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Probably 50 years ago I read a short story about a space ship that crashed on either mercury or Venus and injured the pilot.

An alien shows up and can converse with the Earth controllers, but no video. The alien will do something that will save the pilot, but he needs to understand left from right.

I don't remember why it can talk to Earth or what happened to the pilot, but Earth had to teach the alien left from right so it could do something to the pilots heart.

I'm trying to remember how they conveyed that information.

  • There is a story by Feynman about discerning left from right; the twist is that after working it out and meeting the alien, if they raise their left instead of their right hand, flee! — they're made out of antimatter. I'll try and see if I can find it. – SQB Dec 8 '16 at 5:24
  • A yes, it has been asked before: scifi.stackexchange.com/q/117137/19561 – SQB Dec 8 '16 at 5:27
  • I looked and that's not it. No anti-matter and it was a first landing on one of the inner planets. I love reading Feynman, the humor in his explanations totally grabs my attention. – Paul Dec 8 '16 at 6:21
  • Then I'm sorry, I haven't got a clue. Welcome to the SF & Fantasy Stack, by the way. Have you taken the tour? Perhaps you'd like to try your hand on some of our unanswered questions in the meanwhile. – SQB Dec 8 '16 at 6:30
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    Someone asked a similar question on the usenet group rec.arts.sf.written but with some additional or different details: the planet was Venus, the injured spacer was female, she got there by matter transmitter rather than a spaceship, and the helpful alien has to push the riight button to send her back. Is it the same story? Do the added details seem right or wrong for your story? – user14111 Dec 8 '16 at 7:38
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This might be Amateur in Chancery by George. O. Smith. Google has a preview available.

If so, you've got some of the details confused, but I could still recognize the story from your description. From the preview plus my own (imperfect) recollection of the story line:

a space ship that crashed on either mercury or Venus and injured the pilot

  • It wasn't a spaceship per se, but an experimental matter transmission device.

  • It was transmitted, with a pilot on board, from Earth to Venus as a trial run.

  • The ship itself was unharmed, but the pilot was unconscious and dying, after mistakenly believing that the atmosphere was safe and opening the airlock.

The alien will do something that will save the pilot, but he needs to understand left from right.

  • The only way for the ship to be returned to Earth was for the correct button on the control panel to be pushed. If the wrong button was pushed, the ship would be destroyed, killing anybody on board.

  • The Venusian was able to communicate with the team on Earth, I think via telepathy, but without a common reference for left or right there was no obvious way to explain which button was which. (I think they were different colours, but the Venusian wasn't able to distinguish them.)

Earth had to teach the alien left from right so it could do something to the pilots heart

  • I don't remember this part of the plot well, but from discussion elsewhere I believe that the pilot's heart was involved, though not in quite the way you describe.

Credit: Gwydion Madawc Williams, on Quora.

  • No need to f*** with a Google preview, the issue of Galaxy with that story is available at archive.org – user14111 Dec 8 '16 at 8:38

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