There was a classic-period sci-fi short story about a hero astronaut on a multi-year mission that would land to Earth for a few days and leave again.

The astronaut has actually died during the mission, but the space agency haven't told his parents to not make them feel sad. Instead they have secretly created an android lookalike, that they take to meet the parents.

After the "astronaut" goes into his spaceship and leaves Earth again, we learn that the parents were also robots -- because they had died a few years ago, and the Earth execs of the space agency didn't want to let the hero astronaut know that and be sad.

1 Answer 1


This may be "And Miles to Go Before I Sleep" (1958) (also known as "But I Have Promises to Keep...") by William F. Nolan, which was first published in Infinity Science Fiction, August 1958 and is available at the Internet Archive.

This story was previously proposed as an answer to this other question (from which the above information is cribbed), but it was not accepted. However, it sounds like a very good match.

The protagonist is an astronaut who contracts an incurable illness (all bolding below is mine):

He had promised his parents that he would come home -- and he meant to keep that promise.

The doctors had shown him that it was impossible. They had charted his death; they had told him when his heart would stop beating, when his breathing would cease. Death, for Robert Murdock, was a certainty. His alien disease was incurable.

But they had listened to his plan. They had listened, and agreed.

The plan is to have a robot substitute for him on his return voyage:

Murdock smiled. He knew that a machine, however perfect, could not experience the emotion of sorrow, but it eased him to hear the words.

You will be fine, he thought. You will serve well in my place and my parents will never suspect that their son has not come home to them.

In the final paragraphs, it is strongly implied that the parents have hatched a similar plan for their son's benefit:

"Well," said a man at the fringe of the crowd, "there they go."

His companion sighed and shook his head. "I still don't think it's right somehow. It just doesn't seem right to me."

"It's what they wanted, isn't it?" asked the other. "It's what they wrote in their wills. They vowed their son would never come home to death. In another month he'll be gone anyway. Back for another twenty years. Why ruin it all for him?" The man paused, shading his eyes against the sun. "And they are perfect, aren't they? He'll never know."

  • Yes, that's exactly it, I remembered the title now (from the poem)!
    – Hejazzman
    Feb 8, 2019 at 8:27
  • @Hejazzman, Great! Thank you for formally accepting the answer, and welcome to the Stack.
    – Otis
    Feb 8, 2019 at 19:37

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