If your planet or interstellar empire is pushing colonization, you'll need to know where the good planets are. The office of Galactic Survey (whatever you call it) has that job.

Star systems may also have valuable deposits of minerals, but traditionally those are prospected by private corporation or independent miners — not by quasi-military agencies. In some science fiction novels (notably Andre Norton's "The Sargasso of Space") the Scout service will hold auctions for the right to establish colonies or to have monopolies of any trade goods on newly discovered planets. The former type is of interest to potential colonists, the latter is of interest to interstellar traders (both megacorporations and independent free traders).

Sometimes surveys will come in waves, with grand names like "The Third Uranographic Survey". Otherwise the surveying will be a constant low-level effort.


      Pioneers on this world have always been of two types.

     First, the restless explorers who must learn what lies beyond the next mountain, in the depths of the next valley. Men who set no roots in any soil, build no homes, who exist only for the eternal quest, driven by the desire to see—see—

     There were the “Long Rifles,” the woodsrunning contemporaries of Kenton and Boone, the “Mountain Men” who were one with Carson and Bridger, the breakers of new trails. Often unstable of temperament, plagued by restlessness, they swept out to map and explore continents

(fun fact: despite my last name of "Chung", on my mother's side I am distantly related to Daniel Boone).

     And when man reaches into space there shall rise other “Long Rifles” and “Mountain Men,” granted new designations, perhaps, but of the same old breed. These shall chart dim trails between planet and planet, star and star, across alien worlds where human feet will leave new, strange tracks. And yet never shall they be satisfied, but their roving will continue, on and out, and up—

     In the traces of the explorers tread the second type, the settlers, those who are willing to fight adverse climate, hostile natives, tough soil, to build new nations and civilizations. That same family group, which crossed the eastern mountains to claim “tomahawk rights”, producing sons and daughters who, a generation later, dared to cross the plains in white-topped wagons, will be found again among the space-ship voyagers who go to break the soil of Venus, plow up the rusty red dust of Mars, trail out into the galaxy driven by the ancient hunger for new land, or because they are in active rebellion against conditions at home. They shall take root on those worlds the explorers have prospected, and will face down the nameless terrors and dangers of the alien with the same stubborn spirit which kept earlier settlers steady at the loopholes in a fort’s stockade. Together go the pioneers of free space—the explorer and the settler—two arms of the same vigorous body—undefeatable by Man, alien or space itself!


The urge to explore is as old as Mankind, and in every generation, there are those who feel compelled to explore strange new worlds; to seek out new life and new civilizations; to boldly go where no man has gone before. It's easy to dream, but unknown lands can be dangerous, so only the boldest are willing to live that dream. Tales of these bold explorers are a favorite topic for fiction.

Before history even began, bold explorers (and the settlers who follow them) had reached almost every habitable land on the planet. Our oldest surviving tale, The Epic of Gilgamesh features the bold explorations of Gilgamesh the King, making this Older Than Dirt. In the Age of Exploration, starting in the early Renaissance, Marco Polo (re-)discovered China, Columbus (re-)discovered America, and Magellan found a way to circumnavigate the globe.

Though most of the world is considered explored today, the rest of the universe still beckons, and this is a common trope in both Historical Fiction and Science Fiction. This trope was extremely common in early Interplanetary Voyage stories—some of which actually date back to the above-mentioned Age of Exploration.

Only the bold need apply. Those who, through no fault of their own, are kidnapped to or ship-wrecked on new lands, or who are merely bad navigators, do not qualify, though their subsequent actions may prove them to be examples.

Note that this is such an ancient trope and so very much a case of Truth in Television that there is little to be gained from mentioning Real Life examples, as most people can probably think of dozens. A Historical-Domain Character can go under the proper medium.

May overlap with other tropes such as The Pioneer, who is specifically looking for a new home, though it's more usual for pioneers to follow the explorers. Intrepid Merchant is another one that frequently goes hand-in-hand with this one, as new locations often mean exotic goods and new, untapped markets for old products. Sometimes a state-sponsored version of this would be either an Ambadassador or engaged in Cloak & Dagger, likely both. Compare Gentleman Adventurer and Adventurer Archaeologist.

(ed note: see TV Trope page for list of examples)


      The empty grave was a regulation hole, one meter wide, two meters long, two meters deep. I looked up into the sky through the gloomy overcast at the blue-and-white globe that hung there. It was there, on the planet Kennedy, that the tradition of the empty grave had arisen. There, during the Fast Plague, it had been rare to have a body to put in the ground. The corpses had been viciously infectious. The only sure way of sterilizing the remains was to destroy them in the fusion flame of a grounded spacecraft. That was what happened to my parents' bodies—I remember the patches of dim incandescence in the cleansing flame. There was a an empty grave there, on Kennedy, a meter by a meter by two meters; on top of it a granite cover slab that bore their names.
     There have always been a lot of funerals without bodies at the edges of civilization, I suppose. There still were. A ship doesn't come back. Somebody pushes the wrong button and a ship explodes. People get eaten. There are lots of ways.
     Silently, I bid our comrades a last farewell, and we went inside. Once in our quarters, it took us a while to get out of our pressure suits and into our dress uniforms, with the grim addition of an issue black armband. I struggled into the midnight-black, high-collared, rather severe uniform of the Republic of Kennedy Navy. Joslyn, a native of the Planetary Commonwealth of Britannica, was thereby a loyal subject of the King-Emperor of Great Britain. Her uniform was a deep navy blue, with a lower collar, far fewer buttons, and a better cut. Both of us wore the insignia of the League of Planets Survey Service, a starfield superimposed on a rectangular grid. Both of us were lieutenants, assigned to special training classes at the League of Planets Survey Service Training Center on Columbia.
     Joslyn checked her appearance in the mirror. She said she was five foot seven and I was six four. I said she was 170 centimeters and I was 193.
     We, the survivors, should have been able to gather quietly together, drawn to each other by the bonds of comradery that linked us one to the other, and to the dead.
     But the government representatives here had to be treated diplomatically. Some were from nations and planets that opposed the Survey, others from places that were footing the bill. Captain Driscoll had to invite them, and many had come. Joslyn went off in search of drinks. I stood there and scanned the crowd for a friendly face. Pete Gesseti caught my eye and came over.
     Pete works for the Republic of Kennedy State Department, and is one of those rare people who can actually make you believe that the bureaucracy knows what it is doing.
     "The wedding aside, at least you didn't miss a trip to someplace worth going," I said.
     "True, I guess. Though the League should have picked someplace a lot better than this to train you kids. And I have a sneaky idea that putting you in this hole was the deliberate policy of certain people who want the Survey to fail, if you're interested in a little paranoia."
     "Mac—tell me this: How does Columbia rate as a training base for a space-going operation?" Pete has a tendency to snap from one subject to another quickly. He takes some keeping up with.
     "Well, okay—not so great."
     "Make that terrible. You guys should be in free orbit. That way, if you want to train in your ships, you just hop out the hatch and go to it. Here, since your ships aren't designed to land on a surface, you lose a lot of time taking shuttle craft back and forth. Makes schedules impossible. Even having to fly through this atmosphere is worthless as training. It's a freak since the terraforming engineers started tinkering with it. It hasn't stopped raining here for years, which must be great for morale. The air would kill you, so you have to wear suits. The methane leaks in anyway, and stinks to high heaven. The whole atmosphere is in transition: All kinds of crud precipitates and ruins equipment…"
     "Okay, you've made your point. It's not such a great base. So who is it that got the base put here?"
     "You kids are lucky this is my third drink or I'd still be a fairly discreet diplomat. People who wanted the Survey to fail. Those people had friends who arranged for some misguided members of the Kennedy Chamber of Commerce to lobby for you to be based here—if you follow that. They would like the Survey to fail because the British donated the ten long-range frigates you'll be flying, because your commander graduated from Annapolis, and because the reports are to be published in English. They think the Brits and the Yanks are plotting to lay claim to all the best real estate out there. Note Britannica, Kennedy, and Newer Jersey are the prime planets so far—Europa, for example, isn't all that habitable. There are some grounds for being suspicious. Anyone you met at this reception speaking French, or German, or Japanese, for example, would probably be just as happy if you had all been on the Venera when she went poof."
     My head was whirling with confusion. I had never paid much attention to politics. It had never occurred to me that someone would think ill of the Survey, let alone try and throw monkey wrenches at it.
     And then there were the rumblings that the Survey Service was to be stillborn. We had yet to send a single ship out on a survey mission. Ours, the first class of the Service, had been about a month from graduation when the Venera was lost. I had figured the loss would slow us down to a crawl, but could it really stop us? With all that to worry about, it was a lousy party, even for a funeral.

     In the vicinity of Earth's sun, the star systems are about five light years apart, on the average. That works out to about 64,000 stars within a hundred light years of Earth. Our home solar system is a good sample of what you can expect to find in an average star system-nine or ten good-sized planets, 40 or 50 noticeable satellites, and a few trillion pieces of sky junk from the size of a rogue moon down to individual atoms and elementary particles. There's plenty of variety that goes past the average to the incredible. If every human alive now, in 2115, were put to work as a scientist or an explorer, and passed their jobs along to every one of their descendants, it would still take a thousand years to get together a basic catalog of what we know is out there to learn within that 100 light years.
     Consider the infinite variety of Earth-the geology, the hydrology, the atmosphere, the biology, the physical reality of our ancestral home. Multiply it by the number of worlds waiting to be found, and you'll begin to understand the problem.
     Exploration is not something to do out of idle curiosity. Knowing what is out there is an urgent need, and getting more so every year.

     Around the beginning of the third millennium, the experiments were performed that took faster-than-light travel from an impossibility to a laboratory trick to a way to haul freight. Humanity, barely staggering into the third thousand years alive, found that the stars had been dropped in its lap. The explorers went out.
     Some of them came back. The settlers followed in their paths. More than once, settlers went out blazing their own trails. Very few of that number were ever heard from again.
     Yet, by the year 2025, the United States Census Bureau estimated the off-Earth population as over 1 million for the first time. Ten years later, the figure was twice that, and the pace accelerating. By 2050, rapid emigration and high birth-rates had pushed the minimum estimate to 10 million. Even to this day, the Census people try to keep track of it. At the moment, the best guess is 85 million people. That is, 85 million, plus or minus 20 million!
     The colonists went out, poorly organized, often toward nothing more definite than the hope that they might find a place to settle and live. Few managed that. One job of the Survey was to find these people, and to establish a reliable catalog of habitable planets, so the next generation of colony ships might go out with a better chance of survival.
     And we were to locate bounty, the incredible riches that literally hang in the sky. What new mineral, born in exotic heat and pressure, waited for uses to be found and a market established? Where were mountain-sized lumps of pure nickel-iron, orbiting in darkness, waiting for a factory ship to take possession? Where were the lovely green worlds waiting for people to come and live on them? What new plants, new animals, would be worth exporting?
     Surely it must have been obvious to everyone there was a need to explore. Just as obviously, it was a job for the governments of humanity to take on. Obvious to everyone except the governments, that is. Governments are supposed to lead, but they have been following the people ever since our race entered space in a big way.

     The first crunch came in the 2030s or so. By that time, there were a good half dozen colony planets—and a bad dozen. Nations and consortiums that certainly could not afford to do so established colonies anyway. True, the founding colonies had done great good for the nations that could afford the great capital expense. But a poor nation goes bankrupt long before its colony starts to pay any returns. The pattern was repeated many times. The nation, or the colony, or both, would collapse, and people would start to die. To the richness of space we brought war, riot, pestilence, and starvation. It happened in a dozen different ways on a dozen different worlds. The big nations, and the healthy colonies, many of them completely independent by this time, got tired of bailing out the failures after a while. The United States, the Asian and European powers, the strong colonies—Kennedy, Britannica, Europa, New Alberta, Newer Jersey, and the others—came to the conference table. By every means possible, they coerced the little and the weak to join them—The Estonian Republic, The People's Federal Protectorate of Chad, Uruguay, colonies like New Antarctica and High Albania, the O'Neill colonies, the self-contained (and self-righteous) free-flying colonies in orbit around Earth.
     Some big countries were part of the problem: China had pulled off some truly remarkable failures in space by this time. Many of the smaller nations and colonies were among the most responsible members of the conference: Sweden; Singapore, and her "daughter," the O'Neill colony High Singapore; Portugal; Finland; and New Finland were strong backers of the enterprise. The delegates bickered. They threatened each other. They indulged in back-room deals that are still causing scandals today. But they managed to come up with a treaty.
     So, on January 1, 2038, at 0000 hours GMT and Zero hours Accumulated Stellar Time (AST), the League of Planets came into being and its founding document, the Treaty of Planets, came into effect.
     By 0000 hours GMT on January 2, or 24 hours AST, the League was evacuating the hapless residents of New Antarctica and treating them for frostbite. The delegates came up with a system that works. Its basic tenet sets the right of a human being to live over the right of an idiot to run a government as if it were a family business.
     When the League came into being, ground rules were set up for the founding of colonies. Folks could still bug out and vanish if they wanted to, but fewer people did so by accident. Fewer people starved. When the Fast Plague came to Kennedy, the Interworld Health Organizations (which is one of the pieces of the League that actually predates it, somehow—like the International Court of Justice at The Hague) came in, and their aid saved us. There is no possible question on that point. That's why the Republic of Kennedy is very pro-League. There are other good things. There are fewer tinhorn dictators taking over small colonies with still-weak governments. Trade is reliable, not for gamblers anymore.
     I stood there and looked out at the gloomy night. It occurred to me that I must have been pretty naive to think that politics wasn't going to affect the Survey—not with a history like the League's.

     Captain Driscoll drummed her fingers on the the desk and muttered darkly to herself for a moment. Then she spoke up. "Pete, you tell it. Let me hear it again. Maybe I can think a bit."
     "Right," Pete said to her, then turned to Joslyn and myself. "First off, do you know how the Survey Service got hold of the ships you are supposed to fly?"
     "Donated by the British, right?" I asked.
     "Not exactly. You've got ten ships designated as Survey Ships. They used to be long-duration patrol frigates, the plan being to have enough of them to be able to send one or two into a trouble spot and have the ships' firepower hold things together until the political types came in and tidied things up. Now His Majesty's government contracted for 100 such ships with Imperial Shipyards, with a clause calling for an additional ten to be built. H.M.G. thought the extension clause was activated by notification, Imperial thought it was cancellable by notification. The contractor was a dozen light years from the purchasing office. The upshot is that the Brits got ten more ships than they wanted, and the bill for same. Turns out they didn't even need the hundred original ships. However, the International Court at The Hague ruled for Imperial, once it got that far. So the Brits had the ships with no budget for operating them, and no use for them anyway. So they leased them to the League for a pound a year. Think of it as their taking a tax loss. Now. In the five years since they got stuck, the British have lost a few ships through accident, and on top of that, they now have more real estate to cover. They decide maybe they could use ten more ships after all. The current lease expires in about 45 days-Earth days, whatever the hell that is in hours."
     "To conclude the story and bring you right up to date, your friend Mr. Gesseti has just broken a number of laws, regulations, and treaties to show me a diplomatic message intercept sent from London to the British Embassy on Kennedy," Driscoll said.
     "Some of the back-room boys cracked their diplomatic code a while ago," Pete said. "We pulled it off the relay satellite, picked it up, and read it before the British did-fortunately for you people," Pete explained, without a hint of shame. "London was telling the embassy to sort of turn cool on the Survey people. They're pulling their liaison officer soon, and they're thinking of taking the ships back, if politically feasible."
     "The cable predates the loss of the Venera," Driscoll pointed out. "With the British supporting us at the League, we could weather the loss of personnel. With our establishment intact, it wouldn't be 'politically feasible' to grab the ships this close to graduating the first group."
     "But, as things stand now, you're screwed," Pete said blandly.
     "So what do we do?" Joslyn asked.
     "Do. What do we do?" Driscoll pulled open a drawer, extracted a bottle and glass, and poured herself a drink. "We take our 34 surviving crew members, put them on the ten ships that are supposed to have crews of nine each, and send them out before the League bureaucracy has time to cut our head off."

From THE TORCH OF HONOR by Roger MacBride Allen (1985)

      Let’s get Columbus out of the way first. But don’t worry, he’ll be back for a curtain call.

     Two things: first, Columbus did not decide, against the prevailing thinking of his day, that the Earth was round and go off in three little ships to find a new route to Asia.
     In fact, the Greeks, as usual, were there first. At least as early as the sixth century, B.C., the spherical shape of the world had supporters, and the notion was considered proven fact by the third century, B.C. Plato and his star pupil Aristotle considered the spherical world in the “well, of course” category. (However they were quite sure that the Earth was the center of the “universe” and the Moon, planets, and “fixed” stars all revolved around it. Can’t win ’em all…)

     The second thing about Columbus is that he was very, very lucky that he was ever heard from again. Like most people back then, he was sure the world was round, but he had somehow gotten a prepostrous figure for its circumference, thinking it was far smaller than was the reality, and if there hadn’t been a continent unknown to Europeans, between him and Asia, he would never have reached land before his supplies of food and drinking water were exhausted. Keep that in mind the next time you hear someone complaining about America being named after Amerigo Vespucci when it should have been named Columbia instead. (Nevertheless, it certainly is the gem of the ocean.) Vespucci concluded, correctly, that the land he had reached was a new, unknown continent while Columbus continued to insist that he had reached Asia. And unlike Columbus, Vespucci was working from a far superior figure for the circumference of the world that was only fifty miles off. Finally, Vespucci did reach the Americas, as they would later be named, while Columbus, on his first trip, only reached the Bahamas. Sorry, Chris baby, but you were a dope, as someone once put it in a different context.

     Of course, I haven’t noticed a national holiday named Vespucci Day…

     Okay, the long-suffering reader may say, so an explorer’s life (or pioneer’s life—I’ll be using the terms somewhat interchangeably, so sue me!) is not always a success story, and as space exploration of the Solar System continues, hopefully not always by robot probes, and reaches beyond (keeping in mind that the Solar System is a lot bigger and more complicated than we used to think), maybe history, or a garbled version thereof, may be unfair to real achievers. Got it—but can we get on to space pioneers now?

     Well, one more point: before you can go somewhere, you have to know that there’s somewhere to go.

     So far, I have referred to “the world,” but haven’t called it a planet. That’s because the word planet comes from a Greek word (yes, we’re back to the Greeks; s’matter, you got something against gyro sandwiches?) for “wanderer,” and Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn—the planets visible to the naked eye—were called that because they moved, unlike the “fixed” stars which slowly moved in a mass across the sky with the seasons, but did not change location in the sky with respect to each other. They, the planets, all five of them that the Greeks could see, did change location. Some of those wanderers would even come to a halt in the sky, then go backwards from their previous motion. This is easily explained if you know that the Earth is itself a planet/wanderer, going around the sun with the rest of the planets, in the same direction but at different speeds, and the Earth, like a faster race horse, overtakes the slower outer planets so that an observer will think they slow down, then go into reverse gear. With the exception of Aristarchus (and maybe a few now-forgotten disciples of his), who argued that the Earth went around the sun, the Greeks bet on all the “fixed” stars being attached to a gigantic crystal sphere around the (spherical but stationary) Earth, while each planet was on a different, separate crystal sphere, each rotating differently from the others and, yes, sometimes stopping, then reversing course.

     Since the Greeks came up with this idea, they were doomed to never come up with a pulp like Planet Stories, pardon me, Wanderer Stories. Win some, lose some. How can you travel to the Moon if it’s attached to a crystal sphere, let alone take a trip to the planets, which must be even farther away because they sometimes are seen to go behind the Moon, and so their crystal spheres must be outside of the Moon’s sphere. Besides, the opinion seems to have been divided on whether those lights in the sky are named after gods, or actually are gods. If a Pegasus knock-off were available, maybe he could be ridden to the moon (they had no idea that the space above the Earh was not filled with air), but remember what happened when Bellerophon (not to be confused with a wrecked starship in Forbidden Planet) tried to drop in on Mt. Olympus and say, “Hey, Zeus, baby, what’s shakin’?” Those gods can be touchy about trespassers on their home turf, and the heavens might be a worse test case than was buzzing Olympus.

     Do I hear objections? (I don’t, of course, but it’s a useful rhetorical fiction.) Why all this ancient history, and, even worse, ancient mythology? The Greek gods never existed, and we can reach the planets and even the stars using time dilation at relativistic speeds, or generation ships, if nothing better is available.
     Maybe … but, on the other hand, are you certain there are no gods, or at least godlike beings out there? If Sir Arthur C. Clarke’s famous quip that “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic” is true, then won’t any sufficiently advanced extraterrestrials be indistinguishable from gods? Suppose they’re touchy about the savages (or worse, the monkeys, or even mice) dropping in on them uninvited.

     As for that technology … if the speed of light is indeed an absolute limit, with no way to dodge or detour around it, traveling close to that speed to take advantage of time dilation might still be unworkable. Back in the sixties, a card-carrying scientist wrote an essay in a book on interstellar communication, which he thought demonstrated that the propulsion required to travel close to lightspeed required technology that was not only beyond anything we might build, ever, it was impossible by the mathematics of the thing. The essay was quoted at length in a review in Scientific American of the book it appeared in. The magazine’s reviewer cited the article with an unholy glee, writing that “this will send the idea of the starship back to the cereal box, where it belongs.” Other writers with comparable credentials have attacked the premises and reasoning of that article, but even so, we can’t assume that time dilation will give us the stars.
     And there have been arguments why a generation ship of less than planetoid size would soon become unlivable, aside from the gene pool of the crew being too small to prevent genetic deterioration; and if the ship were planetoid size, the reaction mass to propel it would be beyond anything we can imagine.

     In other words, we don’t have a Pegasus to fly us up to the crystal spheres, and suppose the planet or star or the Moon is on the other side of that crystal sphere. And what if it’s some sort of magic fire (cue Wagner; I don’t care if it’s anachronistic) and there’s nothing to land on. And suppose the aliens, I mean the gods, don’t want you there?
     Columbus (I told you he’d be back) didn’t know there was a continent in his way to Asia, and also operated with a conception of the size of the Earth that was way off. How do you know we aren’t way off now?
     We’ve known about the speed of light and relativistic effects for barely more than a century. Do we know the whole story? What do you mean the Earth goes around the Sun? Next, you’ll be saying the Earth is flat and we’re way beyond that old nonsense now!

     Suppose I concede that we can never reach the stars, except maybe by a robot probe that will still be working somehow centuries after it was sent out at a pathetically sublight velocity. Supposed I concede that, as some spoilsports have argued, all stories about starflight are fantasy masquerading as science fiction?
     Even if it’s true. Fantasy is fun (“Hey, Conan, get your broadsword and run outside and chase off that dragon before he takes a bite out of the starship’s hyperdrive unit.”) In fact, I don’t concede anything of the kind, but so what? Stories of space exploration and pioneering are jolly good fun, and even if we’re limited to starships of the mind, I say, keep ’em coming, and with the fascinatingly strange aliens be handy.
     And while we’re riding in our paper starships, maybe some new breakthrough in physics, or mathematics. or even sewing machines (read Fredric Brown’s What Mad Universe and you’ll get it) will mean that we can go to the stars after all. We can take along a stack of recent issues of Scientific American for ballast. Or maybe give them to aliens we meet, though that might start the first interstellar war. But consider Magellan, who was killed by unfriendly natives while attempting to circumnavigate the globe, and though the voyage was finished (successfully) by his second in command, he’s still famous (can you name his second in command?), and has the Straits of Magellan and the Magellanic Clouds named after him. Not bad for a dead guy who didn’t finish the job.
     Still here, Mr. Columbus? Well, pull up a chair, Chris, and have a cup of Colombian coffee. Show us that party trick with an egg we’ve been hearing about.


A suggested Survey Service will be something like this (but you can use this as a springboard, feel free to make changes)

  • ASTRONOMICAL SECTION: locates unexplored systems and supplies a list to the First-In Scouts
  • FIRST-IN SCOUTS: performs a quick search of an unexplored system for possible colony planets. Also keeping an eye open for anything anomalous, valuable, or cosmically dangerous. Supplies a list to the Exploration Section and special alerts to the Astromilitary.
  • EXPLORATION SECTION: performs an in-depth survey of possible colony planets. And investigates anomalous or valuable sites. Supplies a list of certified planets to the Worldtamer Section. Rich mining sites are auctioned off to commercial mining corporations. Actual anomalies are reported to the Paleotechnology Section or other appropriate official research body.
  • WORLDTAMER SECTION: prepares the site of a pilot colony, performs light terraforming if needed, does an in-depth exploration of all the ways the planet in question can kill you.
  • FIRST CONTACT SECTION: deals with the possible empire-destroying consequences of first contact with a previously unknown alien civilization.

The empire's Department of Colonization then settles the pilot colony with pioneer-type colonists, and keeps track of their progress. Successful colonies will be opened to Free Colonization. In a liberal Empire, self-supporting colonies can apply for independed elections (instead of being ruled by an imperial planetary governor) and representation on the imperial House of Colonized Worlds or whatever. In a iron-fisted Empire, colonies that want to be free have to start a revolutionary war.


Chris over at Tales to Astound has been recently exploring the literary inspirations for Traveller. I wish to add a small discovery to that effort.

I've known for some time that the fantasy & sci-fi great Poul Anderson is counted among the inspirational authors for Traveller. Just yesterday I ran across a story of his that provides an answer to my question. His short story "The Entity", with John Gergen, appearing in the June 1, 1949 issue of Astounding Science Fiction gives us a look at the life of the Scout Service.  Also, it's a good story of an encounter with alien technology.

“Civilization could not expand blindly into the stars. Someone had to go ahead of even the explorers and give a vague idea of what to expect. Only Earth’s finest, the most ultimately sane of all mankind, could endure being cooped in a metal bubble floating through darkness and void for years on end and even they sometimes broke.”

...But here's the paragraph that has me convinced (emphasis mine):

"He [the expedition's captain] felt a loneliness as he stood facing the men. They were more than his subordinates; they were his friends. Only those with the highest congeniality indexes could ever have survived a survey trip, so rank and formal discipline were unnecessary and unknown. The captain was only the coordinator of a band of specialists."

Scouts that are really scouting the uncharted regions have to endure long stretches of isolation with a small group. You'd better be able to 'play well with others' in such circumstances. The astronaut Mann in the film Interstellar is an example of the Scout type that 'sometimes broke.'

While the 'laconic scout' trope is popular, if we take this story as source material, the key personality trait for Scouts should be a willingness to collaborate - maybe Liaison skill should be retrofitted into the Scout's skill tables?


Astronomical Section

This section is responsible for locating unexplored systems and suppling a list to the First-In Scouts.

The Survey Service astronomical section will use telescopes or whatever to remotely locate all the unexplored solar systems on the frontier. The astronomical section can weed out some star systems unlikely to contain habitable planets. There are certain spectral classes of stars which are unlikely to to live long enough to nurture a habitable planet, others are unlikely to have any planets at all. If the astronomical instruments are powerful enough, they may directly detect biosignatures, indicating the presence of life. The astro section can also spot the danger signs of indigenous intelligent alien species. An intelligent alien site will be forbidden to the Survey and instead will be turned over to the first-contact and military branches of government. Almost as dangerous are the remains of annihilated civilizations, these are revealed by necrosignatures.

First-In Scouts

This section performs a quick search of an unexplored system for possible colony planets. Also keeping an eye open for anything anomalous, valuable, or cosmically dangerous. Supplies a list to the Exploration Section and special alerts to the Astromilitary.

The scout section will send robot probes or manned expeditions to likely systems for a closer look at any planets that are possible colony sites. Sometimes a starship with a single person (called a "first-in scout") will do the initial once-over, and will tell Galactic Survey which planets are worthy of a full-blown expedition.

The first-in scout can be a robot probe, but this poises a risk. In alien star systems, there is a huge chance of the probe encountering a situation totally outside the bounds of its knowledge set and initiative. In Larry Niven's "Known Space" series, there are quite a few colonies founded on really nasty planets because the simple-minded scouting ram-robot space probes were programmed by people with insufficient imagination.

Scouts are also alert for anything valuable, anomalous, or cosmically dangerous.

Valuable things are probably rich mining sites or other resource sites. These are reported so they can be auctioned off to mining corporations.

Anomalous things are anything that doesn't fit. These are reported to the Survey high command to figure out an appropriate response.

Cosmically dangerous things are anything hostile, powerful, has star travel, and capable of threatening the survival of the empire. Berserkers, hostile military star fleet, imminent supernova capable of irradiating nearby colony worlds, planet-eating doomsday machine, that sort of thing. These are reported to the Astromilitary.

There are a few science fiction novels which start with a first-in scout in a remote star system stumbling over or waking up Something Awful. Which becomes the main threat for the rest of the novel (or trilogy). Failure of a first-in scout to make a scheduled return or FTL-radio check-in should result in the Galactic Survey making an emergency crash-priority warning to the astromilitary (RED ALERT! The scoutship Daniel Boone has awakened Cthulhu). Obviously the first-in scouts are sternly warned of the draconian penalties if they miss an FTL-radio check-in because they were goofing off.

First-in scouts will have some training in alien contact in case they are surprised. But in that case the primary orders are to run away and follow the protocols. The astronomical section does its best to locate planets with aliens, but it is not possible to be 100% certain.


Anomalies are things that apparently break the laws of physics, alien megastructures, a Sargasso of Space, killer planets, cemetery worlds; you know, weird stuff.

Scouts may find Forerunners ruins or artifacts, remains of a long extinct alien interstellar empire. There also might be Forerunner xenopaleotechnology, high-tech artifacts of a higher tech level than yours. Such artifacts are both incredibly valuable and incredibly dangerous.

They are dangerous because messing around with alien technology you do not understand can kill you hideously. They are also dangerous because pirates and rogue interstellar Indiana Jones types love to steal valuable things, so they are motivated to kill you on the general principle of Dead Men Tell No Tales.

There is the slight risk that the Forerunner race is not long dead but actually only mostly dead. If a Forerunner survivor becomes angry at you desecrating their tombs they will obliterate you with their higher-tech weapons. Even if they are long dead; their installations' automatic defenses, guard robots, and booby traps might still work.


The astronomical section tries to locate alien inhabited systems from a distance, and warns off scouts. But surprises will happen. Sometimes the aliens try to live stealthily (which leads to the disturbing question of What Are They Hiding From?). The system might contain a visiting alien ship, with too small a signature to be detected over interstellar distances. Many things can happen.

Scouting becomes really tricky if they stumble over unexpected intelligent aliens. If the aliens have starships, it is vitally important that they do not discover the location of any human planets. Priority Two is sending a red alert message to the First Contact Section.

But chances are any aliens discovered will be either apes or angels. If it is the former the scout can play god over the primitive cave-man aliens. If it is the latter the scout will be placed in an alien petri dish and studied in an alien lab. It is highly unlikely that the alien's technological development will be equal with the humans, no matter what you saw in Star Trek.

In any event scouts will have some sort of training for "first-contact" situations. Large scouting expeditions will have fully-staffed first contact teams.

The traditional way that scouts look for intelligent aliens is to check the radio waves for alien transmissions, and to check the neutrino detectors for evidence of alien fission or fusion power plants. This allows the scout to spot aliens at a range far enough to beat a hasty retreat. Usually.

And if the scouts detect gamma rays with a precise energy of 511 keV, it means they've discovered an alien civilization powered by antimatter, and should immediately run for their lives as stealthfully as possible.


After more than a century of space travel, Man's understanding of his own solar system was nearly complete. So he moved on to industrial development.

The next hundred years saw the evolution of a civilization in space. For reasons of economy the Belters concentrated on the wealth of the asteroids. With fusion-driven ships they could have mined the planets; but their techniques were more universally applicable in free fall and among the falling mountains. Only Mercury was rich enough to attract the Belt miners.

For a time Earth was the center of the space industries. But the lifestyles of Belter and flatlander were so different that a split was inevitable. The flatland phobia — the inability to tolerate even an orbital flight — was common on Earth, and remained so. And there were Belters who would never go anywhere near a planet.

Between Earth and the Belt there was economic wrestling, but never war. The cultures needed each other. And they were held together by a common bond: the conquest of the stars. The ramrobots — the unmanned Bussard ramjet probes — were launched during the mid twenty-first century.

By 2100 AD, five nearby solar systems held budding colonies: the worlds were Jinx, Wunderland, We Made It, Plateau, and Down. None of these worlds was entirely Earthlike. Those who programmed the ramrobots had used insufficient imagination.

From TALES OF KNOWN SPACE by Larry Niven (1975)

A ramrobot had been the first to see Mount Lookitthat. Ramrobots had been first visitors to all the settled worlds. The interstellar ramscoop robots, with an unrestricted fuel supply culled from interstellar hydrogen, could travel between stars at speeds approaching that of light. Long ago the UN had sent ramrobots to nearby stars to search out habitable planets. It was a peculiarity of the first ramrobots that they were not choosy. The Procyon ramrobot, for instance, had landed on We Made It in spring. Had the landing occurred in summer or winter, when the planet's axis points through its sun, the ramrobot would have sensed the fifteen-hundred-mile-per-hour winds. The Sirius ramrobot had searched out the two narrow habitable bands on Jinx, but had not been programmed to report the planet's other peculiarities. And the Tau Ceti ramrobot, Interstellar Ramscoop Robot #4, had landed on Mount Lookitthat. Only the Plateau on Mount Lookitthat was habitable. The rest of the planet was an eternal searing black calm, useless for any purpose. The Plateau was smaller than any region a colony project would settle by choice. But Interstellar Ramscoop Robot #4 had found an habitable point, and that was all it knew.

The colony slowboats, which followed the ramrobots. had not been built to make round trips. Their passengers had to stay, always. And so Mount Lookitthat was settled, more than three hundred years ago.

From A GIFT FROM EARTH by Larry Niven (1968)

“All I’m asking,” the younger one said, “is whether you think it’s a good idea.”

“And all I’m saying is that I shouldn’t – can’t – tell you that.”

“Why not?”

“I’m a first-in scout.”

“What’s that got to do with it?”

“Because I’m a first-in scout. Hear my meaning. I’m in a profession defined by hurling ourselves into the deep unknown with almost no idea of who or what we might find, then when we do find it, poking it repeatedly to see if it does something interesting. If I had a normal soph’s risk appetite, I’d have gone into Survey work, or the family trade, or become an accountant. I became a first-in scout because I’m chronically insensitive to caution. We all are.”

She took a deep breath.

“And that is why you should never ask me for advice on what’s appropriate for you.”


There are other catches, as well. The jump between "normal" space and C2 takes a big jolt of power. If anything went wrong with your power supply and you got stuck in C2, well, the edge of the universe is over that way, and no one knows exactly what happens once you get there. Certainly, ships have been lost that way. Less catastrophic, but still very dangerous, is inaccurate astrogation. An error of .09 seconds in coming out of C2 would put you roughly as far from your target as Saturn is from the Sun.

Navigation computers are good enough these days that pilots can feel safe with about a half-billion-kilometer miss-factor. The Joslyn Marie would shoot for about three times that, as we were headed into territory not as well charted as that on the regular space lines. Also, if we came out over the pole of the target star, as we hoped to do, we would have the best vantage point for us to look for planets.

Most star systems (including Earth's) have the plane of rotation of their planets in the same plane as the equator of the star in question. So, if you looked at, say, the Solar System from the plane of the Sun's equator, the planets, asteroids, and what have you would be moving in orbits that would be seen edge-on from where you stood. If you watched the Earth for a year-that is, one orbit-it would simply appear to move in a straight line from one side of the sun to the other, and then back again, moving once in front of the Sun's disk, and once behind it. From a point far enough away to observe the entire orbit, the change in size of the Earth's disk as it moves toward and away from you, inscribing a circle seen edge-on, would be difficult to measure accurately. Seen from the north or south polar regions, however, the orbits of the planets would be laid out before the observer face-on and so would be easy to observe. This in turn makes it easy to measure motions of planets and other bodies and put together reasonably accurate charts and ephemera of their orbits.

What all this boils down to is that it is best to come in over a star system and look down on it, rather than come in at the side and see it edge-on. Fine. It has been found that planets usually rotate in the plane of a star's equator. So how do we determine where the equator is? One star seen from another is a featureless dot of light.

The standard technique is to use the Doppler effect. Light of a given frequency has a higher apparent frequency when it is moving toward you, and a lower apparent frequency when it is moving away from you. The light doesn't change, the way you perceive it does. Obviously, one side of a rotating object will be moving toward you and the other side will be moving away. The difference is measurable over stellar distances. Very careful measurements can usually yield the plane of rotation, and thus the equator and poles, within about ten degrees or so.

Ten degrees is a lot. Stack on top of that the fact that the actual distance to a target star is rarely known to any degree of accuracy, and you'll see that there is a certain degree of luck in Survey work. Get bad data, use it to put your ship in the wrong plane, and you'll have to waste fuel getting the ship to where it was supposed to be. Waste too much fuel and you come back early, or not at all. It is possible to "mine" hydrogen fuel from an ice moon, but finding suitable ice is rare, and the process is a long and tedious one. You come out of C2 with precisely the heading and velocity you start out with. The stars orbit the center of the galaxy, just as planets move about a star. Thus, they move relative to each other. A typical velocity difference would be on the order of about 70 kilometers a second. A ship travelling from one star to the other would have to match that velocity shift.

The tug was boosting us up to our required velocity, so that we could match speeds with the star we were shooting for first. Once there, we would make any adjustments needed to our speed and heading, and begin the search for planets. We cast off from the tug and were on our way. Five minutes later the J.M.'s computers decided we're in the right place at the right time and booted us into C2, and we were off into untravelled regions.

For 4,000 hours or so, say six months, the J.M. did her job. We visited a half dozen star systems, each magnificently different from the others, each a sore temptation to stay and explore and wonder at for a lifetime, at least. The only thing that kept us from staying was the promise of fresh wonders in another part of the sky.

Not only a universe of wonders, but the woman I loved to share them with me. Those were the days of my greatest happiness. Each day I woke to challenging, satisfying work that was not only fun but useful, vital. Each day was spent with someone I not only loved, but liked. Each day was a new adventure. Each day, every day, was fun.

Imagine yourself standing on a tiny worldlet of tremendous mineral wealth left there by some quirk of the way worlds are born. Imagine staring up at the sky at a world ten times the size of Jupiter, knowing that the violent storms you see in its roiling sea of clouds are the birthpangs of a star, its thermonuclear furnaces just flickering into life. Joslyn and I stood in such a place, and knew others would follow, rushing to extract the treasure beneath our feet before the fireball came to full life and expanded out into space, leaving nothing but cinders where we stood. The end for that world will come in a human lifetime, or perhaps twice that.

Imagine two worlds the size of Earth's moon that revolve around each other, separated from each other by less than 3,000 kilometers. Tidal forces have spawned endless earthquakes and utterly shattered the surfaces of the twin worlds. We named them Romulus and Remus. One day they will smash into each other and leave only rocks careering through the void.

Imagine a world where the air is fresh and sweet, and life very like that on Earth fills the seas and skies and land. There I found—something. I say it is a piece of worked metal. Joslyn thinks it is a chance piece of nature's work, a glob of alloy spat out of a volcano and shaped by the caprice of water and weather. Humanity will settle there soon, and I hope some child born there will dig one place, dig another, and one day prove that ours are not the only minds to have touched that place.

Joslyn and I lived to wander the sky and do as we pleased. It was the happiest time of our life together.

And then they found us.

From THE TORCH OF HONOR by Roger MacBride Allen (1985)

Survey teams had early discovered the advantage of using mutated and highly trained Terran animals as assistants in the exploration of strange worlds. From the biological laboratories and breeding farms on Terra came a trickle of specialized assistants to accompany man into space. Some were fighters, silent, more deadly than weapons a man wore at his belt or carried in his hands. Some were keener eyes, keener noses, keener scouts than the human kind could produce. Bred for intelligence, for size, for adaptability to alien conditions, the animal explorers from Terra were prized.

Wolverines, the ancient “devils” of the northlands on Terra, were being tried for the first time on Warlock. Their caution, a quality highly developed in their breed, made them testers for new territory. Able to tackle in battle an animal three times their size, they should be added protection for the man they accompanied into the wilderness. Their wide ranging, their ability to climb and swim, and above all, their curiosity were significant assets.

From STORM OVER WARLOCK by Andre Norton (1960)

In a galaxy whose system was based on perfect order, uniformity, harmony, and a firm belief in natural laws, the Warden Diamond was an insane asylum. It seemed to exist as a natural counterpoint to everyplace else, the opposite of everything the rest of the Confederacy was or even believed in.

Halden Warden, a scout for the Confederacy, had discovered the system, nearly two hundred years earlier, when the Diamond was far outside the administrative area of the Confederacy. Warden was something of a legend among scouts, a man who disliked most everything about civilization, not the least other people. Such extreme antisocial tendencies would have been dealt with in the normal course of events, but there was an entire discipline of psychology devoted to discovering and developing antisocial traits that could benefit society. The fact was, only people with personalities like Warden's could stand the solitude, the years without companionship, the physical and mental hardships of deep-space scouting. No sane person in Confederation society, up to Confederation standards, would ever take a job like that.

Warden was worse than most. He spent as little time as possible in "civilization," often just long enough to refuel and reprovision. He flew farther, longer, and more often than any other scout before or since, and his discoveries were astonishing in their number alone.

Unfortunately for his bosses back in the Confederacy, Warden felt that discovery was his only purpose. He left just about everything else, including preliminary surveys and reports, to those who would use his beamed coordinates to follow him. Not that he didn't make the surveys—he just communicated as little with the Confederacy as possible, often in infuriating ways.

Thus, when the signal "4AW" came in, there was enormous excitement and anticipation—four human-habitable planets in one system! Such a phenomenon was simply unheard of, beyond all statistical probabilities, particularly considering that only one in four thousand solar systems contained anything remotely of use. They waited anxiously for the laconic scout to tell them what he would name the new worlds and to give his preliminary survey descriptions of them, waited anxiously not only in anticipation of a great discovery, but also with trepidation at just what Crazy Warden would say and whether or not his message could be deciphered.

And then came the details, confirming their worst fears. He followed form, though, closest in to farthest out from the sun.

"Charon," came the first report. "Looks like Hell.

"Lilith," he continued. "Anything that pretty's got to have a snake in it.

"Cerberus," he named the third. "Looks like a real dog."

And finally, "Medusa: Anybody who lives here would have to have rocks in his head."

The coordinates followed, along with a code confirming that Warden had done remote, not direct, exploration—that is, he hadn't landed, something that was always his option—and a final code, "ZZ," which filled the Confederacy with apprehension. It meant that there was something very odd about the place, so approach with extreme caution.

Cursing Crazy Warden for giving them nothing at all to go on, they mounted the standard maximum-caution expedition—a full-scale scientific expedition, with two hundred of the best, most experienced Exploiter Team members aboard, backed up by four heavy cruisers armed to the teeth.

The big trouble with Warden's descriptions was that they were almost always right—only you never figured out quite what he meant until you got there.

From LILITH: A SNAKE IN THE GRASS by Jack L. Chalker (1981)

The rack of travel disks might have been taken out of a spacer — perhaps it had been.

He studied that rack, his lips shaping numbers as he counted the disks, each in its own slot. More than a hundred worlds — keys to more than a hundred worlds — all visited at some time or another by Renfry Fentress. And any one of those, fitted into the auto-pilot of a spacer could take a man to that world —

Blue tapes first — worlds explored by Fentress, now open for colonization — ten of those, a record of which to be proud. Yellow disks — worlds that would not support human life. Green — inhabited by native races, open for trade, closed to human settlement. Red — Diskan eyed the red. There were three of those at the bottom of the case.

Red meant unknown — worlds on which only one landing had been made, reported, but not yet checked out fully as useful or otherwise. Empty of intelligent life, yes, possible for human life as to climate and atmosphere, but planets that posed some kind of puzzle. What could such puzzles be, Diskan speculated, for a moment pulled from his own concerns to wonder. Any one of a hundred reasons could mark a world red — to await further exploration.

From THE X FACTOR by Andre Norton (1965)

      The Monitor Corps scoutship Torrance was engaged on a mission which was both highly important and deadly dull. Like the other units of its flotilla it had been assigned a relatively tiny volume of space in Sector Nine—one of the many three-dimensional blanks which still appeared in the Federation’s charts—to fill in the types and positions of the stars which it contained and the numbers of planets circling them.

     Because a ten-man scoutship did not have the facilities for handling a first contact situation, they were forbidden to land or even make a close approach to these planets. They would identify the technologically advanced worlds, if any, by analyzing the radio frequency and other forms of radiation emanating from them (if they did find any technologically advanced worlds, they must retreat and alert the First Contact section. Unless they are surprised by aliens). As Major Madden, the vessel’s captain, had told them at the start of the mission, they were simply going to count lights in the sky and that was all.

     Naturally, Fate could not resist a temptation like that

From SPACEBIRD by James White (1973)

(ed note: in James White's Sector General series, there is only one way to make a faster-than-light ship distress beacon. So the same kind of beacon is used by alien species that the Federation has not discovered yet. In the interests of first contact with as many new species as possible, the Federation has created a sort of ambulance spacecraft. Its primary purpose is to go rescue Federation starships in distress. But if perchance a distress beacon from an unknown race is heard, the ambulance tries to make first contact while simultaneously rendering help. This is not technically first-in scouting, but is close enough)

      “You must understand, Doctor,” Fletcher went on, “that the first three pieces of wreckage investigated offered the greatest possibilities of finding survivors, and since then, the likelihood of finding one has diminished sharply, as have the sizes of the collections of debris with every piece we look at. Unless you believe in miracles, Doctor, we are wasting our time here.”

     “I see,” said Conway.

     “If it will help you reach a decision, Doctor,” the Captain went on, “I can tell you that subspace radio conditions are very good out here, and we have already made two-way contact with the survey and Cultural Contact cruiser Descartes, which I am required to do when evidence of a new intelligent species is discovered. As a matter of urgency the Descartes will investigate this wreckage with a view to obtaining all available data on the new species, and by analyzing the velocities and directions of those species, will roughly establish the alien ship’s point of departure and its destination. There are relatively few stars out here, so they should locate the home planet and star system fairly easily, because they are specialists at that job. Quite possibly, communications will be established with the aliens within a few weeks, perhaps sooner. As well, the Descartes carries two planetary landers, which in space double as close-range search and rescue vessels. They won’t have Prilicla on board, naturally, but those ships could cover the remaining wreckage much faster than we could, Doctor.”

From QUARANTINE by James White (1979)

      It was raining and the LT was grumbling. As the seven of us moved around, setting up the tents and securing the perimeter with breach detectors, he set his backpack down and looked around at the desolate area of peaks and rock spheres as far as the eye could see and muttered a long complaint from which the words “nerd army” and “I must have been crazy” emerged.

     I traded a look with Sergeant Miller as he came over to help me affix the breach detector to a rock spire nearby. Sarge’s eyes wrinkled a bit at the corner, but he didn’t say anything, but “Having trouble with that, Bronk?” I nodded. Technically my name and designation is Specialist First Class (Xenobiology) Bronkowsky of the Earth Exploration Corps. But just about everyone called me Bronk, and from the Sarge that was almost a compliment.

     He was a hard-worn man of about fifty and he’d done countless drops. The people he’d led on their first exploration-drop now occupied positions everywhere, at every level, from Cabinet positions on several worlds, down to big names in research and science. But he’d chosen to stay out here, leading parties through space gates onto newly discovered planets. For the fun of it, I suspected. Though of course the bounty for clearing a new planet was fabulous and he was probably by now a many times multi-billionaire.

     You wouldn’t know it, as he fumbled at the sensor with clumsy-looking fingers, until he got the nanites embedded at the back of it to do whatever they needed to do to stick to the rock spire. “Well, you know,” he said, speaking in a very low voice, and with every appearance of giving me some instruction about the apparatus supposed to detect any sort of intrusion—electromagnetic, infrared or biological—into our perimeter. “The LT transferred from what it pleases him to call the real army. He might be consorting with us, but he will always think he’s better than us. He doesn’t even think our ranks are real.”

     “Yes, sergeant,” I said. “But the thing is, that I don’t know why he transferred, if he thinks we’re all so weird.”
     “Yeah, but the real army, as he calls it, the people who come after us to make sure the world is safe for colonists, don’t get paid a tenth of what we do.”

     I nodded, and moved off to set up another perimeter sensor. I knew that. We all knew that. I’d always assumed it was because the EEC, or as they called us, the Nerd army required a heck of a lot more of education. All of us had at least graduate-level training in our disciplines by the time we joined, and to that more was added during EEC induction. There were few people out in the civilian population as trained as we were.

     Had to be. We were the first people through to a new location. All that had been on this planet, once we’d first been able to open a gateway to it, were automated probes. And automated probes didn’t get everything. Or even most of it. There had been that sentient planet, in the Hesperides which had not reacted at all to the probes, but had killed every man jack of the first three landing parties, before someone figured out what was wrong and closed that gateway for good.

     And then there were the risks which awaited parties landing on planets with species that might be sentient, but which had no concept of machines, and thereby had left the first probes alone.

     When I’d been a kid, back on Arrois, my dad said that even on our planet, so seemingly peaceful as it was, the first five exploration groups had been killed because of a microbe that could infect humans—a rare occurrence and which drove them mad. This is why before the EEC was the Nerd Corps, the popular name for us had been the half hour men. Because that’s how long you could expect to live on any given planet.

     The instruments had gotten better, though, and we’d gotten better as well. Our training now allowed many of us to survive to a ripe old age. The others— Well, colonists would find it odd if they came through a newly opened planet and didn’t find half a dozen of graves marked with name, rank and the symbol of the EEC. There was a reason we carried markers in our basic kit.

From WHO GOES BOING? by Sarah Hoyt (2015)

      My twin brother Frank and I were just back on the ranch from college. Magazines were full of diagrams of space-ships and living quarters for other worlds. There was recruiting ballyhoo on the television. At night we could sometimes see the fire-trails of rockets, outward bound from nearby White Sands, New Mexico. It became like drums beating in our blood.
     “They need lots of young engineers like us, Dave," Frank said to me. He was leaning against the corner of the house. It was evening. “On the moon now—then gosh knows where.”
     “Sure,” I answered, feeling both excited and sad. “The only question is, what do we do with Joe?”
     Just then Joe Whiteskunk was fixing a fence not a hundred yards off. With the deliberation of a rivulet washing away a mountain—as usual. Joe, who had come from Oklahoma with our Dad long ago. Joe, who might have made an oil-fortune if a slicker hadn’t cheated him of his claim. Joe, who resembled gnarled mahogany. Sixty-five years old, he was, if a day. He didn’t know exactly himself.
     Frank is no guy to beat around the bush. “Got to tell him what we mean to do,” he said.
     So we did. I began it with, “Look, Joe…”
     For awhile he didn’t seem to have heard. He just kept on working at that fence. But at last he said, “I go too.”
     I won’t say that I was exactly surprised. I figured I knew Joe. Maybe he thought the Moon was something like Texas or California.
     “You’ve got to know something special, Joe,” I said patiently. “Like Dave, here. He knows all about air-conditioning.”
     Joe’s face remained as deadpan as if he were a wooden Indian rather than a real one. “I know plenty special,” he answered after a moment. “Hunt—track—new place—good. Plenty game.”
     Something in the glint of his black eyes told me that he was way back in his youth.

     So the next morning we drove into White Sands with him. There, in the offices of Unified Lunar Enterprises, Frank and I knew beforehand just about what we’d have to write of ourselves in the application blanks they gave us. We had our specialties.
     About Joe? Well—you know. He got a look as if he was at least a little loopy—the hopeless sort of character that keeps popping up all the time, asking foolish questions. Like the guy ninety years old who tried to enlist in the Army.
     “Come back in fifty years,” he was told indulgently. “Maybe by then the Moon will be changed enough by science so that there are woods and game on it.”
     Joe looked a little puzzled. That was all. Of course this wasn’t funny now for Frank and me. What could you do ? Life consists of living and learning.

     So, that night, strapped to chairs in a cabin that looked like the inside of a bus, Frank and I were sick as dogs in the absence of gravity as the sharp stars of space blossomed beyond the window-ports around us. Facing the prospect of living on the Moon—an idea somehow out of tune with the instincts in human entrails, even when you’re an enlightened young man—we were scared half to death.
     “Good thing Joe couldn’t come,' Frank grunted. “He wouldn’t understand anything. He’d die—just as if he’d suddenly found himself in an unnamed hell.”
     Right then we weren’t very inspiring symbols of the pioneering urges of the human race.
     Had we known that at that very moment old Joe Whiteskunk was huddled in the darkest corner of the dark baggage compartment of our spaceship we would really have blown our tops. Because in such a place during a Lunar hop a man could freeze to death or suffocate easily. Even if he were a trained scientist, who knew how to protect himself.

     WHILE quarters and bunks were being assigned the cry of “Stowaway!” arose. Right away I had a premonition that put my heart in my mouth.
     Then they carried Joe in, tucked into a suit of space-armor. The story of what he had done came out, mixed with curses, from the mouths of the baggage-handlers. Right then Joe was a very frostbitten, very disoriented Indian, whose swollen face nonetheless showed a flash of truculence.
     How he’d managed to survive in that space-chilled compartment, breathing only the air that was locked in with him, might, I think, have baffled a Houdini. He must just have followed some animal instinct when he bundled himself in paper wrappings torn from bundles and packages.
     By the same instinct he must have relaxed and breathed shallowly to consume less oxygen. Something about how he must have done it all reminded me somehow of a stowaway rat—surviving not so much by intelligence as by some wisdom engrained into its whole cussed carcass.
     “Joe!” I gasped. “Joe!" Into my voice was poured all my concern about him—when he must finally realize in some measure where he was, how inconceivably far he had blundered from anything he could call familiar. He would just wither then, I was sure. He was a simple ranch Indian, who had trouble writing his own name and could never understand other worlds.

     Someone growled in my ears, “Oh, you know this fella, eh?” The tone was as official as the gold-braid that went with it—we civilian experts were under military direction, too. The tone bore a heavy load of contemptuous disgust. It blamed me, a greenhorn, for Joe’s super-greenhorn presence. I was responsible.
     He said a lot more. He had me wanting to crawl into my space boots until a little glimmer of hope came. I looked at Frank, who hadn’t said anything. Right then I didn’t want any more of the Moon. Maybe Joe was our ticket back home—our way out of a signed contract.

     Yeah, but that was where Joe entered the conversation. He looked kind of sore but he sounded both obstinate and gentle. “I no go back, Dave,” he said. “I come—I stay. You and Frank stay too. No be scared. Sure! You big boys now. Strong—smart. I smart, too. The Big Man back in White Sands tell big fib. He say no job for tracker here. Just now, outside, I see plenty tracks.
     It burned me up. Joe was patronizing me—treating me as if I were a frightened child who had to be soothed. Treating me the way he had once when a gila monster had scared me out of my wits.
     And he was rattling on with that crazy illusion of his. “Yeah, I see plenty tracks—old tracks. No wind here. No man tracks. No coyote tracks. Devil tracks.”

     Joe didn’t even look awed. But in his black eyes, beyond the opened view-window of his oxygen helmet, gleamed something from the lore of his forefathers. It seemed to satisfy a question in his mind better than all our scientific sophistication could do for us. What I mean is that it enabled him to adjust better than we did to complete strangeness.

     Right then something happened to our officer friend’s face—presently I was to find out that his name was Colonel Richard Kopplin. He looked sober, puzzled, less grouchy—as if something that had been bothering him for a long time found support in Joe Whiteskunk’s words.
     “Hum-mm—devil tracks,” he muttered.

     No, I won’t say that Kopplin didn’t have plenty of other worries to make him grumpy and officious. Maybe his own nerves were a bit twisted just by his being on the Moon. Then he had a lot of responsibility—handling scared and inexperienced dopes who could go batty easily and throw everything out of kilter. Getting more tunnels dug, more apparatus set up to draw the constituents of air and water out of rocks, riding herd on experts to get mineral tests made.
     And it was his job too to see that the astronomical observatory was finished and the Army fortress. Moreover, he had to deal with civilian interests. Mining companies and their prospecting and planning—companies who wanted to set up huge atomic piles and spaceship factories on the Moon or conduct immense and dangerous experiments that safety interests forced off the Earth.
     But the worst part of his job was the fact that we weren’t the only nation interested in lunar colonization. That name-calling, fist-shaking and blame-passing antedated the first hop into space. Don’t make either party the villain too much. It takes two to fight. But for Colonel Kopplin these facts still made the Moon an additionally unpleasant post.

     NOW he cursed under his breath, showing that he was a fairly human and intelligent guy. “Dammit,” he muttered. “When I was a kid I used to wonder if we of Earth would be the first beings of the Solar System ever to take a jump into space. Even though there are no obvious indications of spacetravel by extra-terrestrial creatures in modern time's, still there might have been such travel, once. Maybe millions of years ago…
     Kopplin’s muttering died away for a moment. Then, after a pause which seemed designed to, give his words emphasis, he said quietly, “I figured that a trip to the Moon would give the answer.”
     “Why?” I asked.
     He looked at me as if I weren’t so bright. “Because, sooner or later, through the ages, such space-travelers—if they ever existed—would get to our Moon. The Moon’s been dead for at least a billion years. There has been no wind and no weather for that much time here. The lightest touch of anything against the dust on its surface would leave a permanent mark—because there is no force to rub it out.”
     That much was good logic. I nodded. Still, I was skeptical—as to the concrete basis for this reasoning.
     “You’re leaving something out, sir,'’ I said.
     “Yes, I am. But I can show you. Maybe your man here can really help us. It’s important enough. Lieutenant Briggs take over.”

     So Colonel Kopplin, Joe Whiteskunk, Frank and I went out there under the bleak stars. We all watched Joe. Odd, but he was top man now—when we had all thought he was going to be more helpless and out of place here than an infant.
     He looked up at the huge blurry blue-green Earth, which hung almost at zenith, near the blazing, corona-fringed sun. There was something like awe in his face for a moment. The low Lunar gravity seemed to bother him some too—his steps were kind of uncertain.
     But quickly facts that he understood as well on the Moon as back home on the ranch drew his attention. Kopplin had pointed to the ground, which wasn’t exactly ashen here but seemed to consist of lava rock that had been pulverized by some terrific force.
     And there, in plain view, were faint scrabbling marks, a little like those of a truck tire or a great millipede. Joe’s eyes moved quickly, and ours followed his gaze. At a little distance there were other marks of a different character. Small round indentations—they could have been made with the end of a pogo-stick. They could have been made by a thing with a long stride. For a little way they were spaced evenly, like steps.
     “Nothing to get excited about, I know,” Kopplin growled. “Nothing to draw anybody’s certain attention. Still if—”
     Joe’s eyes were very intent and searching—still I wouldn’t say that he was excited. “Devil tracks,” he said. “Two kinds. We follow, eh? Out across the valley.”

     Joe would have gone at it right then. Maybe that too was part of what made my blood run cold. I had always figured there was something funny about Joe. The now is the only time that exists for him really. For what he does he doesn’t need what we would call determination. He just flows on like a river or a sandstorm.
     I’d hardly call him stupid. But his intelligence is different. Something about it is in tune with natural forces. And what do you call that? Intuition? Instinct? Extra-sensory perception ? How should I know ! Maybe he has a guardian devil or a terrific stack of luck that keeps him on the right beam.
     Look at those tracks my way—or your way. It comes out the same. I’ll bet. Yeah—I was trying to figure what kinds of creatures or things or forces could have made those tracks—and how many million years before. Sure, you and I can make a sort of picture from what we know about science and other worlds. Living monsters, with ages of logical culture behind them—or shining robots.
     But how about Joe Whiteskunk? He had no background with which to construct such a picture—or even to understand its meaning. He just seemed to follow his nose. What thoughts went on in his head were as deep an enigma as those two kinds of tracks themselves.
     Frank said, “We’ve got to go back to shelter, Joe. Too much civilization. We gotta rest up.”
     Well, we did that for several hours. And Joe studied his space-suit the way he used to study his rifle and I tried to help him to understand it.
     Colonel Kopplin got together huge packs of equipment for us to carry. Again he delegated his camp authority to Lieutenant Briggs so that he could go along with us.
     On our shoulders, as we started out, sat dread. And its companion, curiosity, magnified to the point of fascination. But above and beyond all that was the great spice of life—high romance. Who had been here on the Moon so long before us—and for what basic motive? And why weren’t they here, now? Had they somehow failed, in their vast reaching out, to hold onto what they had attained ? And might we not fail for the same reason?

     SKIP the details of our progress across the floor of that tremendous lunar crater. We followed the scrabbled tracks—the circular ones soon vanished completely. And sometimes there was no spoor at all. Perhaps a more recent upheaval of dust had blotted them out. But, following Joe, we were always able to pick up the trail again.
     Against the feeble Lunar gravity we climbed that vast crater wall, locating there a string of handholds—that were not quite handholds, since they did not comfortably fit our human hands—chipped out of the glassy rock. We topped the brim of the barrier as the lagging Lunar Sun crept across the sky. We came down in a congealed inferno of tortured rock outside Copernicus.
     Five miles out Joe Whiteskunk found trail’s end. It was a confused circular patch of tracks in the dust—as new as yesterday in appearance. Trampled markings full of violence and drama—an inconceivably ancient arena for two. And at the center of it lay the vanquished.

     The being’s weapon was as new and gleaming as yesterday. A small bright tube, which Colonel Kopplin picked up for us to stare at. And a little of the aura of the physical principles by which it had functioned crept into our minds, leaving deeper enigmas to challenge us, to label our human science the feeble and primitive groping it is.
     The trigger-button—the tiny but terrifically stout pressure-chamber, in which a minute droplet of substance that was like that of the Sun’s heart could be produced to yield energy. Atomic fusion. Four atoms of hydrogen yielding one of helium. And the barrel, which must have been lined with pure force to stave such heat away from weak metal, to direct such a blast of death.
     Yet the being who had owned such a weapon had lost the fight, perhaps to a greater science.

     The eerie corpse lay there. It did not resemble a centipede. Rather, it looked like a blackened old tree-stump with a thousand roots still contorted with agony. The spatial dryness of the Moon had sucked the moisture from ancient tissues, leaving them not only desiccated and harder than oak—but even charred. Beyond that the preservation was perfect.
     “Bad things happen here,” Joe said through his helmet radiophones. Then he just stood stolidly by while the rest of us proceeded to reach the same conclusion in our involved path of reason.
     “The thing with the round tracks left no further spoor from this point,” Frank said. “So it must have flown—moved above the surface.”
     “Sure,” I joined in. “And this fight must have been just a tiny part of something far bigger.” My voice was hoarse with dread and questioning.

     Kopplin had been on the Moon far longer than any of us. So of course he knew far more than we did, “Sure," he growled, “The Moon is big enough and hard to travel in. It’s easy never even to notice such little details as corpses, tracks, artifacts. But could anyone ever miss the thousands of Lunar craters?
     “Volcanoes, astronomers used to call them. Then the wounds made by vast meteors, crashing down from space. But one thing tests have shown—even their highest walls still show a trace of radioactivity, far above the level of natural uranium deposits. What can that suggest except that they are gigantic bomb-craters?

     Joe Whiteskunk led us on and finally picked up another trail, which led to a half-buried shelter of metal and a whole bunch of other ancient murders. Stumplike corpses—all except one. That one had belonged to the kind of creature that made the circular tracks. Its skin was black horn, its form was somewhat less human than a two-year-old’s smeary drawing of a man. The prints its fingers—or tentacle-tips—would have made were crosshatched instead of spiral.
     Of course we found treasure. No, I’m not talking about simple stuff like gold and jewels or refined uranium—rather a wealth of ideas. Maybe the best was the little rod the Martian had—it was wonderfully simplified and seemed to be both a weapon of terrible power as well as a means of flying.
     But the Asteroidians had their inventions, too. Wonderful compact calculation machines. A thin filtering fabric that could purify and reoxygenate air. An automatic control device that would have worked well on our spaceships. And dozens of other things—many more than we could have probed and understood by brief and tentative scrutiny.

     We were back in Camp Copernicus, staggering tired, before the Lunar midnight. Frank and I slept. Joe must have too. But when we awoke, he was gone. Joe wasn’t the kind of guy to ask permission from anybody to do anything. If anybody tried to block his way by force he’d just watch his chance and slip past the obstacles by stealth. I was scared for him but what good did that do?
     He was gone a full terrestrial week that first solo trip. I hardly believed it when the news came that he was back. For I was sure by then—with a lump in my throat—that he was gone for good—that his naïveté where science was concerned had tripped him up in an environment where there were so many horrible ways of dying if you didn’t know exactly what you were doing.
     But evidently Joe had learned enough of space-suits and things by observation, during our first excursion of discovery, to keep alive if nothing went too wrong.
     He almost grinned at Kopplin, Frank and myself as he unloaded his pack in Kopplin's quarters. And it came to me that he hadn’t changed much—it was as though that pack of his was full of skins from a trapping season and he was back at the trading post.
     He had bits of queer fabric, colored blue. He had a wonderful camera. He had pieces of plating, that might have come from a blown-up space-ship. And he had some jeweled ornaments worth a dozen fortunes as artwork.

     “You did fine, Joe,’’ Colonel Kopplin said.

     “Sure,” Joe answered and I knew that there was a certain vanity in him. “I go back right away.”

From TRAIL BLAZER by Raymond Z. Gallun (1951)

Exploration Section

This section performs an in-depth survey of possible colony planets. And investigates anomalous or valuable sites. Supplies a list of certified planets to the Worldtamer Section. Rich mining sites are auctioned off to commercial mining corporations. Actual anomalies are reported to the Paleotechnology Section or other appropriate official research body.


Our part in the Grand Survey had taken us out beyond the great suns Alpha and Beta Crucis. From Earth we would have been in the constellation Lupus. But Earth was 278 light-years remote, Sol itself long dwindled to invisibility, and stars drew strange pictures across the dark.

After three years we were weary and had suffered losses. Oh, the wonder wasn't gone. How could it ever go—from world after world after world? But we had seen so many, and of those we had walked on, some were beautiful and some were terrible and most were both (even as Earth is) and none were alike and all were mysterious. They blurred together in our minds.

It was still a heart-speeding thing to find another sentient race, actually more than to find another planet colonizable by man. Now Ali Hamid had perished of a poisonous bite a year back, and Manuel Gonsalves had not yet recovered from the skull fracture inflicted by the club of an excited being at our last stop. This made Vaughn Webner our chief xenologist, from whom was to issue trouble.

Not that he, or any of us, wanted it. You learn to gang warily, in a universe not especially designed for you, or you die; there is no third choice. We approached this latest star because every G-type dwarf beckoned us. But we did not establish orbit around its most terrestroid attendant until neutrino analysis had verified that nobody in the system had developed atomic energy. And we exhausted every potentiality of our instruments before we sent down our first robot probe.

The sun was a G9, golden in hue, luminosity half of Sol's. The world which interested us was close enough in to get about the same irradiation as Earth. It was smaller, surface gravity 0.75, with a thinner and drier atmosphere. However, that air was perfectly breathable by humans, and bodies of water existed which could be called modest oceans. The globe was very lovely where it turned against star-crowded night, blue, tawny, rusty-brown, white-clouded. Two little moons skipped in escort.

Biological samples proved that its life was chemically similar to ours. None of the microorganisms we cultured posed any threat that normal precautions and medications could not handle. Pictures taken at low altitude and on the ground showed woods, lakes, wide plains rolling toward mountains. We were afire to set foot there.

But the natives—

You must remember how new the hyperdrive is, and how immense the cosmos. The organizers of the Grand Survey were too wise to believe that the few neighbor systems we'd learned something about gave knowledge adequate for devising doctrine. Our service had one law, which was its proud motto: "We come as friends." Otherwise each crew was free to work out its own procedures. After five years the survivors would meet and compare experiences.

For us aboard the Olga, Captain Gray had decided that, whenever possible, sophonts should not be disturbed by preliminary sightings of our machines. We would try to set the probes in uninhabited regions. When we ourselves landed, we would come openly. After all, the shape of a body counts for much less than the shape of the mind within. Thus went our belief.

Naturally, we took in every datum we could from orbit and upper-atmospheric overflights. While not extremely informative under such conditions, our pictures did reveal a few small towns on two continents—clusters of buildings, at least, lacking defensive walls or regular streets—hard by primitive mines. They seemed insignificant against immense and almost unpopulated landscapes. We guessed we could identify a variety of cultures, from Stone Age through Iron. Yet invariably, aside from those petty communities, settlements consisted of one or a few houses standing alone. We found none less than ten kilometers apart; most were more isolated.

"Carnivores, I expect," Webner said. "The primitive economies are hunting-fishing-gathering, the advanced economies pastoral. Large areas which look cultivated are probably just to provide fodder; they don't have the layout of proper farms." He tugged his chin. "I confess to being puzzled as to how the civilized—well, let's say the 'metallurgic' people, at this stage—how they manage it. You need trade, communication, quick exchange of ideas, for that level of technology. And if I read the pictures aright, roads are virtually nonexistent, a few dirt tracks between towns and mines, or to the occasional dock for barges or ships—Confound it, water transportation is insufficient."

"Pack animals, maybe?" I suggested.

"Too slow," he said. "You don't get progressive cultures when months must pass before the few individuals capable of originality can hear from each other. The chances are they never will."

For a moment the pedantry dropped from his manner. "Well," he said, "we'll see," which is the grandest sentence that any language can own.

We always made initial contact with three, the minimum who could do the job, lest we lose them. This time they were Webner, xenologist; Aram Turekian, pilot; and Yukiko Sachansky, gunner. It was Gray's idea to give women that last assignment. He felt they were better than men at watching and waiting, less likely to open fire in doubtful situations.

The site chosen was in the metallurgic domain, though not a town. Why complicate matters unnecessarily? It was on a rugged upland, thick forest for many kilometers around. Northward the mountainside rose steeply until, above timberline, its crags were crowned by a glacier. Southward it toppled to a great plateau, open country where herds grazed on a reddish analogue of grass or shrubs. Maybe they were domesticated, maybe not. In either case, probably the dwellers did a lot of hunting.

"Would that account for their being so scattered?" Yukiko wondered. "A big range needed to support each individual?"

"Then they must have a strong territoriality," Webner said. "Stand sharp by the guns."

From WINGS OF VICTORY by Poul Anderson (1972)

      It was in the last days of the Empire. The tiny ship was far from home, and almost a hundred light-years from the great parent vessel searching through the loosely packed stars at the rim of the Milky Way. But even here it could not escape from the shadow that lay across civilization: beneath that shadow, pausing ever and again in their work to wonder how their distant homes were faring, the scientists of the Galactic Survey still labored at their never-ending task.
     The ship held only three occupants, but between them they carried knowledge of many sciences, and the experience of half a lifetime in space. After the long interstellar night, the star ahead was warming their spirits as they dropped down toward its fires. A little more golden, a trifle more brilliant than the sun that now seemed a legend of their childhood. They knew from past experience that the chance of locating planets here was more than ninety per cent, and for the moment they forgot all else in the excitement of discovery.
     They found the first planet within minutes of coming to rest. It was a giant, of a familiar type, too cold for protoplasmic life and probably possessing no stable surface. So they turned their search sunward, and presently were rewarded.

     It was a world that made their hearts ache for home, a world where everything was hauntingly familiar, yet never quite the same. Two great land masses floated in blue-green seas, capped by ice at either pole. There were some desert regions, but the larger part of the planet was obviously fertile. Even from this distance, the signs of vegetation were unmistakably clear.
     They gazed hungrily at the expanding landscape as they fell down into the atmosphere, heading toward noon in the subtropics. The ship plummeted through cloudless skies toward a great river, checked its fall with a surge of soundless power, and came to rest among the long grasses by the water’s edge.
     No one moved: there was nothing to be done until the automatic instruments had finished their work. Then a bell tinkled softly and the lights on the control board flashed in a pattern of meaningful chaos. Captain Altman rose to his feet with a sigh of relief.
     “We’re in luck,” he said. “We can go outside without protection, if the pathogenic tests are satisfactory. What did you make of the place as we came in, Bertrond?”
     “Geologically stable—no active volcanoes, at least. I didn’t see any trace of cities, but that proves nothing. If there’s a civilization here, it may have passed that stage.”
     “Or not reached it yet?”
     Bertrond shrugged. “Either’s just as likely. It may take us some time to find out on a planet this size.”
     “More time than we’ve got,” said Clindar, glancing at the communications panel that linked them to the mother ship and thence to the Galaxy’s threatened heart. For a moment there was a gloomy silence. Then Clindar walked to the control board and pressed a pattern of keys with automatic skill.
     With a slight jar, a section of the hull slid aside and the fourth member of the crew stepped out onto the new planet, flexing metal limbs and adjusting servo motors to the unaccustomed gravity. Inside the ship, a television screen glimmered into life, revealing a long vista of waving grasses, some trees in the middle distance, and a glimpse of the great river. Clindar punched a button, and the picture flowed steadily across the screen as the robot turned its head…
     …The swaying motion of the picture as the robot walked forward did not distract them: they had grown accustomed to it long ago. But they had never become reconciled to this exploration by proxy when all their impulses cried out to them to leave the ship, to run through the grass and to feel the wind blowing against their faces. Yet it was too great a risk to take, even on a world that seemed as fair as this. There was always a skull hidden behind Nature’s most smiling face. Wild beasts, poisonous reptiles, quagmires—death could come to the unwary explorer in a thousand disguises. And worst of all were the invisible enemies, the bacteria and viruses against which the only defense might often be a thousand light years away.
     A robot could laugh at all these dangers and even if, as sometimes happened, it encountered a beast powerful enough to destroy it—well, machines could always be replaced…
     …Then the picture trembled as if beneath a hammer-blow, there was a grinding metallic thud, and the whole scene swept vertiginously upward as the robot toppled and fell…
     …He brought the robot to a sitting position and swiveled its head. it did not take long to find the cause of the trouble. Standing a few feet away, and lashing its tail angrily, was a large quadruped with a most ferocious set of teeth. At the moment it was, fairly obviously, trying to decide whether to attack again.
     Slowly, the robot rose to its feet, and as it did so the great beast crouched to spring. A smile flitted across Clindar’s face: he knew how to deal with this situation, His thumb felt for the seldom-used key labeled “Siren.”
     The forest echoed with a hideous undulating scream from the robot’s concealed speaker, and the machine advanced to meet its adversary, arms flailing in front of it. The startled beast almost fell over backward in its effort to turn, and in seconds was gone from sight…

     …It was three days before the biological tests showed that it would be safe to leave the ship. Even then Bertrond insisted on going alone—alone, that is, if one ignored the substantial company of the robot. With such an ally he was not afraid of this planet’s larger beasts, and his body’s natural defenses could take care of the microorganisms. So, at least, the analyzers had assured him; and considering the complexity of the problem, they made remarkably few mistakes…
     …And all the while the news from home grew worse. Though their remoteness here at the edge of the Universe deadened its impact, it lay heavily on their minds and sometimes overwhelmed them with a sense of futility. At any moment, they knew, the signal for recall might come as the Empire summoned up its last resources in its extremity. But until then they would continue their work as though pure knowledge were the only thing that mattered…
     …It was, Bertrond often thought, a particularly bad joke on the part of Fate that one of the Galaxy’s very few truly human races should have been discovered at this moment of time. Not long ago this would have been an event of supreme importance; now civilization was too hard-pressed to concern itself with these savage cousins waiting at the dawn of history…

     …“Do you ever look at the stars, Yaan? I wonder how long it will be before you have discovered what they are, and I wonder what will have happened to us by then. Those stars are our homes, Yaan, and we cannot save them. Many have died already, in explosions so vast that I can imagine them no more than you. In a hundred thousand of your years, the light of those funeral pyres will reach your world and set its peoples wondering. By then, perhaps, your race will be reaching for the stars. I wish I could warn you against the mistakes we made, and which now will cost us all that we have won.
     “It is well for your people, Yaan, that your world is here at the frontier of the Universe. You may escape the doom that waits for us. One day, perhaps, your ships will go searching among the stars as we have done, and they may come upon the ruins of our worlds and wonder who we were. But they will never know that we met here by this river when your race was young.”

From ENCOUNTER IN THE DAWN by Arthur C. Clarke (1953)

(ed note: When Clarke worked with Stanley Kubrick to create the movie 2001 A Space Odyssey, Clarke re-worked Encounter In The Dawn so it could be used in the movie. It was never used.)

      The maps, the photographic surveys, the spectrochemical analyses, were all completed. After a year in orbit, it was time to land. Like a stick of bombs, ten glittering spheres were ejected from the thousand-foot-long mother ship, and fell toward the cloud-wrapped globe below.
     They drifted apart, spread themselves out along the equator, and settled gently on mountain, plain, and swamp. Clindar and his two companions floated for miles across the jungles before they saw a good landing place; then the sphere extended its three telescopic legs and came to rest as delicately as a falling soap bubble, upon the land that would one day be named Africa…
     …At last, Clindar touched the control panel, and into the cabin came the sounds of the new world. For a long time they listened to the voices of the forest, to the sighing of the wind through the strange trees and grasses, to the cries of animals killing or being killed-and a changeless background of muted thunder, the roar of the great waterfall two miles away. One day they would know every thread in this tapestry of sound; but now it was full of menace, and woke forgotten fears. For all their wisdom and sophistication, they felt like children facing the unknown terrors of the night; and their hearts ached for home.
     The familiar routines of the landing procedure soon turned them back into calm, professional explorer scientists. First the little collection robots were sent rolling in all directions, to gather leaves and grasses and, with luck, any small animals slow-moving enough to be caught. All the samples they brought back were examined in the scoutship’s sealed and automatic lab, so that there was no danger of contamination. The biochemical patterns were swiftly evaluated—it was rare to find a wholly novel one, especially on an oxygen-carbon world like this—and the information flashed up to the hovering mother ship, twenty thousand miles away. There seemed to be no virulently hostile microorganisms here, but life was of such infinite complexity that one could never be sure. Planets could produce deadly surprises, generations after they had been declared completely safe.
     No large animals came near the ship during the hours of daylight which was not surprising, for it stood in several acres of open ground where the only cover was a few low bushes. But at dusk, the picture changed, and the land became alive as the shadows lengthened and deepened into night.
     To the watchers on the ship, darkness was no handicap. Through the infrared periscope they could see the world around them as if it were still daylight; they could follow the shy herbivores on their way to the waterholes, and could study the tactics of the great predators who hunted them. There were still tigers in this land, with twin sabers jutting from their jaws; but in another million years they would be gone, and Africa would belong to the lion…

     …It was surprising how quickly all the animals grew accustomed to the ship; because it did nothing, and merely stood motionless on its tripod of legs, they soon came to regard it as part of the landscape. In the heat of noon, lions would shelter beneath it, and sometimes elephants and dinotheria would rub their thick hides against the landing gear. Clindar preferred to choose a moment when none of the larger or more dangerous beasts were around when he made his first exit
     From the underbelly of the ship a transparent, cylindrical tube ten feet in diameter lowered itself until it had reached ground level, down this, in an equally transparent cage, rode Clindar and his equipment. The curving walls slid open, and he stepped out onto the new world.
     He was insulated from it, as completely as if he were still inside the ship, but the flexible suit that surrounded him from head to foot was only a minor inconvenience. He had full freedom of movement, for there was no external vacuum to make the suit stiff and rigid. Indeed, he could even breathe the surrounding atmosphere—after it had been scrubbed and filtered and purified by the small processing pack on his chest. The air of this planet might carry lethal organisms, but it was not poisonous.
     He walked slowly away from the ship, feeling his balance in this alien gravity and accustoming himself to the weight of his equipment. Besides the usual communication and recording gear, he was carrying nets, small boxes for specimens, a geologist’s hammer, a compact explosive powered drill, and a coil of thin but immensely strong rope. And though he had no offensive weapons, he had some extremely effective defensive ones. The land through which he was walking seemed absolutely barren of animal life, but he knew that this was an illusion. Thousands of eyes were watching him from trees and grass and undergrowth, and as he moved slowly along one of the trails which the herbivores had beaten to the waterhole, he was also conscious that the normal patterns of sound had changed. The creatures of this world knew that something strange had come into their lives, there was a hushed expectancy about the land—a subdued excitement that communicated itself to Clindar. He did not anticipate trouble, or danger; but if it came, he was ready for it.

     He had already chosen his vantage point, a large rock about a hundred yards from the watering place where the hominid had been killed. Near the summit was a cave formed by two boulders resting against each other, it would provide just the shelter and concealment he needed. Such a desirable residence was not, of course, empty, it contained several large, indignant, and undoubtedly poisonous snakes. He ignored them, since they could not harm him through the tough yet almost invisible envelope of his suit.
     He set up his cameras and his directional microphones, reported back to the ship, and waited…

     … His first attempt to collect specimens was not a success. A small antelope, with graceful, corkscrew horns, had apparently become detached from the herd and was wandering along the trail to the waterhole in a rather distracted manner. Clindar got it in the sight of his narcotic gun, aimed carefully at the fleshy part of the flank, and squeezed the trigger. With barely a sound, the dart whispered to its target.
     The antelope started, though no more violently than if a mosquito had bitten it. For a moment there was no other reaction—but the biochemists had done their work well. The animal walked three or four paces, and then collapsed in a heap.
     Clindar hurried out of the cave to collect his victim. He was halfway down the sloping rockface when there was a flash of yellow, and almost before he had realized what had happened, the antelope was gone. A passing leopard had outsmarted an intelligence that could span the Galaxy.
     Some hunters would have cursed; Clindar merely laughed and went back to his cave. Two hours later, he shot MoonWatcher.

     He reached the fallen hominid only seconds after the flying dart. Beneath its hairy pelt the body was well muscled but undernourished, he had no difficulty at all in lifting it and carrying it back to the ship, where a thorough examination could be made.
     MoonWatcher was still unconscious, but breathing steadily, when the elevator took him up into the ship. He slept peacefully in the sealed test chamber for many hours, while scores of instruments measured his reactions and beams of radiation scanned the interior of his body as if it had been made of glass. His head was shaved, with considerable difficulty, for the hair was a matted and well-populated tangle, and electrodes were attached to his scalp. In the mother ship, thousands of miles above the earth, the great computers probed and analyzed the patterns of cerebral activity, so much simpler than their own; and presently they delivered their verdict.
     When it was all finished, Clindar carried Moon Watcher back to the elevator and down to ground level. He left him still unconscious, propped up against one of the landing legs, and guarded him from the ship until he had come to his senses. He would have done the same with any other animal; centuries of traveling through the empty wastes of the universe had given him an intense reverence for life in all its forms. Though he never hesitated to kill when it was necessary, he always did so with reluctance…

     …The hunter from the stars stood at the edge of the Savannah, choosing his victim. Out to the horizon he could see uncountable numbers of gazelles and antelopes and wildebeest and zebras—or creatures whose descendants would one day bear these names—browsing on the sea of grass. He raised his weapon to his shoulder, aimed through it like a telescope, and pressed the firing stud. There was a flicker of light, barely visible in the fierce glare of the African sun, and a young gazelle dropped so swiftly and silently that none of its companions took the slightest notice. Even when Clindar walked out to collect the body—unmarked except for the charred hole above the heart—they trotted only a few yards away and regarded him with only mild alarm.
     He threw the gazelle over his shoulder and set off at a brisk walk toward the cave of the hominids. Before he had gone three hundred yards he realized, with some amusement, that he was being stalked by a saber-toothed tiger that had emerged from the undergrowth at the edge of the plain.
     He put down the gazelle and turned to face the great cat. When it saw that he was aware of it, the tiger growled softly and opened its jaws in a terrifying display of fangs. At the same moment, it quickened its pace.
     Clindar also wasted no time. He threw a switch on his suit, and at once the air was rent by a hideous, undulating howl as of a thousand souls in torment. Out on the plain, the flocks of herbivores began to stampede, and even above the cacophony of the siren he could hear the drumming of their hooves like a distant thunder.
     The tiger reared up on its haunches, slashing viciously at the empty air in its surprise. Then it dropped back to the ground and, to Clindar’s utter astonishment, continued its advance. It was very brave, or very stupid, or very hungry. In any event, it was very dangerous.
     Clindar whipped his projector into the firing position, and barely had time to defocus it before the tiger charged. This time there was no visible flash, for the beam fanned out over too wide an area to produce its characteristic scintillation. But when the tiger reached the ground it was already blind, for it had stared into the light of a hundred suns. Clindar had no difficulty in avoiding it as it staggered away, shaking its massive head from side to side in confusion.
     It would be at least an hour before the magnificent beast’s sight returned to normal; as it tottered away, Clindar hoped that it would not injure itself by crashing into any obstacles.

From THE LOST WORLDS OF 2001 by Arthur C. Clarke (1972)

      Visual check complete, we brought out the auger to check the ice’s thickness, to make sure that it would hold our craft for an extended period. Green lights all around. At last, it was time for the fun part.

     Inflatable habitat modules are one of my favourite inventions. The Merian comes equipped with two of them — one for the greenhouse, one for the clean lab — each attaching to an airlock on the side of the capsule. They nearly double our living space, but pack away into containment units about half the size of a small car. All we have to do is remove the storage covers, roll out the nigh-indestructible fabric, hit a button, and watch them go.

     Even with the modules extended, the space within our habitat is roughly that of a spacious single-family home. You might think that spending years in such a dwelling might start to feel claustrophobic, but consider the fact that ours is the only human home — the only building at all — on any world we travel to. Even the most rural humans can’t understand what it means to be standing on an entire planet that has no cities, no streets, no artificial structures at all. If you’ve been lucky enough to go to a wildlife preserve or some other wide-open space, you might have a glimmer of what that means. The absence of machine sounds. The awesome, fragile humility of knowing you’re the only human around for miles. But even in such places, even up remote mountains or on the longest backpacking trips, you know that somewhere out there, there’s a road. There’s a ranger station. There’s a hotel with a bathtub and a breakfast buffet.

     Not so on Aecor. Not anywhere off Earth. As of yet, we have found no other life forms that build cities or machines. When standing on one of these quieter worlds, you know that the entire sphere, in every direction, is wilderness. Go too far from your lander, and your surroundings quickly remind you that you’re only an animal, and that there’s a reason our forbears invented tools and walls.

     Faced with such enormity, I find the close quarters of the Merian to be a massive comfort. When you spend day after day after day doing fieldwork in an environment of endless expanse, the most welcome sight in the world is a snug bunk behind a locked door.

     I enlisted my crewmates in monitoring the module inflation with me. We took up posts, watching every crease and corner for hidden tears.

     ‘I love these so much,’ Jack said, watching with satisfaction as the marshmallowy cylinders puffed themselves up. I, too, enjoyed the sight, but I was even more eager for what came next: unpacking our toys. Have you ever been camping? If so, when you bought your first batch of gear, did you have a moment where you laid it all out in front of you and marvelled at the smorgasbord of clever little bits? The tiny tinderbox? The quick-drying towel? The pop-out kitchenware? The pocket-sized tool that contained a magnifying glass and three knives and a fish scaler you’d never use? That is how I feel every single time we set up our surface labs. Storage space is at a premium in any spacecraft, and being able to fully kit out multi-purpose research facilities obviously requires a lot of stuff. But this need is handily met aboard the Merian, which boasts a cargo hold crammed with a treasure trove of scientific necessities. Microscopes, thermometers, altimeters, light sensors, camera traps, pH probes, turbidity tubes, handheld sonar, ovens, quadrats, shovels, sample dishes, 3D printers, tweezers, molecular scanners, core samplers, seismic monitors, wildlife blinds, tape measures, audio recorders, aerodrones, hydrodrones, gloves, masks, tags, slides, and more goggles than you can shake a stick at, all as lightweight and compact as the best minds on Earth could make them, all securely stowed away in perfect crates with perfect labels in perfect rows.

     It is immensely satisfying.

     Modules deployed, we went back inside and unpacked our bounty, forming an industrious bucket brigade. ‘Greenhouse first?’ Chikondi asked.

     ‘Lab first,’ Elena said.

     ‘Aw,’ he replied. The clean lab was the bigger task, but he was eager to begin the business of growing vegetables. You might think this was a pragmatic desire — radiation alone doesn’t give us all the nutrients we need to survive, and the sooner we start seedlings, the sooner we get snacks. But no, Chikondi just wanted to start playing with plants, just as I knew Elena was itching to collect steam from the vents, just as Jack wanted to go on a hike to search for rocks. Me, I was already in my happy place. Landing had worked, the suits worked, the modules worked, the perfect crates were being unpacked. In order to do science, you need tools, shelter, and a means to get where you’re going. I was responsible for all of these. I was building a trellis where good work would grow. There was nothing I wanted more than that, nothing that brought me more pride.

From TO BE TAUGHT, IF FORTUNATE by Becky Chambers (2019)

      "Incidentally we may be preparing ourselves for another form of service entirely. What if Terra in the future was to provide not fighting men but exploring teams?"
     "Exploring teams?"
     "Groups of trained explorers to pioneer on newly discovered planets, to prepare for colonization those worlds where there may be no intelligent native life. Groups, the members of which are selected for their individual talents, going not as Patrol nor traders, not as police or merchants, but only to discover what lies in orbit around the next sun. Groups including not only our own kind, but combining in a working unit half a dozen different species of X-Tees—telepaths, techneers, some not even vaguely humanoid." ("X-Tee" is slang for "extraterrestrial" or "alien". "Techneer" is technicians and engineers)
     "Do you think that can be done, sir?" demanded Kana, finding in the idea an answer to his own half-formed dream.
     "Why not? And the time may not be too far off."

From STAR GUARD by Andre Norton

"And what pot of gold has fallen into our hands this time, Captain?" That was Steen Wilcox asking the question which was in all their minds.

"Survey auction!" the words burst out of Jellico as if he simply could not restrain them any longer.

Somebody whistled and someone else gasped. Dane blinked, he was too new to the game to understand at once. But when the full purport of the announcement burst upon him he knew a surge of red hot excitement. A survey auction — a Free Trader got a chance at one of those maybe once in a life-time. And that was how fortunes were made.

"Who's in town?" Engineer Stotz's eyes were narrowed, he was looking at the Captain almost accusingly.

Jellico shrugged. "All the usual. But it's been a long trip, and there are four Class D-s listed as up for bids — "

Dane calculated rapidly. The Companies would automatically scoop up the A and B listings — there would be tussles over the C-s. And four D-s — four newly discovered planets whose trading rights auctioned off under Federation law would come within range of the price Free Traders could raise. Would the Queen be able to enter the contest for one of them? A complete five- or ten-year monopoly on the rights of Trade with a just charted world could make them all wealthy — if luck rode their jets.

"How much in the strong box?" Tau asked Van Rycke.

"When we pick up the voucher for this last load and pay our Field fees there'll be — but what about supplies, Frank?"

The thin little steward was visibly doing sums in his head. "Say a thousand for restocking — that gives us a good margin — unless we're in for a rim haul — "

"All right, Van, cutting out that thousand — what can we raise?" It was Jellico's turn to ask.

There was no need for the Cargo-Master to consult his books, the figures were part of the amazing catalogue within his mind, "Twenty-five thousand — maybe six hundred more — "

There was a deflated silence. No survey auctioneer would accept that amount. It was Wilcox who broke the quiet.

"Why are they having an auction here, anyway? Naxos is no Federation district planet."

It was queer, come to think of it, Dane agreed. He had never before heard of a trading auction being held on any world which was not at least a sector capitol.

"The Survey ship Rimwald has been reported too long overdue," Jellico's voice came flatly. "All available ships have been ordered to conclude business and get into space to quarter for her. This ship here — the Giswald — came in to the nearest planet to hold auction. It's some kind of legal rocket wash — "

Van Rycke's broad finger tips drummed on the table top. "There are Company agents here. On the other hand there are only two other independent Traders in port. Unless another planets before sixteen hours today, we have four worlds to share between the three of us. The Companies don't want D-s — their agents have definite orders not to bid for them."

"Look here, sir," that was Rip, "In that twenty-five thousand — did you include the pay-roll?"

When Van Rycke shook his head Dane guessed what Rip was about to suggest. And for a moment he knew resentment. To be asked to throw one's voyage earnings into a wild gamble — and that was what would happen he was sure — was pretty tough. He wouldn't have the courage to vote against it either —

"With the pay-roll in?" Tau's soft, unaccented voice questioned.

"About thirty-eight thousand — "

"Pretty lean for a Survey auction," Wilcox was openly dubious.

"Miracles have happened," Tang Ya pointed out. "I say — try it. If we lose we're not any the worse — "

It was agreed by a hand vote, no one dissenting, that the crew of the Queen would add their pay to the reserve — sharing in proportion to the sum they had surrendered in any profits to come. Van Rycke by common consent was appointed the bidder. But none of them would have willingly stayed away from the scene of action and Captain Jellico agreed to hire a Field guard as they left the ship in a body to try their luck.

From SARGASSO OF SPACE by Andre Norton (1955)

(ed note: this is from a solo-play tabletop boardgame where the player explores several star systems. The game is a sequel to The Wreck of the BSM Pandora, where an accident on the Zoo Ship temporarily renders the crew unconscious and releases all the alien critters.)

Transcript of Transmission from Eridani 6-K Mission:


Roger, Skraaling. Subject appears marsupial to me. Perhaps an early mammal...


Skraaling, stop looking and use your tranqs!


Skraaling... Gedipus here. Prowler at 5 o'clock. Come on, you jerks, keep awake. Where there's hervivores, there's carnivores...



OH, MY GOD....


Worldtamer Section

This section prepares the site of a pilot colony, performs light terraforming if needed, does an in-depth exploration of all the ways the planet in question can kill you.


Scouting a new planet is a notoriously dangerous job. The scouts will have to discover the hard way what a new planet has to offer in the way of deadly plagues, hideous carnivorous animals, poisonous plants, geological death-traps, and killer weather. Not to mention alien inhabitants. Heck, just landing on an unsurveyed landing site with no landing beacon is dangerous.

On the ground a scout will be constantly scanning with their tricorder. But their gun-hand will never be far from the butt of their slugthrower or laser pistol.


A critical study of a potential colony planet is the planetary ecology. The Legacy of Heorot is a horror story about how ignorance of local ecology can annihilate a colony. There are quite a few appalling examples from history: the Four Pests Campaign, Africanized bees, and the infamous Rabbits in Australia.

Alan E. Nourse mentioned that on a survey ship, "ecologist" also means general biologist and jack-of-all-biological-trades. "Ecology" covers a multitude of sins on a survey ship.

An example of worldtamers in science fiction is Edmund Cooper's Expendables series. Be warned that the writing in the novels is racist, sexist, misogynistic and triggering (I'm not kidding about "triggering"). The eponymous Expendables are a Dirty Dozen style group of criminals and misfits each of which have a very particular set of skills. Terra's population is undergoing an explosion and they desperately need shirt-sleeve colony planets as a safety valve (I guess the world leaders didn't get the memo). The Expendables have to "prove" newly discovered habitable planets: either finding and dealing with deadly planetary creatures and ecologies, or declaring the planet unfit for colonization.


(ed note: the Terran federation has an uncomfortable relationship with the alien decadent-but-still-powerful Styor empire. The Styor capture primitive planets and enslave the primitive natives. Official Terran policy is to overlook this evil and keep their mouths shut. New recruit Kade Whitehawk to the Terran Outworld Trader Service finds this difficult, and causes a diplomatic incident on a Styor-held planet involving a cruel decadent Styor lordling.

Kade is given a reprimand by the Trader Service, his wounds are bandaged, and he is given a second chance on the Styor-held planet Klor. With the warning that a second incident will result in Kade's immediate dismissal and his being thrown into the manual-labor gangs. The only reason he gets a second chance is because the Sioux team member Steel on Klor has been killed by a quote "accident" unquote and Kade is the only available Sioux Trader in the sector.

On Klor, the Styor treat the primitive Ikkinni natives cruely. Kade is incensed. But he suddenly finds a clue in dead Steel's notebooks (wrtten in the Sioux language), that the native grass will nourish horses. Kade remembers history where during the time of the American Frontier the Comanche, Apache, and the Navajo had stolen the horses from the higher-tech Spanish invaders and actually pushed the Spanish out.

Kade plans to trick the Styor into importing horses, stealing them, and giving them to the Ikkinni natives. But without letting his boss Abu figure out what is going on. Or it's the manual-labor gangs for Kade.)

      "Hakam Toph," the stranger announced himself. "First Keeper of off-world animals." (one of the Styor half-breed servants)
     Abu made the same formal introduction in return, naming himself and then Kade. Toph showed more interest in Kade. "It is the one who cares for beasts?"
     Abu sat down on the bench, leaving the answering to Kade. "It is," he replied shortly. The Overman was using the speech of an Ikkinni driver, and that in itself was an insult to the Traders.
     "This one would know the habits of the new beast."
     "A record tape was sent," Kade pointed out. He held up his hand at eye level, apparently more absorbed in the tri-dee he had selected from his samples, than in a sale already made. And the Overman, catching sight of the array of plates on the shelf, came on into the room eagerly, drawn to the strange exhibits to be seen. Kade, nursing that last tri-dee stepped aside, allowing Toph to finger the small vivid scenes of beasts in their natural setting. The Overman was plainly excited at such a wealth. But at last he began to glance at the plate Kade still held, while firing a series of questions concerning the rest. When the Terran did not put his plate down or mention it, Toph came directly to the point.

     "That is also an off-world beast?"
     "That is so." But still Kade did not offer him the plate.
     "That is one which is rare?"
     "One," replied Kade deliberately, "which on our world is and has long been prized highly. It belongs to warriors who ride, by our customs, not borne on the shoulders of men or in chairs of state but on the backs of these beasts. Even into battle do they so ride. And among us the warriors who so ride are held in honor."
     "Ride on the back of a beast!" Toph looked prepared to challenge such an outrageous statement. "It would see!" He held out his hand in demand and Kade allowed him to take his plate. "So." Toph expelled breath in a hiss which might have signified either admiration or contempt. "And warriors ride upon this beast for honor?"
     "That is so."
     "You have seen them?"

     Kade plunged. "On my world I am of a warrior people. I have ridden so behind those who are my overlords."
     Toph glanced from the Terran back to the tri-dee plate. "These beasts could live on Klor?"
     "On Klor, yes; in Cor, no." Kade proceeded with the caution of a scout on the war trail, fearing to push too much or too fast.
     "Why so?"
     "Because they graze the grasses of the plains just as the kwitu. They could not live confined in a wall garden of a city tower."
     "But at the holdings they could? One could ride them where now only the sky ships pass overhead?" Toph was certainly getting the point fast, perhaps almost too fast. But the off-worlder replied with the truth.
     "That is so. A lord or the guardsman of a lord could ride across the country without slave bearers or a sky ship. My own world is plains and for hundreds of years have we so ridden—to war, to the hunt, to visit with kin, to see far places."
     Toph looked down at the plate once again. "This is a new thing. The High One may be amused. I take." His thick fingers closed about the tri-dee with a grip of possession Kade did not try to dispute. The Terran had taken his first step in his plan, and by all signs Toph was snared. Surely the head animal keeper of the Pac would have some influence with the Lord of Cor, and the acquisitiveness of a zoo keeper faced with a new animal of promising prestige would be a lever in the Terran's favor.

     When the Overman left without any further demands for information about the newly arrived bear, his hand still grasping the tri-dee, the Team Commander, who had taken no part in the exchange, smiled faintly. "Why horses?" he asked.
     "This is natural horse country. The plains will support them."
     "You will have to have proof of that, an analytical report, before the Service will ship them."
     Before he thought, Kade replied, "Steel had that made."
     "Interesting," Abu commented. "You found that in his tape, of course. Horses—" he repeated thoughtfully. "They'd come high on import price."
     "Too high?"
     "For the High-Lord-Pac of a planet to indulge a whim? With all the resources of Klor to draw on? No, I think he can afford them if he wishes to. You might get a reprimand from the ecology boys however."

     Kade had not foreseen that angle. To introduce to any alien world a plant, animal, or bird without natural enemies and with a welcoming terrain was a risky thing at best. To Kade the plains of Klor seemed a natural setting for horse herds. They would share those vast expanses with the kwitu, with the deer species, and with the large flightless birds. Natural enemies—well, beside mankind, or Styor and Ikkinni, who should consider horses prized possessions and not prey, there were several carnivores. But none in quantity. Yet that was what he had hoped to see; a horse population exploding as it had on the plains of his own home, unleashing wealth and war mobility for the natives. However, if he had to untangle red tape within his own Service—

From THE SIOUX SPACEMAN by Andre Norton (1960)

(ed note: the Expendables are a set of rag-tag misfits and criminals that work as worldtamers or planet-provers for the the Extra-Solar Planets Evaluating and Normalising Department (ExPEND) of the United Nations. They have to "prove" newly discovered habitable planets, either discovering and neutralizing all threats biological and ecological OR declaring the planet uncolonizable. The latter will be automatic if the planet manages to kill the entire team.

I reiterate: if you are considering actually reading this novel be warned that the writing is racist, sexist, misogynistic and triggering. I'm not kidding about "triggering")

      ‘Keep talking, Commander,’ she said. ‘I have nothing to lose.’
     He leaned forward. ‘But you have something to win.’
     ‘What would I possibly have to win?’
     ‘A world for mankind. A planet called Kratos.’
     And then he told her what ExPEND was all about.

     ‘There are twenty-five thousand million reasons why this project is needed – and they are all people, most of them living here on Terra. Sure we have colonies on Luna, Mars, Mercury, Venus and one or two of the satellites. But, all told, the solar colonists don’t even account for one thousandth of one per cent of the total population.’ He gave a grim smile. ‘We have come too far too fast. This beat-up old planet is almost exhausted. Its fossil fuels are almost finished, and there are deserts where once good soil was over cropped. Earth can’t take much more of the treatment mankind has been dishing out in the name of progress. What do we do with the people when population totally outstrips food production – as it surely will? We can’t ship many to Mars because the planetary engineering programme will take centuries. And everywhere else you need total life-support systems … So, you either accept the proposition that mankind, being too bloody greedy, isn’t worth saving. Or you have to try to create some way of ensuring that at least part of mankind survives – somewhere.

     ‘Now, shut up and listen. Because the experiments (with matter transmitters) were successful, mankind now has a real chance of survival. Not too great, maybe, but at least a chance. Hence the setting up of the Extra-Solar Planets Evaluating and Normalising Department. For the past twenty years small F.T.L. robot probes have been shot off in all directions at the nearer stars. They had to be robot probes because of the cost. When one of the probes finds a star with an Earth-type planet, it does an orbital survey then comes back with the data. Then, if the scientists think it is worth a try, we send people. Not colonists. Not until it has been proved that the planet can reasonably support human life. We send expendable people – people like you and me … Does it really matter to anyone whether you live or die, Indira Smith? I’ve checked the records, and I know it doesn’t. Your parents are dead, you have no close surviving relatives, your boy-friend walked through a high window. I shall not be missed, either. All I require is an honest answer, Lieutenant. Yes or no?’

     ‘How big would the team be?’
     ‘Seven human beings, six robots.’ Again he laughed. ‘Don’t ask why the mystical number. It was arrived at by the think-tanks and the economists.’
     ‘What about the other five human beings? How do you intend to select them?’
     ‘Like me and you, they will be totally expendable. They will probably be criminals and misfits – people who have nothing to lose. They will also have certain talents. I don’t think there will be too much difficulty in recruitment.’

     ‘Out there,’ he said gesturing to one of the observation panels, ‘is a star called Altair. It’s sixteen light years away – practically next door, astronomically speaking. A robot probe says it has five planets. The probe inspected all of them in low-level orbit. Finally it concentrated on Altair Four. Altair Four has been designated Earth-type. That is to say, it has an oxygen-nitrogen atmosphere, its surface temperatures fall within Terrain extremes, it has three times as much sea area as land area, and its G-force is one point fifteen, which shouldn’t worry us too much. Most of the land area, except for polar regions, is rich with vegetation. Animal life was detected, but there were no signs of technologically advanced civilisation.

     ‘It is a tradition among Terran astronomers to assign a classical name, mythological or historical, to new discoveries. So Altair Four has been given the name of Kratos. In mythology, Kratos is the son of Nike, Greek goddess of victory. The word Kratos means strength. Let us assume, then, some clairvoyance on the part of our chairborne friends. Let us assume that Kratos is going to be tough. If so, our task is to lick it into shape, to prove that colonists can survive there and flourish. Some of us may die there – which doesn’t matter too much, since we are all socially expendable. But, as a team, we have to prove the planet one way or the other. We have to prove that it’s O.K. for colonists or that it is certain death.

     ‘Suppose Kratos has people?’ said Kurt Kwango, emerging from the fascinating problems of a centre cube knight move. ‘What do we do – hoist the U.N. flag and tell them that we have come to liberate them?’
     He gazed at Conrad quizzically. ‘A good question, Kurt. How do you define people?’
     ‘As animals capable of conceptual thought, social organisation and the use of tools.’
     ‘Well, if we find any such animals, we will have to refer back to Terra. If they are an intelligent race, we will not be allowed to exploit them or modify their environment or interfere with their social structure.’

     ‘There is one disturbing fact about Kratos,’ went on Conrad. ‘The planetary surface, particularly in the tropical regions, is marred by deep ruts. They present a strange pattern, looking almost like pathways gouged out of the ground. The robot probes were unable to obtain data that would explain this phenomenon. Our priority assignment is to discover how and why the ruts were made.’ (as it turns out the ruts were made by creatured the team named the Deathworms of Kratos, each about 90 meters long and 3 meters wide)

     At Kennedy, they saw the ground-to-orbit vessel that would take them up to the F.T.L. ship already inserted in the two-hour orbit, one thousand and forty miles above the surface of the Earth.

     The ferry vessel was a slender metal column three hundred metres high. It could lift one hundred and fifty tons of pay-load. It would have to. Besides taking the Expendables to a rendezvous in the two-hour orbit, it would have to take seven exoskeletons, six robots, fourteen space suits, seven suspended animation units, two one-man choppers, an armoured hovercar, seismic survey equipment, ten tons of conventional explosives, fifty tons of water, one ton of assorted weapons, seven tons of tools, equipment and spares, twelve tons of conventional food, food concentrates and medical supplies, one ton of personal effects, and the components for one incredibly small matter receiver.

     The exoskeletons were eight metres long from feet to control crown and, without a man or woman in the control harness, they were useless junk. But, with skilled operators in harness, they were formidable. They could do the work of bulldozers, cranes, excavators. They could run across the countryside at 70 k.p.h., build roads, dig ditches, pluck up trees and, in effect, do anything that an eight-metre giant with the power of fifty men could do. The exoskeletons, once the team had been trained to operate them efficiently, could be Conrad’s equivalent of a construction gang of three hundred men or an armoured assault commando, as he chose. They were, he thought, his ultimate weapon for the taming of Kratos.

     Kwango flashed a broad smile. ‘May I make some contribution to the discussion?’

     ‘Go ahead, Kurt. We need ideas.’

     ‘First, may I point out that I have some slight advantage over the rest of you. I have lived in Africa. Not just the Africa of cities and super cities. The old Africa. The Africa of forest and bush and desert. Shall I tell you, Commander, why you have seen no big game?

     ‘The reason is like now,’ he announced calmly. ‘You make too much g*ddamn noise. Consider, first this tin can comes falling out of the sky with sonic booms, rockets roaring and whatever. Then the good Commander lets the robots play boy scouts, knocking poles in the ground and stringing up pretty wires. And if that wasn’t enough, he had them doing it all over again. We got a whining hovercar, a chopper that makes a sound like a house falling down, five half-ton robots square-dancing on command, and Lou teaching the children how to operate exoskeletons and play ball with fifty-kilo rocks … Brothers and sisters, that is one hell of a lot of noise.’

     ‘Kurt, I believe you have a point,’ said Conrad.

     ‘Sure as dammit, I have,’ said Kwango. ‘I got several points. In my country even the stupid ones know that big game is more nervous than small game. I’m only surprised that, while I was taking my siesta, you managed to collect any bio-samples at all. They must have been so deaf or so crazed they didn’t care any more. So, while you have been playing with wire and throwing rocks around and making enough noise to scare the sh*t out of any intelligent animals in the vicinity, the big creatures have p*ssed off, as de poet says, to fresh woods and pastures new.’

(ed note: ecologist Kurt Kwango, making careful analysis of the data, deduces the existance of the Deathworms. The rest of the team is skeptical, until one fine night a couple worms make an assault on the perimeter defense fortification and come within half a millimeter of penetrating it)

     Conrad wiped the sweat from his forehead. ‘Ladies and gents,’ he said, as calmly as he could, ‘we have now discovered the nature of the opposition. It is a great step forward.’

     Chantana Le Gros laughed. ‘It seems more like a great step backwards. Why didn’t we pull out while the going is good and declare the planet unfit for colonisation?’

     ‘Because we are Expendables,’ said Conrad with sudden ferocity. ‘Because it is our job to prove this planet one way or the other, not to get the shit scared out of us by things that go bump in the night. Because it cost a billion solars to put us here. That money – as Lieutenant Smith will be the first to tell you – could have been spent on land reclamation projects, on schools, hospitals, hydroponics farms for a worn-out planet that has too many people. But U.N. chose to gamble on us and on the possibility of a new world. There are Indian, Chinese, South American children now dying of starvation because of the billion solars it took to get us to Kratos. You want them to die for no reason? I don’t … We are all social trash, one way or another. So it doesn’t really matter a damn whether we live or die. Except that on the other side of the sky there are people who backed us, gave us what we needed, and are now waiting patiently for results. We are going to give them the results – at least, the survivors are. O.K.?’

     Le Gros had a further and more interesting item of information to offer: the death worms could be destroyed by a liberal application of ordinary salt. Good old sodium chloride. The death worms could not cope with it. They had no mechanism for limiting their ingestion of salt. Therefore, if they had to pass over ground where salt was liberally available, their metabolism would be destroyed.

     ‘So we are in business!’ Lou Andreas had exclaimed. ‘All we have to do now is lift off from this g*ddamn place, touch down by the nearest piece of sea and set up a salt-extraction plant. Then we come back and create a big perimeter consisting of a salt barrier, and wait while the bastards choke.’

     ‘It is not as simple at that, Lou,’ said Kwango gently. ‘Our mission is not defensive. It is aggressive. If Kratos is to be colonised, we must take out the death worms by every available means … The salt technique is fine. It limits the problem, but it does not eliminate it. D.D.T. kills flies, but it does not stop the breeding process. If this planet is going to be colonised by terrestrial man, we have to eliminate the death worms completely.

     ‘And how do you propose to do that?’ Conrad had asked.

     Kwango smiled. ‘Simple, Commander. We take out the queens.’ And then Kwango had explained his theory – without any humorous digressions, for once. If, as he believed, each hive or nest contained only one functioning queen, it should be possible to set up a migratory chain reaction. According to Kwango, the white death worms that had challenged the occupants of Mount Conrad had lost their own queen. Therefore they needed to find a new one.

     So, if several queens could be destroyed – the queens in the million square kilometres already surveyed – an artificial imbalance would be created, resulting in a mass-migration of death worms seeking other queens. And since the challenge-mating ritual resulted in so much carnage, the death worms would be reducing their own survival potential.

     Conrad sent an interim report to Terra by sub-space radio. It was necessarily brief. The energy drain for sub-space transmission was huge. The generators on the Santa Maria could only supply the necessary juice for a matter of seconds. Otherwise they would burn out.
     The message read: ‘Kratos colonisation prospects excellent. Make ready first hundred colonists for matter-transmission approx three E-months from receipt of message. Message ends. Signal receipt. Conrad.’
     Confirmation of the receipt of Conrad’s message came forty-six K-days after transmission. Which wasn’t bad, considering sub-space lag of fifty days plus had been anticipated.
     It read: ‘Acknowledged. First hundred in suspended animation ready for transmission. Signal when you are ready to receive.’

     Conrad assembled his team. ‘We are going to build a town,’ he said, ‘two kilometres south of Base One. We are going to build a town that will eventually accommodate two thousand people. The river runs close to the site, and we will also sink wells at appropriate places. The advance contingent will consist of one hundred Terrans. At first, they will live in log cabins, as their ancestors did when opening up new territories. We will design the town, build the cabins, construct a hospital and a school. We will provide everything they can possibly need.’

     ‘Happy New Year, everybody,’ said Conrad. ‘We have survived on Kratos one planetary cycle. Tomorrow, Matthew and his merry band will erect the matter receiver in Jamestown. Don’t ask me how it works. That information is stored only in Matthew’s circuits and the Santa Maria computer’s memory banks. But, pretty soon, now, the covered wagons are going to roll across the prairie.’

From THE DEATHWORMS OF KRATOS by Edmund Cooper (1975)

First Contact Section

First contact with a previously unknown alien civilization is a situation fraught with everything from a new renaissance for your galactic empire, to the utter destruction of your galactic empire. It is a very tricky problem.

Since the survival of the Empire is at stake, the First Contact section is about as far up in the imperial government hierarchy as you can get.

With luck, the alien civilization is discovered by the Astronomical Section. With even more luck, the aliens have no idea your empire exists. This gives some breathing room for the First Contact section to decide how to deal with the aliens. This probably boils down to:

  • Try to prevent the aliens from discovering your existance
  • Cautious attempts at first contact (with some imperial battle fleets held in reserve)
  • Genocide

But if one of your first-in scouts is surprised by aliens, the fecal material has hit the fan, and the First Contact section goes into panic mode.


Scoutships will be equipped with huge remote sensing sensor suites to scan the entire planet in detail from orbit. And map it if the planet looks promising. It will also have a large supply of survey satellites, aerial or rocket propelled drones, sample return probes, soft-landing probes, and planetary rovers.

Any return samples will have the probes decontanimated within an inch of their lives, and be studied in remote controled isolation labs. Said labs can be jettisoned and destroyed with integral nuclear physics package the instant any sample shows signs of breaching the isolation.

The ship will also have lots of laboratories to analyze and extrapolate from all the data returned.

The scoutship should be armed more heavily than is normal for a ship its size because you never know when an explorer past the edge of known space might be surprised by trigger-happy xenophobic aliens.

And of course a self-destruct mechanism in case they run into something civilization-threatening that the scouts can't handle. There may or may not be a heavily-stealthed emergency data buoy ejected before self-destruct, containing all data records about the threat. Depends upon whether the astromilitary thinks such a buoy will do more harm than good. Lots of factors to consider: chance of buoy being infected by disease/computer virus/nanotechnology/other, chance of buoy being intercepted by threat and providing damaging data to the enemy, that sort of thing.

Now if the science-fiction author is postulating a reasonable level of technology (FTL or no), the scoutship will be a largish vessel that stays in orbit, and landing vehicles will be used to deliver larger probes and/or human explorers to the planet's surface. Or matter transmitters if you are the Starship Enterprise. The scoutship might power the landing vehicles using laser beams.

On the other hand, if the author is willing to postulate absolutely outrageous amounts of energy and technology available, they can land the entire freaking scoutship. In which case all the equipment detailed in the Lander section below will instead be inside the starship.


(ed note: this is from a solo-play tabletop boardgame where the player explores several star systems. The game is a sequel to The Wreck of the BSM Pandora, where an accident on the Zoo Ship temporarily renders the crew unconscious and releases all the alien critters.)


The Ares Corporation BSM Pandora is a standard long range cruiser, Titan class, specifically equipped to study new planetary systems and collect extraterrestrial lifeforms. Although the prototype BSM cruiser was originally designed in 2689 A.D., the first ship was not completed until 2753; the Pandora's hull was orginally laid down in 2773, but it was not launched until 2784 (the third BSM crusier to come off the line).

The Pandora uses the standard binary LRC design. The FTL module (70 × 28 × 26 meters) uses the module 31 FTL drive (Monopole Corp.). The STL module (46 × 27 × 26 meters) uses the model HB2 STL drive (FRG AG). The main computer is a Fuji 5500 (AMC Ltd.), with sub-system processors belonging to the Huron 7600 series (General Electric).

The Pandora's FTL drive gives the ship an almost limitless operational range; the standard tour of duty is ten years, thus limiting the ship to an effective operational range of 112 light years (34.35+ parsecs).

The standard BMS mission consists of two parts: first, a survey of planetary systems for potential human habitats (either G2 — G2.5 readily habitable or Geneva Treaty 2098, Section IIIA, Subsection 4 — Terraformible Class habitable), and second, the collection of extraterrestrial biological specimens for study aboard ship or later transfer to Biological Mission Control, Arestia City, Mars...


Realistic spacecraft (FTL or no) have the scout mothership parked in orbit, while small lander craft (crewed or uncrewed) travel to and from the planet's surface.

Choosing a landing site for a crewed vessel, though, is mostly up to the crew, not the ship's equipment suite. It's their neck. If they make it down without the ship toppling over then they can plant a landing beacon. The beacon will allow a pilot who is not a hot-shot highly-trained first-in scout to land their ship without dying.

If the lander does topple over, it will need ship-raising equipment to set the lander upright.

Landers will carry groundcars and flitters so scouts can explore lots of ground. Not to mention mobile bases. They will also carry survival kits and medical gear in case of emergency.

Landers need extensive sickbays or auto docs, to try and sew the scout back together after some planetary hazard has mutilated them. It would make sense to initially send out robots so the various planetary death-traps are discovered by something expendable. There will be decontamination chambers in the airlocks to prevent alien plagues from entering the lander. And quarantine rooms in case the plagues get in anyway.

The lander hull should be armored like fortress walls in case something or somethings try to claw or shoot their way in. And like the mothership, it should also have an emergency self-destruct. In case that is the only way to protect the home empire from whatever horror the landed scouts uncover.

Now comes the question about exactly how the lander sets down and lifts off. More to the point: how can it carry enough energy? Remember that for lift-off at least it need approximately the same amount of energy needed to go halfway to anywhere.

Civilized planets have infrastructure to handle this: things like space elevators, laser launchers, Lofstrom Loops, and Space Fountains. But this is a wilderness planet the scouts are exploring, ain't got no infrastruture here (or if there is, it is probably hostile aliens and you are in a whole lotta trouble).

A lander capable of landing and lift-off will probably have a draconian tiny payload allowance. Unless is uses antimatter or something for fuel, which will make the planet ring like a bell and leave an impressive crater if the lander crashes.

Matterbeam has a more reasonable solution. Use a laser launcher but turn it upside down. Instead of having the laser and the power plant on the ground, have it in orbit. More precisely in the mothership. Use Beamed Energy Propulsion, in other words.

This will require that the mothership has lots of electrical power available, and a powerful laser. But it will allow the lander to land and lift off with impressively huge payloads. And they will be even huger if the lander can scrounge some in-situ resource utilization reaction mass from the planet's atmosphere, landscape, or seascape.

Naturally the mothership can only energize the lander when the mother's orbit has the lander in line of sight, but under normal circumstances that should be no problem. Under emergency circumstances it will be a dramatic plot complication for the science-fiction author to add to their novel.


(ed note: this is from a solo-play tabletop boardgame where the player explores several star systems. The game is a sequel to The Wreck of the BSM Pandora, where an accident on the Zoo Ship temporarily renders the crew unconscious and releases all the alien critters.)


After sub-Titan shuttle safely docks with Titan-class cruiser, the following operational checklist will be adhered to in the transfer of specimens into the Stage area.

  1. All crew members will evacuate Stage area.
  2. ALL airlocks to Stage area will be secured.
  3. Collecbot will be activated.
  4. Collecbot will open specimen Store Space.
  5. Collecpod will move energy cage to Store Space lock.
  6. Environment differential will be adjusted to minimum between cage and Store Space.
  7. Collecbot will transfer specimen from cage to Store Space.
  8. Collecbot will secure Store Space.
  9. Collecbot will administer anti-tranq to specimine.
  10. Specimen will be allowed to waken. (Note: NO CREW MEMBER WILL BE ALLOWED TO ENTER STAGE AREA!)
  11. Specimen will be allowed to test Store Space.
  12. If all specification prove safe (see Securing Specimens), crew members will be allowed to enter Stage area.
  13. If specification proves safe, collecbot will tranquilize specimen and transfer it to hibernation chamber (see Hibernation Transfer).

Star Trek TOS

The original Star Trek sort of straddles the fuzzy boarder between "civilian" and "military." In the unofficial Star Trek Technical Manual they talk about taking 12 Star Fleet heavy cruiser starships that are being hangar queens and sending them out to do deep space exploration. With the understanding that they will be instantly available for military missions if Star Fleet needs them.

Such a half-military survey service has precedent in early science fiction:

JAY SCORE SERIES by Eric Frank Russell (1941)
Yes, the first story has bit of casual racism in the second paragraph, but it is a product of the times. About on the level of all ship engineers being Scotsmen. The actual interstellar exploration starts in the second story "MECHANISTRIA".
THE MIXED MEN (aka Mission to the Stars) by A. E. van Vogt (1943)
The galactic battleship Star Cluster under command of Lady Gloria Laurr has spent the last decade exploring the Greater Magellanic Cloud. But this is an expedition in force. If need be the battleship is powerful enough to conquer the entire cloud single-handedly. Things are dull until they stumble over an interstellar lighthouse, revealing the existence of a small fifty-sun empire hidden in the Magellanic. An empire populated by human beings. Or something that only looks like human beings.
FIRST CONTACT Murray Leinster (1945)
This story gave the name of an entire class of science fiction. The ship is armed, but their official orders regarding first contact did not envision this particular situation. Insufficient imagination on the commanders part.
VOYAGE OF THE SPACE BEAGLE by A. E. van Vogt (1950)
     This fix-up novel is arguably one of the major influences on classic Star Trek. Not only the background with the ship and crew, a couple of the stories appear to have inspired Star Trek episodes. Though critics have noted the mission of the Space Beagle is far more like that of Charles Darwin's HMS Beagle than it is like the mission of the Starship Enterprise.
     Ironically A. E. van Vogt coined the expression "fix-up" in the first place.
     While it is not deathless prose, science fiction authors may want to force themselves to finish reading it anyway to discover the origins of many now-standard tropes. Amusingly enough the monster from the first story inspired the "displacer beast" in Dungeons & Dragons. Unamusingly the monster from the third story was so close to the one in the movie Alien that Vogt sued 20th Century Fox for plagiarism. The case was settled out of court for an undisclosed sum.
GREEN PATCHES by Isaac Asimov (1950)
As scouts, their quarantine and decontamination procedures are woefully inadequate. There isn't a real military association, but the crew is going knowingly into an extremely dangerous situation. And when the prior scout mission discovered the hard way just how dangerous it was, they were military enough to activate their ship's self destruct mechanism.
SUCKER BAIT by Isaac Asimov (1954)
This is more a privately owned starship hired by the government to transport a team of scientists on an exploration mission.
This is another major influence on classic Star Trek. Just watch the movie and you'll see harbingers of Trek everywhere. About the only element that didn't make it into Star Trek was having the crew composed mainly of 18-year-old enlisted men like most wet-navy vessels. The ship seems more military than exploration, but the mission was an errand of mercy.
This was the novelization of the movie, released shortly before the film. It has a couple of elements that didn't make it into the movie. Particularly how Alta's sexual awakening made her vulnerable to her former pet tiger, mirroring the downfall of Enkidu in the epic Gilgamesh. And you thought a change of heart in a unicorn was bad.
JOHN GRIMES RIMWORLD SERIES by A. Bertram Chandler (1961)
The first ten novels chronicle John Grimes rise through the Federation Survey Service. But his luck runs out in The Big Black Mark and he eventually joins the Rim World Naval Reserve.
THE GREAT EXPLOSION by Eric Frank Russell (1962)
This is not so much exploring unknown worlds as it is exploring lots of lost interstellar human colonies. Somebody invented the Blieder FTL drive, and every nut-job splinter group set out to find a virgin planet to colonize. Four hundred years later Earth wants to unify all the zillions of crack-pot colonies under the Earth Empire. The ship unfortunately is full of pompous officials and bureaucrats, not to mention an incompetent military contingent. Hilarity ensues.
TURNING POINT by Poul Anderson (1963)
The galactic survey carries a representative of the Federal civil government (the civilians), the Federal militechic representative (the military), and an agent of the Traders (the rich).
WINGS OF VICTORY by Poul Anderson (1972)
Excerpt can be found above.
Apollo remarked to his brother Zack when the Cylon war is finally over they can get back to deep-star exploration, that's the real challenge.

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