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All die but one, he continues to try to grow plants.... he dies at the end, but is successful growing stuff. I seem to recall the problem might be ammonia in the soil or the air..?

  • I remember this one, it's one of the old "classic" science fiction short stories, possibly Asimov. The astronauts had crashed on a planet with an unstable ammonia-based ecology/atmosphere. They knew if they could get earth-like plants to grow it would tip the chemical balance just enough so that the planet would become earth-like. In the end, the final ingredient needed was fertilizer from the main character's body. Now if I can just remember who wrote the story! – Joe L. Sep 29 '15 at 21:37
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I found it! It's Isaac Asimov's Founding Father.

Here's the description from the Wiki page above:

An exploratory spacecraft of the Galactic Corps, charged with opening up planets for human colonisation, sometimes by terraforming, crash-lands on an alien planet. They find that the ecology is heavy in ammonia, making the atmosphere unbreathable by humans, and the soil unsuitable for the earth-type plants they have brought for colonisation.

As they are unable to take off again, the crew spend their time trying to adjust the environment to make it suitable for possible future human colonists. Although they spend many years at this task, they fail and, one by one, they die of ammonia poisoning.

As the last man dies, the flesh of the buried crew reacts with the soil, providing the catalyst that alters the environment to become more Earth-like.

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