I have a distant memory of a story which involves a person conversing with an intelligent space probe before it's launched on a long-term mission. As I recall it, their conversation goes something vaguely like this:
What will you do when you return to earth and humans are extinct and the planet is covered in dust ?
I will measure the dust.
Why ? Who will ever know the results ?
They will be known to science.
Now the thing is, it might not be a story in it's own right (I mean, there's not much more to it than that so far as I can remember), but it might actually have been a story told by one character to another in a larger work (possibly not even science-fiction) or even a movie.
Can anyone place this for me please ? (Author, and name of the story or the work containing it).
(Background: I think the power of the sentiment expressed in those few lines is fantastic, and I find myself using "It will be known to science!" to justify all sorts of activities of dubious value but high intrinsic interest... although the most exceptionally pointless projects might get a "I will measure the dust!" instead. But I'd really like to track it back to the source and see in what spirit the original author intended it as I have no memory of that at all.)
Update: thinking some more about this, and the possibility of a movie/visual media connection, I remembered I'd read quite a lot of manga/indie comics back in the late 80s/early 90s. The classic "2001 Nights" series in particular sprung to mind, and I can imagine the rather short story fitting the format quite well. I don't have my hardcopies of "2001 Nights" any more, but the whole series is (amazingly) available online. I instantly leapt to the story "I am rocket" (which is itself a continuation of "Discovery"), but while those are related in spirit, they're definitely not the story I'm thinking of. (There are 9 volumes with 80 pages each, unfortunately not particularly rapidly browsable or text-searchable. Maybe, just maybe, it's in there somewhere... I intend to re-read the lot over the next few days, but I'm happy to be beaten to it if anyone else can locate it).
Update (18 months after question was asked): I started thinking it might not actually have been "dust", but something else: rubble?... bones??... permafrost???. Bit of searching on Google Books led to the solution; see my answer below.