.'s aircraft carrier Iliad, the project was put on hold. After the Chitauri Invasion, Malick abandoned his position on the World Security Council, intending to restart the project. During the HYDRA Uprising, HYDRA's undercover operatives on the Iliad attempted to take control of the ship to secure the Monolith.
However, despite the overwhelming odds, the S.H.I.E.L.D. loyalists led by Robert Gonzales and Bobbi Morse won the battle, and the Monolith remained in S.H.I.E.L.D.'s possession. The Monolith was destroyed a year later when S.H.I.E.L.D. used it to bring Jemma Simmons from Maveth, but Malick had other means to reach the distant planet.
Distant Star Return
Using his position of President Matthew Ellis's advisor, Malick orchestrated the formation of the Advanced Threat Containment Unit, the official replacement for S.H.I.E.L.D., which was outlawed during the first days of the HYDRA Uprising. With Rosalind Price officially in charge, the ATCU was supposed to deal with the emergence of new Inhumans following the accidental release of the Terrigen Mist at the bottom of the ocean.
However, as an overseer of the ATCU's science division, Malick used the ATCU's facilities and resources to create as many Inhumans as he could. Once they transformed, the new Inhumans would be conscripted into HYDRA to become the core of an army which Hive would command when he returns to Earth.
Collecting the Fragments
After the fall of many HYDRA cells during the War on HYDRA, Gideon Malick started collecting the five fragments of the Monolith that were cut out from the main piece centuries ago and given to HYDRA's most powerful leaders for safekeeping. At the same time, Grant Ward, one of HYDRA's former infiltrators in S.H.I.E.L.D., who recently rejoined the terrorist organization, started a campaign to reunify HYDRA's splintered cells. In the process, he was destroying the leadership of HYDRA's old guard and killing anyone who opposed him. With many of his fellow HYDRA heads now dead, Malick easily collected the stones.
However, Malick soon realized that Ward's actions could interrupt and maybe even completely ruin his plans, so he decided to eliminate him. But first he had to lure him into a trap. The opportunity arose when Werner von Strucker, the son of HYDRA's late leader Wolfgang von Strucker and a member of Ward's cell, abandoned Ward after a failed mission and contacted Malick, asking for protection.
Malick contacted Ward and offered him von Strucker's location. Kebo, Ward's right-hand man, tortured the young von Strucker, but the S.H.I.E.L.D. Agents Melinda May and Bobbi Morse came and rescued von Strucker, who went into a coma. Malick and Ward met and they spoke about von Strucker and Ward's goal, which was to destroy S.H.I.E.L.D. and kill Phil Coulson.
During a dinner, War revealed to Malick that he knew about the von Strucker vault, but he did not know what was inside it. Malick ordered his men to kill Ward, but he managed to defeat them and he discovered the vault was in Zepkow, Germany. Ward arrived to the location a few minutes after Malick.
Malick admitted he wanted Ward to be dead, but instead he offered an alliance, as Malick explained how Hive was born thousands of years ago, so powerful he was banished from Earth, and HYDRA aimed to bring him back and they were using the ATCU to build Hive an army. Malick vowed to help Ward destroy S.H.I.E.L.D. in exchange for learning how they brought Jemma Simmons back from Maveth. Ward agreed to help him and traveled to meet Andrew Garner and to transform him into Lash.
Gideon Malick suspected that Rosalind Price might know that he was HYDRA, so he sent Grant Ward to kill her. He sniped her when she was in her apartment and then he called Phil Coulson, who was also inside, and told him that was a revenge on the death of Kara Palamas. He ordered his men to kill Coulson, but he escaped. Ward returned to the HYDRA Castle, where Malick greeted him, but also warned him that his actions could jeopardize the return of Hive. Yet, Ward promised him that the plan would succeed, because he knew Coulson better than himself.
In an abandoned Distant Star Facility, Giyera ambushed Leo Fitz, Jemma Simmons and Luther Banks, who searched for the Monolith there. Giyera killed Banks and kidnapped Fitz and Simmons. They were brought to the castle and Malick asked them to help them bringing the Inhuman back from Maveth, but after the two refused, they were separated and Giyera tortured Simmons to get from her the information they needed. Fitz could not hear the screams of Simmons, so he volunteered to assist the HYDRA delegation to Maveth.
As Ward prepared for Coulson, who had informed him that he come for him to kill him, Malick convinced him to lead the delegation in Maveth and accomplish the goal of HYDRA. Ward agreed and he, Fitz and the team jumped through the portal to Maveth. However, a Quinjet flew above the castle, so HYDRA tried to shoot them out of the sky. As Malick ordered his men to close the portal, he saw Coulson jumping from the Quinjet directly to the portal. The team on Maveth dealt with a sandstorm.
After a few hours of walking over the endless deserts of Maveth, Fitz tried to take Ward's gun, but Ward prevented him from doing that and threatened that if he would not come back, Simmons would die. Then, one of the soldiers called Ward and they saw a structure shaped as the HYDRA symbol. Later, Fitz found a hole in the ground and escaped through it. Ward ran after him and found him along with what was supposedly Will Daniels, who had been on the planet for years. Fitz promised that "Daniels" would show them the way to the portal and begged Ward not to kill him. Ward agreed and Fitz helped "Daniels" walk.
On Earth, HYDRA brought a dozen Inhumans inside Suspension Gel, so they would serve the leader as his army. Meanwhile, S.H.I.E.L.D. infiltrated the castle, freed Simmons and barricaded themselves inside the portal chamber. Malick also discovered that Lash had escaped from the Containment Module and killed all the Inhumans. He ordered his soldiers to break into the chamber. They tried to do so, but the doors were reinforced. At the same time, "Daniels" led the team to the location of the next portal.
He told Ward that the leader had used to live in the structure they saw. However, another sandstorm occurred and they had to hide. "Daniels" killed some of the soldiers and he and Fitz escaped. After the sandstorm was over, Ward saw the soldiers' bodies, when suddenly the rest of his men were killed by Phil Coulson. Coulson pointed his gun at Ward and forced him to lead the way to the portal. Fitz and "Daniels" were close to the portal's location, when Fitz discovered that "Daniels" was actually the dark Inhuman, Hive, possessing Daniels' corpse. The two then fought each other.
Coulson saw Hive ready to kill Fitz and he shot him. Ward used the distraction and attacked Coulson. The portal was reopened and Hive tried to reach for it. When a standard firearm proved completely useless on Hive, Fitz shot the dark Inhuman with a flare gun, burning Daniels' body to a crisp. Coulson managed to defeat Ward and stood over him. Coulson, using his robotic hand, crushed Ward's chest, causing his death.
However, Hive survived the destruction of Daniels' body and made use of Ward's body as his new host. The dark Inhuman followed Coulson and Fitz, escaping back to Earth through the portal moments before the HYDRA Castle was destroyed by Zephyr One. When Gideon Malick was being driven to the airport, he encountered Hive on the road, still holding Phil Coulson's Prosthetic Hand. Malick looked on in amazement, knowing that he had finally accomplished the ultimate goal of HYDRA.