The Andromeda Strain (1969), by Michael Crichton, is a techno-thriller novel documenting the efforts of a team of scientists investigating a deadly extraterrestrial microorganism which rapidly and fatally clots human blood. This novel established Michael Crichton as a best-selling genre author.
When a military satellite returns to Earth, a recovery team is dispatched to retrieve it; during a live radio communication with their base, the team members suddenly die. Aerial surveillance reveals that everyone in Piedmont, Arizona, the town near the satellite's landing site, is apparently dead. The base commander suspects the satellite returned with an extraterrestrial organism and recommends activating Wildfire, the government-sponsored team that counters extraterrestrial biological infestation.
The Wildfire scientific team studying the unknown strain is comprised of Dr. Jeremy Stone, molecular biology specialist; Dr. Peter Leavitt, disease pathology; Dr. Charles Burton, infection vectors specialist; and Dr. Mark Hall, M.D., Surgeon, biochemistry and pH specialist. A fifth scientist, Dr. Christian Kirke, electrolytes specialist, was unavailable for duty because of appendicitis.
The scientists believe the satellite, that was actually designed to capture upper-atmosphere microorganisms for bio-weapon exploitation, returned with a deadly microorganism that kills by disseminated intra-vascular coagulation. On investigating the town, the Wildfire team discovered that the residents either died in mid-stride or go "quietly nuts" and commit bizarre suicide. Two Piedmont inhabitants, the sick, Sterno-addicted, geriatric, Peter Jackson, and the constantly-bawling infant, Jamie Ritter, are biologic opposites who somehow survived the organism.
The man, infant, and satellite are taken to the secret underground Wildfire laboratory in Flatrock, Nevada, sixty miles from Las Vegas. Further investigation determines that the bizarre deaths were caused by a sulfur-based, crystal-structured, extraterrestrial microbe on a meteor that crashed into the satellite, knocking it from orbit. The microbe contains chemical elements required for terrestrial life, but lacks DNA, RNA, proteins, and amino acids, yet it directly transforms matter to energy and vice versa.
The microbe, code named Andromeda, mutates with each growth cycle, changing its biologic properties. The scientists learn that Andromeda grows only within a narrow pH range; in a too-acid or too-basic growth medium, it will not multiply — Andromeda's pH range is 7.39–7.43, like that of human blood. Thus, that is why Jackson and Ritter survived, both had abnormal blood pH; however, by the time the scientists realize that, Andromeda's current mutation degrades polymer plastic and escapes its containment. Trapped in an Andromeda-contaminated laboratory, Dr. Burton demands that Stone inject him with Kalocin ("the universal antibiotic"); Stone demurs, arguing it would render Burton too-vulnerable to infection. Burton survives because he is hyperventilating, causing a change in his blood pH.
The mutated Andromeda attacks the neoprene door and hatch seals within the Wildfire complex, racing to the upper levels and the surface. The self-destruction atomic bomb is automatcially armed, triggering its detonation countdown to incinerate all exo-biological diseases. Ironically, it is just realized that given its ability to generate matter directly from energy, Andromeda would feed and reproduce from an atomic explosion.
To halt the atomic detonation, Dr. Hall must insert his special key to an emergency substation anywhere in Wildfire. Unfortunately, he is trapped in an unfinished section with no substation. He must navigate Wildfire's obstacle course of automatic defenses to reach a working substation on an upper level. He barely disarms the bomb in time. Andromeda eventually mutates to a nonlethal form and is swept out to sea, where salt water kills it.
The novel's epilogue reveals that a manned spacecraft, Andros V, was incinerated in atmospheric re-entry, because its polymer heat shield failed. Space flights are discontinued until further notice.
Results of special testing confirm the Odd-Man Hypothesis, that an unmarried male should carry out command decisions involving thermonuclear or chem-biol destruct contexts.
The Odd-Man Hypothesis states that unmarried men are better able to execute the best, most dispassionate decisions in crises -- in this case, to disarm the nuclear weapon intended to prevent the escape of organisms from the laboratory in the event the automatic destruct sequence is triggered.
Statistics follow, Group: Index of Effectiveness: 0.343 for married men, 0.946 for single, male scientists, et cetera; then each scientist's command decision effectiveness index: Stone 0.687, Burton 0.543, Kirke 0.614, Leavitt 0.601, and Hall 0.899; thus, Dr Hall, M.D., is given the key to halt (if necessary) the Wildfire Laboratory's automated self-destruction. Moreover, considering Kirke's knowledge of electrolytes, Leavitt admits that the Odd-Man Hypothesis is essentially why Hall was drafted to the Wildfire team.
In both book and film, Hall is briefed on the Hypothesis after his arrival at Wildfire. In the film, he is criticized for failure to read the material ahead of time, while in the book, his copy of the briefing materials has the Hypothesis pages removed.
In September 2004, the Sci Fi Channel announced production of a miniseries, executively-produced by Ridley and Tony Scott and Frank Darabont. On 2 May 2007, the SciFi channel's news website (The SciFi Wire) announced that the miniseries would be broadcast on the A&E Network, also, on 16 August 2007 the cast and crew filmed at the Surrey, BC campus of Simon Fraser University. The miniseries premiere was Monday 26 May 2008.
A fictional website has appeared, featuring references to trouble in Piedmont, Utah. It takes on the appearance of a blog, featuring posts and comments. This website is an apparent viral advertisement for the Andromeda Strain mini-series.
Musically, the novel's wider, cultural influence is evidenced in the science fiction, death metal band Nocturnus who sing, inspired by the novel, the Andromeda Strain, on their début album The Key; the Progressive metal band Shadow Gallery have a song titled The Andromeda Strain, about genetically engineered biological weapons, on their album Room V; and Klaus Schulze has a concert recording titled Andromeda Strain.