I read this many years ago (80s or early 90s) almost certainly in an anthology in book form.

A spacecraft was in distress of some form, and had lost all communications, but somehow managed to cobble together a radio that could transmit in Morse, by then ancient and almost unknown. In the nick of time, someone managed to figure out that there was meaning to the pulses, and get help to them. I think they must have had a functioning receiver based on a vague recollection that they were instructed to send a pattern to confirm they were trying to make sense.

Something reminded me of it today, and now it's bugging me.

  • There are several stories (even a Space 1999 episode) with that plot device. Do you have any other information about the story? Apr 24 at 16:26
  • @cybernetic.nomad not at the moment, but I'll try to think of some. I'm quite confident about the test to see that the signal they're transmitting is meaningful, and I think it was after that that the recipients managed to find something in an archive to make sense of it
    – Chris H
    Apr 24 at 16:39
  • Resembles Marooned off Vesta quite a bit, but that doesn't fit everything (the astronaut ran into a small black hole, and tossed stones into it creating blasts of radiation detectable at his base. In Morse, of course. May 2 at 15:16

1 Answer 1


This could be Spaceship Medic, a novel from 1970 by Harry Harrison.

A spaceship passenger liner, the Johannes Kepler, is hit by a meteor, and the radio is destroyed. The crew manage to cobble together a receiver and a low-power transmitter, but they were not able to contact Mars - the output power was too weak. The acting captain, the medical officer, came up with a plan:

‘Something can be done. I know, I read about it once, a book or something like that, about the early days of radio. Something about code . . .’

‘Sure,’ Sparks answered. ‘Code. They used to use it maybe a couple of hundred years ago. We had it in history at radio school. Before they could modulate a signal to carry a message they used to just blast it out, then interrupt it in short or long bits in a regular kind of code. I guess they had a special signal for every letter. Then at the other end they would put it back into letters again.

By just blasting static, instead of modulating the signal, they could achieve higher powers. They also come up with the idea of asking Mars to confirm receipt of the message:

‘After the numbers send a simple message, just ask them if they can understand the code so that we can send more detailed messages. Tell them we can hear their voice transmissions, but will have to answer in code.’

The full story is available from the Internet Library.

  • That's it! I read a fair bit of Harry Harrison at the time, but my mental picture of a slim paperback led me slightly astray. It's not like me to accept instantly but the quotes are spot on
    – Chris H
    Apr 24 at 16:41
  • Great! It fitted so well I thought it must be the answer, even tho it was a (very short) novel instead of a short story. Apr 24 at 21:07

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