It was a short story or short novel I read about 35-40 years ago. The plot involved 3 astronauts on some sort of deep space mission. They hate each other, so spend their time alone whenever possible. One (an astronomer, I think) keeps claiming he was forced into the flight in a case of mistaken identity. The others never believe him. In the end the ship is destroyed and each crew member is drifting through space, alone. The astronomer finally drifts into an asteroid field that he spent all his time looking for.

2 Answers 2


It sounds like the plot of the movie Dark Star, which was novelised by Alan Dean Foster, and I'm pretty sure that's what you're after. I've only seen the film, so the details below will come from that (quoted from the Wikipedia article).

In particular:

With regard to Pinback, he may not actually be "Sergeant Pinback" at all; he claims he is actually liquid fuel specialist Bill Frug, who inadvertently took the "real" Sergeant Pinback's place on the mission after the real Pinback committed suicide by jumping into a fuel tank.

And at the end of the movie:

Commander Powell is flung into space encased in ice, and Talby and Doolittle are blown in opposite trajectories, drifting away from each other. Talby drifts into the Phoenix Asteroids (a cluster of glowing asteroids he has long had a fascination with), destined to circumnavigate the universe for eternity.

  • 1
    Interesting, looking into the link you posted in your answer it does mention that part of the inspiration for the movie (specially the ending) was taken from Kaleidoscope, the short story I mentioned in my answer.
    – onewho
    Jun 25, 2018 at 19:56
  • Yes! That is it. I didn't know about the movie, so thanks for that info, too! I can't tell you how long I've been looking for this story.
    – Kevin
    Jun 26, 2018 at 0:18

This sounds very similar to the short story "Kaleidoscope" from Ray Bradbury's The Illustrated Man.

The crew of a space ship drift helplessly through space after their craft malfunctions. The story describes the final thoughts and conversations of the crew members as they face their death. -Wikipedia Entry

Where details match up:

  • The book was originally published in 1951, so it would have been around 35-40 years ago.
  • Kaleidoscope is a short story that takes place in outer space, with the main crisis being the destruction of the spaceship and each passenger floating to their inevitable death.
  • One character falls into a meteor shower (possibly mistaken for your recalling of an asteroid)?
  • One character is specifically bitter at the others, at one point stating that he was blackmailing another character.

Details that differ:

  • Kaleidoscope starts with the ship having already malfunctioned and each character starting their drifting apart.
  • Kaleidoscope has more than 3 characters.
  • The events in Kaleidoscope take place near Earth, with one character falling back to Earth, and another falling toward the moon.
  • Mistaken identity does not appear to be a plot point in Kaleidoscope.
  • The story I was looking for is Dark Star, but I did read The Illustrated Man, so I must've read Kaleidoscope, too. Now I can re-read that also!
    – Kevin
    Jun 26, 2018 at 0:21

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