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I read this back in the 1980s-1990s in an anthology. It was a short story.

An unmanned cargo spaceship malfunctions and is on a collision course with Earth. Due to the relative velocity the collision will devastate the US Eastern Seaboard. An emergency meeting is called to figure out how to deal with the problem.

The chief in charge of space traffic control angrily tells the leaders that he had been warning about this possibility for years, but the leaders kept ignoring him. But he has solved the problem anyway.

Unbeknownst to the leaders, he had created an interceptor spacecraft that would knock the runaway cargo ship off course. Earth has been saved!

But since the chief had to fund all this with a hidden budget, there were costs. The interceptor was manned, and the brave people on the ship would die in space. It was a suicide mission.

The chief informs the leaders that the resulting public relations nightmare is their problem.

This is NOT "Sound Decision" by Robert Silverberg and Randall Garrett.

  • Hmm, I think I was thinking of this one when the Sound Decision question came up. WIll have to do some digging. – Organic Marble Nov 4 '16 at 2:05
4

I found it. Industrial Accident by G. Harry Stine (writing as Lee Correy)

From this EZine review:

The standard story of a Big Ugly Rock smashing into Earth uses an asteroid or comet, but there are other possibilities. In the short story “Industrial Accident” by Lee Correy (1980 March, ANALOG), an automated space freighter with 35,000 tons of ore is inbound to Earth when it malfunctions. It did not flip over at the braking point of its orbit and is now heading straight in to the planet at full speed and its engines are still firing. The impact won’t be an extinctionlevel event but it will cause an immense catastrophe wherever it punches into the planet, equivalent to 100 megatonnes or more.

Most of the story is about the political recriminations as the doomsday freighter heads in. No one had any method prepared for such an eventuality due to budget cuts, so a jury-rig is set up. Two manned spacecraft, the only ones available with sufficient mass, will smash into the freighter to deflect it away from an impact. It does mean the deaths of the pilots. The kamikaze mission shakes up some of the politicians into realizing that they are partly to blame. That ending is optimistic to the point of fantasy.

  • So it wasn't an "old" story after all, it was published in 1980. – user14111 Dec 22 '16 at 22:57
  • Yes, in 1980. Could have sworn it was older. – Winchell Chung Dec 22 '16 at 23:17
  • It does share the ending of "Sound Conclusion": the man who made the hard judgement call is going to be raked over the coals by the powers that be, and their career is over. – Winchell Chung Dec 22 '16 at 23:20

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