airlock n.

a small airtight compartment with controlled pressure and two sets of doors, used to facilitate movement between the interior and exterior of a spacecraft; (also) either of the doors to such a compartment; cf. space lock n.

This term is found as early as 1840 in reference to a submarine.

  • [1840 Mechanic & Chemist 19 Dec. 282/2

    a l is an air-lock [in a submarine], into which the men enter to pass up to d a; d a, rooms where air at the common density is heated, and where the hands refresh themselves.]

  • 1930 J. W. Campbell Black Star Passes in Amazing Stories Quarterly Fall 523/1 page image John W. Campbell, Jr. bibliography

    Through the air-locks the great ships settled into their world.

  • 1951 A. C. Clarke Sands of Mars ii. 12 Arthur C. Clarke bibliography

    Help him through the airlock when the tender couples up.

  • 1970 A. McCaffrey Ship who Sang (1991) i.20 Anne McCaffrey

    She must put on the suit because the airlock had no independent oxygen or cooling units.

  • 1973 A. C. Clarke Rendezvous with Rama (1974) 20 Arthur C. Clarke

    A clearly marked circular disc, a hundred metres in diameter, was centred on the Pole, and Norton had a strong suspicion that this must be the outer seal of an enormous airlock.

  • 1979 A. C. Clarke Fountains of Paradise 137 Arthur C. Clarke

    The second floor was completely empty, devoid even of temporary fittings. Someone had chalked a large rectangle on the curved plastic panel of the wall and printed inside it: AIRLOCK HERE?

  • 1980 D. Brin Sundiver iv.xii. 128 David Brin

    Now LaRoque was putting on a spacesuit in a tool closet twenty meters from an outer airlock.

  • 1981 ‘C. J. Cherryh’ Pride of Chanur (1991) vii. 108 C. J. Cherryh

    Dur Tahar laid her ears back and started to go, lingered for one poisonous look beyond, toward the airlock, and a focus snapped back on center.

  • 1984 D. Brin Practice Effect i. iv. 13 David Brin bibliography

    Anything shoved through the airlock would arrive on the anomaly world.

  • 1985 M. W. Bonanno Dwellers in Crucible xi.233 Margaret Wander Bonanno

    A slight, athletic figure…braved his way through the RihanFed Border Station toward the helmeted and heavily armed sentry at the single airlock.

  • 1992 A. Steele Labyrinth of Night 40 Allen Steele bibliography

    Since the airlock could accommodate only two people at a time, the two men had allowed Miho to have her privacy while they waited in the depressurised garage.

  • 1993 A. C. Clarke Hammer of God 118 Arthur C. Clarke

    As they were walking through the airlock to the pressurized Marscar that had brought them from the hotel, the exhibition produced one final surprise.

  • 1998 ‘L. A. Graf’ War Dragons x. 140 Julia Ecklar Karen Rose Cercone bibliography

    You'd have to dock her at the emergency airlock on the primary hull.

  • 1998 G. Cox Assignment: Eternity iii. 38 Greg Cox bibliography

    Toss them out an airlock?

  • 2005 R. J. Sawyer Mindscan xxx. 218 Robert J. Sawyer

    Then we cycled through the airlock, which happened to be adjacent to the pad where the moonbuses landed.

  • 2019 Y. H. Lee Dragon Pearl ix. 83 Yoon Ha Lee bibliography

    My sharp ears picked up the sounds of the mercs aligning one of their ships with ours and forcing the hatch open, then the whine of the airlock cycling. I tensed up. How many of them would come for us?

Research requirements

antedating 1930

Research History
OED2 included this in its existing entry, which does not separate out the SF sense. The earliest quotation is from 1857; the earliest SF example (in OED2) is from 1951. OED Online updated the entry in 2008, with an 1840 first quotation. Moved the "lock" entry to Pending; there's no evidence (in the entry, that is; it would require searching to find SF exx.) and it's entirely standard.

Last modified 2020-12-20 18:37:51
In the compilation of some entries, HDSF has drawn extensively on corresponding entries in OED.