tin can n.

a spaceship or space station

In 1929 quot.: a metal spacesuit.


  • [1929 J. R. Ullrich Moon Strollers in Amazing Stories May 148/1 page image J. Rogers Ullrich bibliography

    You know it is a very different matter to insulate your tin can against absolute zero than to insulate one of my ice boxes against 90 degrees on a summer’s day. However,…it is not beyond our ability to obtain security against the low temperature of the moon’s surface.]

  • 1938 ‘D. A. Stuart’ Dead Knowledge in Astounding Stories Jan. 59/2 page image John W. Campbell, Jr. bibliography

    Two men for three years, in a tin can, makes one man. Nerve friction, as they call it.

  • 1940 ‘L. Gregor’ Flight to Galileo in Astonishing Stories Oct. 101/2 page image

    You would make a fine picture going out there in your little tincan, waiting until the attackers came. They would float in with lights and most power out, everything shielded so that we couldn’t detect them.

  • 1948 ‘M. Leinster’ Space-Can in Thrilling Wonder Stories June 117/1 Murray Leinster

    When the Winship landed on Ganymede, it was on one of those errands that are handed over to destroyer-skippers, commanding the tin-cans of the space-fleet, because nobody with silver braid wants to do them.

  • 1950 K. Bennett Rocketeers Have Shaggy Ears in Planet Stories Spring 4/1

    Suddenly Commander Devlin grinned, and pulled a brandy bottle from his pocket, uncorking it as he spoke: ‘Well, Rocketeers, a short life and a merry one. I never did give a damn for riding in these tin cans.’

  • 1952 ‘R. Rocklynne’ Interplanetary Tin Can in Science Fiction Adventures Nov. 54/2 Ross Rocklynne

    Our tin can landed first.

  • 1952 ‘R. Rocklynne’ Interplanetary Tin Can in Science Fiction Adventures Nov. 55/2 Ross Rocklynne

    We're a couple miserable Texas cowboys. We built an interplanetary tin can. People made fun of us.

  • 1954 G. O. Smith Spacemen Lost in Startling Stories Fall 53/1 George O. Smith

    Commander Hatch looked down at his feet. ‘I was in a space can once,’ he said. ‘They don’t last forever. I—’ He let his voice trail away. Wilson looked into their faces. The cold, bleak fact was so clear in their faces that he could not ignore it. He was forced to recognize the fact that a lifeship is no spacecraft. A lifeship is a flimsy tin can, as spaceworthy as an open raft on the broad ocean, as spaceworthy as an umbrella in a windstorm.

  • 1958 H. Ellison No Planet Is Safe in Super-Science Fiction June 110/2 Harlan Ellison

    ‘Listen, Mr. Writer,’ Weiss spun on him, ‘we’ve been tooling this tin-can through space for five years, and we thank God nightly we’re still alive to report back.’

  • 1969 D. Bowie Space Oddity (song)

    For here am I sitting in my tin can Far above the world Planet Earth is blue And there’s nothing I can do.

  • 1996 G. Benford Dark Sanctuary in Matter’s End 147 Gregory Benford

    That happens every time the cylinder boys build a new tin can and need to form an ecosystem inside. Rock and ore they can get from Earth’s moon. For water they have to come to us, the Belters.

  • 2019 Y. H. Lee Dragon Pearl xxix. 248 Yoon Ha Lee bibliography

    It wouldn’t be accurate enough for real survey work, but we only needed to know if there was sufficient oxygen and no poisonous gases. Fortunately, the display lit up blue. We were in the clear. We all looked at each other and exhaled in relief at the same time. ‘Okay,’ Sujin said, ‘let’s open this tin can.’

Research requirements

antedating 1938

Earliest cite

J. W. Campbell, in Astounding Stories

Research History
Fred Galvin submitted a 1948 cite from Murray Leinster's "Space-Can".
Malcolm Farmer submitted a cite from a 1996 reprint of Gregory Benford's 1979 "Dark Sanctuary".
Fred Galvin submitted a 1940 cite from Lee Gregor's "Flight to Galileo".
Fred Galvin submitted a 1958 cite from "No Planet is Safe" by Harlan Ellison.
Fred Galvin submitted a cite from a 1951 reprint of Keith Bennett's "The Rocketeers Have Shaggy Ears"; Mike Christie verified the cite in the 1950 original.
Fred Galvin submitted a 1954 cite from George O. Smith's "Spacemen Lost".
Fred Galvin submitted a 1952 cite from Ross Rocklynne's "Interplanetary Tin Can".
Malcolm Farmer submitted a cite from a 1966 reprint of John W. Campbell's "Dead Knowledge"; Jesse Sheidlower verified this in its first publication (Astounding, Jan 1938, as by "Don A. Stuart").
Ben Ostrowsky submitted a 1969 example from David Bowie's "Space Oddity", among the more famous uses of this term ever.
Ben Ostrowsky submitted a 2019 cite from Yoon Ha Lee.

Last modified 2021-03-31 21:50:32
In the compilation of some entries, HDSF has drawn extensively on corresponding entries in OED.