The Astronauts (in Polish Astronauci) is the first science fiction novel by Polish writer Stanisław Lem published as a book, in 1951.
To write the novel, Lem received advance payment from publishing house Czytelnik (Warsaw). The book became an instant success and was translated into several languages (first into Czech, published in 1956). This success convinced Lem to switch to the career of a science-fiction author.
The Astronauts, written for the youth, is set in the Communist utopian future. To get published under the communist regime in Poland, Lem had to insert frequent references to the ideals of communism. Decades later, Lem declared about The Astronauts:
Everything is so smooth and balanced; among the heroes we have a positive Russian character and a sweet Chinese; naiveté is present on all pages of this book. The hope that in the year 2000 the world would be wonderful is indeed very childish.
The term, used in countries of Eastern Bloc, was not yet created when the text was written, hence the name Astronauts.
The introduction describes the fall of the Tunguska meteorite (1908) and subsequent expedition of Leonid Kulik. The hypothesis about the crash of a spaceship is mentioned.
Fast-forward to the year 2003. Communism has emerged as the worldwide form of government and humankind, freed from oppression and chaos, is engaged in gigantic engineering projects - irrigation of the Sahara, construction of a hydro-energetic plant over the Strait of Gibraltar, and the ability to control the climate. The latest project is to thaw the Antarctic and Arctic regions by artificial nuclear-powered "suns" circling above.
During the preparation of earthworks in the Tunguska area a strange object is found and later identified as an extraterrestrial data record. The record contains details about the travel of a spaceship from Venus (which crashed in Tunguska) and the data record ends with an ominous message: "After two rotations the Earth will be radiated. When the radiation intensity drops to half, the Great Movement will commence." Scared, the government of the Earth (consisting of scientists) decides to send a newly built spaceship, the Kosmokrator (equipped with a vacuum tube-based computer called Marax) to Venus.
After a few weeks the international crew of the Kosmokrator arrives on Venus but finds no traces of life, only strange, half-destroyed technological structures like the White Globe, a giant anti-gravity device.
It turns out that Venus was inhabited by a warlike civilization planning to occupy the Earth. However, before they managed to destroy life on Earth, they themselves perished in a nuclear civil war, leaving only ruins of cities and scattered electronic records.
In 1960, a movie Der Schweigende Stern (The Silent Star, Milcząca Gwiazda in Polish) based on the book was shot in East Germany, directed by Kurt Maetzig. A much shortened 1962 Crown International Pictures English dubbed release in the USA used the name . Lem had disowned the movie.