I'm trying to recall a sci-fi short story. The setting is during the Cold War on a space station orbiting Earth. The way the story is set up it seems as if the astronauts are American, and Russia has just launched a nuclear strike that has destroyed the USA. The two (I think there are two anyway) astronauts have the job of launching the counter strike from space to destroy Russia in retaliation. They then face the moral dilemma of whether or not to do this, and in the end make the choice not to launch the counter strike. It is then revealed that the astronauts (the "good guys" in this story) are actually Russian, and it is the USA who launched the initial strike.

I think the story was probably from around the 60s - someone like Heinlein or Asimov. Some of the details may well be wrong, as I only read it once, decades ago.

  • 1
    I have read a lot of Heinlein and Asimov stuff. That doesn't sound like anything I'd associate with either of them.
    – JRE
    Aug 17, 2019 at 9:15
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    Arthur Clarke, "The Last Command"? See this old question: scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/36305/…
    – user14111
    Aug 17, 2019 at 9:53
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    I remember "The Last Command" pretty well, and I think that must be what rt1870 had in mind, but it's a funny thing: I would have sworn I had read it, decades ago, in a collection of some of Isaac Asimov's stories, instead of Clarke's.
    – Lorendiac
    Aug 17, 2019 at 13:07
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    Technically the reveal would be that they aren't astronauts but cosmonauts. </pedant> Aug 17, 2019 at 20:08
  • A big country has been destroyed by a nuclear strike? I'm not sure that's what "*cold war" means. What would it take to make it a "hot war"?
    – user14111
    Aug 18, 2019 at 2:19

1 Answer 1


Arthur C Clarke "The Last Command" (ISFDB, Wikipedia), anthologised in The Wind From The Sun. It concludes

"You will launch your missiles into deep space and detonate them ten million kilometres from Earth. This will prove to our late enemy, who is also receiving this message, that you have discarded your weapons. Then you will have one more thing to do. Men of Fort Lenin, the President of the Supreme Soviet bids you farewell, and orders you to place yourselves at the disposal of the United States."

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