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Years ago I read a short story about a spaceship crew who were reviewing a checklist of equipment but couldn't figure out what one of the items was supposed to be (it was some sort of abbreviation). It was a military spaceship, so inspectors were used to make sure that no equipment was lost (and it would be a huge problem for them if they had to tell the inspector that they "lost" this item).

Rather than admit they couldn't find this piece of equipment they devised a scheme to report it as destroyed, and then they would be issued a new one and figure out what it was. They claimed it was destroyed in an FTL jump (or something similar). When this was reported, the high command immediately ordered all other spaceships grounded until the cause could be determined.

The reveal turned out to be that the item they were missing was

the ship's dog, who of course was perfectly fine and had been on the ship the whole time. They didn't realize it was the dog because the checklist item used an abbreviation. The high command ordered all ships grounded because they were concerned that there was a problem with the FTL technology that would harm dogs and humans.

I believe the story was written several decades ago, perhaps in the 70s or so. I think the author is fairly well known.

What is the title of this short story?

  • 15
    Sounds like a typical day at NASA. Are you sure it was fiction? – Omegacron Mar 19 '15 at 18:49
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"Allamagoosa" by Eric Frank Russell. Originally published in Astounding Science Fiction, May 1955 (available at the Internet Archive), it won the short story Hugo for that year. Plot summary from Wikipedia:

The story is set on board a military starship, the Bustler, but the tale is comic rather than heroic. The ship's officers and crew are facing an official inspection, and worry about having stores they should not have, or not having something that they should have. Checking, they discover that they are supposed to have an "offog", but no one has any idea what this is, so they create a bogus electronic gadget ("an imposing allamagoosa") and call it an offog to fool the inspecting admiral, pretending that it is a special device to measure the intensity of gravity fields.

As soon as they depart from the starport, they realize that it will be difficult to cheat a more experienced inspector in the future, so the offog must disappear from the inventory. Their great idea is to destroy it and report that it was broken. The captain sends an official report to the central command, explaining that the offog came apart under gravitational stress. Almost immediately, a message of maximum priority from the central command arrives: all starships must return to the nearest spaceport, Bustler included, for an immediate inspection.

Spoiler:

Too late, the captain and crew learn that "offog" is a misprint for "off. dog," the ship's official dog, Peaslake, which has spent the whole course of the inventory making a conspicuous nuisance of itself. The animal's collar, drinking bowl, sleeping basket and (the unchewed half of) its cushion were correctly ticked off the inventory list without alerting the crew to their oversight. Obviously the central command is worried about how a dog could come apart, under gravitational stress or not.

  • 3
    A dog coming apart under gravitational stress sounds messy. – Xantec Oct 28 '15 at 21:34

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