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"[Science fiction] is the one literary medium left in which we have a free hand. We can do any damn thing we please."
- Alfred Bester

Manual Search For Habitable Planet  
  A tedious search for habitable planets by hand.  

At the edge of the strange galaxy though they were, many days were required to reduce the intergalactic pace of the vessel to a value at which maneuvering was possible, and many more days passed into time before Crane announced the discovery of a sun which not only possessed a family of planets, but was also within the specified distance of a white dwarf star.

To any Earthly astronomer, whose most powerful optical instruments fail to reveal even the closest star as anything save a dimensionless point of light, such a discovery would have been impossible, but Crane was not working with Earthly instruments. For the fourth-order projector, although utterly useless at the intergalactic distances with which Seaton was principally concerned, was vastly more powerful than any conceivable telescope.

Driven by the full power of a disintegrating uranium bar, it could hold a projection so steadily at a distance of twenty light-years that a man could manipulate a welding arc as surely as though it was upon a bench before him which, in effect, it was-and in cases in which delicacy of control was not an object, such as the present quest for such vast masses as planets, the projector was effective over distances of many hundreds of light- years.

Thus it came about that the search for a planetiferous sun near a white dwarf star was not unduly prolonged, and Skylark Two tore through the empty ether toward it.

Close enough so that the projector could reveal details, Seaton drove projections of all Page 173 four voyagers down into the atmosphere of the first planet at hand. That atmosphere was heavy and of a pronounced greenish-yellow cast, and through it that fervent sun poured down a flood of lurid light upon a peculiarly dead and barren ground-but yet a ground upon which grew isolated clumps of a livid and monstrous vegetation.

"Of course detailed analysis at this distance is impossible, but what do you make of it, Dick?" asked Crane. "In all our travels, this is only the second time we have encountered such an atmosphere."

"Yes; and that's exactly twice too many." Seaton, at the spectroscope, was scowling in thought. "Chlorin, all right, with some fluorin and strong traces of oxide of nitrogen, nitrosyl chloride, and so on-just about like that one we saw in our own galaxy that time. I thought then and have thought ever since that there was something decidedly fishy about that planet, and I think there's something equally screwy about this one."

From Skylark of Valeron, by E.E. 'Doc' Smith.
Published by Astounding in 1934
Additional resources -

Compare to the search for habitable planets from Edmond Hamilton's 1936 story Cosmic Quest.

Special thanks to Fred Kiesche and Winchell Chung for leading me to this item.

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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from Skylark of Valeron
  More Ideas and Technology by E.E. 'Doc' Smith
  Tech news articles related to Skylark of Valeron
  Tech news articles related to works by E.E. 'Doc' Smith

Manual Search For Habitable Planet-related news articles:
  - Amazing Kepler Space Telescope Decommissioned By NASA

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