Robinson, Frank M. – “One Thousand Miles Up” (1954)
Two years ago, the UN launched a space station equipped with nuclear warheads, manned by five nationalities: American, English, Italian, Russian, and Chinese – “a safety margin for West of one man.” The Cold War has been steadily heating up, and the story opens with an American secret agent being sent up to replace the American scientist whose term has ended, which is the first such replacement. The agent tries to sway the Italian to the side of democracy, but the latter is unmoved: he points out that the communists are just as sincere in their own beliefs as the liberals are in theirs. The Russian, motivated like the American by the fear of seeing his home cities reduced to radioactive rubble, beats him to the punch and demands at gunpoint that everyone surrender their nuclear keys to him – he does not care about the Communist Party and is not even a Party member, but he loves his country.
In the nick of time, a teletype arrives – the American scientist who had left the space station had died upon reentry, and the same fate awaits all of them (the heart, being weakened by zero gravity, cannot last). Facing banishment together, all five resolve to police the Earth and promise to nuke the next country that exhibits aggression toward any other, in the belief that peace would eventually “become a habit.”
Teamwork aside, just so that we know the American is the real hero it is revealed that because he had been there such a short time that he could have safely returned home, but he has chosen to sacrifice himself for the greater good.