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After seeing the question about a woman trapped in the nose of a spaceship being burned alive by solar radiation, [The movie "Lifepod (1981)] it reminded me about another story I read. Probably published 1960s. (±10 years) In English

Some astronauts (3-5?) are stranded on Mars(?) and are running out of oxygen. I don't recall if they had crash landed, or their base had developed a problem, or if the supply ships had been delayed.

But by doing the numbers, they realize that if they all stay alive, the oxygen wont last and no one will live until the rescue/cargo ships arrive.

They might have been arguing about who should live, or whether to draw straws, when one of them says something like: "I think I will take a walk." The others don't realize what he means until he gets in the airlock and cycles through to the outside. (I think he did it in his suit, without an air tank attached, just the air trapped in the suit. But he might have gone out without a suit at all.)

Through the porthole/cameras, they see him walk about 100? feet before he falls over and dies. But the new calculations still show there isn't enough oxygen to last. So another one, "takes a walk".

Pretty sure the POV of the story was from the 3rd person to "take a walk". I don't recall if he was the last, and it was survivor's guilt that made him join his companions who walked, or if he was sacrificing his life so the remaining could live, or if the rescue was still not going to be in time, and he decided to end it.

But as he was walking, he was thinking along the lines of trying to walk farther than either of the other two had, before he would run out of air and die.

Something along the lines of: "Jones only made it 100 feet, I can walk farther than Jones, Ok, see I beat Jones, only another 25 feet to beat Smith, I can do it.

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  • Sounds a bit like a Lawrence Oates reference. "I am just going outside and may be some time."
    – FuzzyBoots
    Commented Apr 3 at 17:47

1 Answer 1

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This is probably Transit of Earth by Arthur C. Clarke, first published in Playboy, January 1971. The story tells of the last hours of a doomed astronaut on Mars observing the transit in 1984.

He will be the last of his crew to die.

These observations will be as accurate as I can make them. I owe it to my lost comrades, whom I’ll soon be joining. They gave me their oxygen, so that I can still be alive at this moment.

One thing I must fix before I leave. I don’t like the way Sam’s lying out there. He was always so poised, so graceful. It doesn’t seem right that he should look so awkward now. I must do something about it. I wonder if I could have covered three hundred feet without a suit, walking slowly, steadily—the way he did, to the very end.

That’s it. Everything shipshape and ready to go. The therapy has worked. I feel perfectly at ease—even contented, now that I know exactly what I’m going to do. The old nightmares have lost their power. It is true: we all die alone. It makes no difference at the end, being fifty million miles from home. I’m going to enjoy the drive through that lovely painted landscape. I’ll be thinking of all those who dreamed about Mars—Wells and Lowell and Burroughs and Weinbaum and Bradbury. They all guessed wrong—but the reality is just as strange, just as beautiful, as they imagined. I don’t know what’s waiting for me out there, and I’ll probably never see it. But on this starveling world, it must be desperate for carbon, phosphorus, oxygen, calcium. It can use me. And when my oxygen alarm gives its final ‘ping,’ somewhere down there in that haunted wilderness, I’m going to finish in style. As soon as I have difficulty in breathing, I’ll get off the Mars car and start walking—with a playback unit plugged into my helmet and going full blast. For sheer, triumphant power and glory there’s nothing in the whole of music to match the Toccata and Fugue in D. I won’t have time to hear all of it; that doesn’t matter. Johann Sebastian, here I come.

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  • Mars is interesting as a setting for survival tales, I can think of 3 or 4 instantly. One of my faves is a nice short story where a sentient city does the only thing it can think of to save a human -- Van Vogt I think wrote that one.
    – releseabe
    Commented Apr 3 at 23:36
  • 1
    @releseabe Yeah, that's Van Vogt's "Enchanted Village" which has been identified many times here.
    – user14111
    Commented Apr 4 at 0:00
  • @user14111: that is indeed its name and it has a twist on survivalism not seen previously. Van Vogt was extraordinary.
    – releseabe
    Commented Apr 4 at 0:51
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    "dreamed about mars"?
    – user108131
    Commented Apr 4 at 10:20
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    While I seem a bit off in my recollection of the story, this seems it most likely IS the story I remember.
    – NJohnny
    Commented Apr 4 at 17:19

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