I'm looking for a short story (possibly a story set within a larger novel, but I doubt it) where the new commander of a space station is an impossible martinet, who knows nothing about how the crew needs to work to get things done in space.

Eventually he is touring the station alone and finds the air plant is completely uncleaned and has green crap growing everywhere, so he gets some robots to help and completely cleans it out.

Of course the "air plant" is actually a plant, not machinery, and what he has done is destroy the finely-tuned oxygen-reclaiming greenery and left nothing but sterile vents, which means everyone aboard the station is asphyxiating. They get into suits and wait for oxygen to be brought up to the station, but it's clear the martinet will be fired. Good riddance!

Probably a short story in an early anthology, 60s-70s.

2 Answers 2


QRM - Interplanetary by George O. Smith

I googled "air plant" robots clean "short story" and the technovelgy.com page for "Martian Sawgrass" came up, where it is mentioned:

The new Director of the Venus Equilateral station goes on a routine inspection of the "air plant" and what does he find?

"I found that instead of a bunch of machinery, running smoothly, purifying air, and sending it out to the various parts of the station, all there was was a veritable jungle of weeds... I had some workmen clear the weeds out."

It turned out that the "air plant" was - Martian sawgrass.

"What better purifying machine is there than a plot of grass?" shouted Channing. "... We breathe oxygen, exhale CO2. Plants inhale CO2 and exhale oxygen. An air plant means just that. It is a specialized type of Martian sawgrass that uses chlorophyll... We've spent years getting that plant so it will grow just right. It got so good that the CO2 detectors weren't even needed..."


This is "QRM - Interplanetary" by George O. Smith, first published in 1942 and collected into Venus Equilateral which has been republished several times.

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