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Read a sci-fi anthology sometime in the 1980s, though the story feels like it's from the 50s or 60s. An all-male starship crew is trying to return to Earth after performing some mission, but they're lost and for [reasons] are reduced to wandering from system to system.

The crew is in suspended animation between systems, and when they arrive at a destination, the crew is revived and a two-man scouting party is sent to the planet to check if it's Earth.

They've been lost for some time, and the crew is succumbing to despair. They lose men to suicide each time they come up empty.

After arriving at the latest system, the captain and a crewman go to check out the planet. On it are the radioactive ruins of a civilization (may not have been due to a nuclear war), which shockingly turns out to be

EARTH!!!!!

Additional detail (that I may be pulling from another story, but here goes: in the location where they make the shocking discovery, the room is filled with a thick (like centuries or millennia worth) layer of dust). The crewman laughs wildly then shoots himself in the head, the captain returns to the ship, sets the navigation controls to the next system, and records a message to the crew for the next wakeup along the lines of "buck up, lads, the next one might be home."

  • 5
    Great use of the spoiler tag there, I'd never guess in a million years! – moopet Aug 29 '16 at 7:56
  • Do you happen to recall how the space travelers found out that the planet was — don't know how to put a spoiler block in a comment — OK, I guess rot13 will do the trick — RNEGU??? – user14111 Aug 31 '16 at 2:34
  • Sorry, I added the detail about the deep dust, but don't recall precisely how they figured out it was RNEGU -- don't think it was a Statue of Liberty moment. – Joelogon Sep 1 '16 at 4:20
  • This sounds like the movie Terminal Voyage (aka Star Quest), in which a crew wake from hyper-sleep to discover Earth has destroyed itself during the journey. The first officer (now captain) immediately commits suicide. Others follow as they come to terms with being the last of their race. The twist is that they never left Earth but are part of a test on effects of hyper-sleep / stress. Coming out of the simulator they are met with decades of decay and find a guard dead in a chair. Opening a hatch they climb out to discover Earth has indeed blown to hell (whilst they were asleep). – Applefanboy Sep 13 '16 at 8:26
  • Having said that it was a common post war theme as a good deal of the media (and fiction) suggested we would blow ourselves to hell (on a regular basis). Add this to the requirement for lengthy space travel (no speed of light, great distances) and the sitiuation is poised. Clarke did it in his novel 2010 (although the Earth doesn't blow the Russian / US crew are under constant pressure as they wake from hyper sleep because of rising war tension on Earth). And as you say we had it in Planet Of the Apes. Sure there are many other examples. – Applefanboy Sep 13 '16 at 8:29

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