Fantastic ending covered up all faults of this otherwise ordinary, depressing, & sometimes illogical story.
There is a resonance of its theme in some of the dialogs in Michael Crichton's "Jurassic Park": worst the humans can do to earth is to get themselves destroyed & also most other current life forms. But earth is resurgent. It might take it a while, but there will be life again here & earth won't miss us. Only reason we need to guard against very environment-unfriendly actions is our own survival.
Story summary.Stephen Crane is an inventor. He has found "a catalyst that would induce atomic disintegration of iron", & the process gives out an enormous amount of energy - kind of substitute for nuclear reactions.
He is building a rocket powered by this reaction to make a trip to moon. Only, his associate, Hallmyer, doesn't think that is a good idea. Because some catalyst is bound to leak from rocket exhaust - even after all precautions are taken. Even minute traces leaking into atmosphere will eventually settle on ground. And much of earth is iron!
Crane is not listening. Hallmyer burns the facility holding the rocket ready to go off. After some drama, Crane makes it to ship - with his dog, Umber. And launches the ship - still in good enough shape. But he is too exhausted by the last minute drama, & goes unconscious after launch.
By the time he wakes up, he realizes the ship shot up "perhaps almost to Roche's zone, to the limit of the Earth's gravitational attraction, but then without guiding hands at the controls to continue its flight, had turned and was dropping back toward Earth"! And earth below is an inferno - Hallmyer was right, he has ended up destroying earth! After hours of fall, he finally exits rocket via his parachute & lands. By now, he & his dog are the only surviving creatures on earth.
Over the following weeks, as he is moving towards death on meagre rations he was taking to moon, dog attacks him for food; he ends up killing dog.
Now he has reached the sea after weeks of walk & then crawl - or what remains of the sea. The last life form earth is ever going to see.
Er, is it the last life form? Realization hits on how earth will recover - there is a way yet for earth to rebuilt life from Adam alone, without any Eve! Great ending.
- Raymond J Healy & J Francis McComas (Eds)' "Adventures in Time and Space".
Fact sheet.First published: Astounding Science Fiction, September 1941.
Listed among the stories from John Campbell's Astounding/Analog.
There are at least 2 comic book adaptations of this story online: as one of the stories in Unknown Worlds of Science Fiction, March 1975 issue in CBR format (but downloadable only as part of a larger RAR pack at Crosseyed Cyclops); JPEG files of only this story from this magazine at Grantbridge Street & Other Misadventures.