I read this short story maybe in the late 1980s or 1990, probably in an anthology. I read it in English.

The main charater was an astronaut, male I think. He was in a spaceship orbiting what I think was Earth's moon but could have been another planet or moon without atmosphere. Something happened to his ship and either it disintegrated or he had to abandon it. He's left in orbit just in his space suit and either the orbit is decaying or isn't high enough and he is going to crash into a mountain/cliff. He is rotating as he falls/flies and I remeber a part where he said it became incredably important to him to know whether or not he will be facing the mountain when he crashes into it and dies. I think he was in radio contact with other people near the moon throughout his ordeal.

At the end he is saved because the ship/remains of the ship are on a path ahead of him and crash into the mountain, creating a hole/gap through which he is able to safely pass and I think this then allows enough time for him to be intercepted and rescued.


1 Answer 1


"Maelstrom II", Arthur C. Clarke. Pretty much exactly as described.

The astronaut is Ciff Leyland. He's leaving the moon by means of an electromagnetic accelerator which has a breakdown - he's launched, but below orbital speed.

The plan is to get to apogee and jump out of the capsule, gaining enough extra velocity to get into a low orbit (safe in the absence of atmosphere), and be rescued as soon as a ship can reach him on a later orbit.

He doesn't quite make it and is heading towards mountains, with the line you recalled:

This was the end, and suddenly it became of great importance to know whether he would meet it face first, with open eyes, or with his back turned, like a coward.

His capsule is in a lower and shorter orbit, so hits the mountains first, clearing him a path.

The kinetic energy of the abandoned capsule – a thousand tons, travelling at over a mile a second – was quite sufficient to have blasted the gap through which he was now racing.

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    variety-sf.blogspot.com/2007/09/… may have some useful bits to mine.
    – FuzzyBoots
    Commented Jun 3, 2020 at 12:04
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    Thanks - I've got the full copy here.
    – Michael
    Commented Jun 3, 2020 at 13:18
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    This is it. Thanks! Commented Jun 3, 2020 at 20:31
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    @Joshua, it seems to me the logic is correct but I’m not an expert. Can you expand on why you think he would hit it first? Also, Arthur C. Clarke was not an average writer; he knew a thing or two about orbits and is the last SF writer I would expect to make a blunder like that. Commented Jun 4, 2020 at 5:18
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    @Joshua, the astronaut jumps forward, so he's getting ahead at first, but I believe the capsule will still reach its (lower) perigee sooner than the astronaut his higher one.
    – Jan Hudec
    Commented Jun 4, 2020 at 7:26

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