reaction drive n.

a propulsion system for a slower-than-light spacecraft that generates thrust by ejecting matter in a direction opposite that of travel

Cf. earlier standard reaction engine, reaction motor (OED: 1849 and 1900, respectively).


  • 1942 L. M. Jensen Probability Zero!: Take-Off in Astounding Science-Fiction Dec. 108/2 page image L. M. Jensen bibliography

    Ben, you’ve been around the starliner business long enough, now, that you should know those old reaction-drive cans couldn’t be remodeled.

  • 1949 T. Sturgeon Minority Report in Astounding Science Fiction June 137/1 page image Theodore Sturgeon bibliography

    They fired up the reaction drive and began to move toward the sun.

  • 1959 ‘L. Correy’ Letter from Tomorrow in Fantastic Universe May 125/1 page image G. Harry Stine bibliography

    Rockets, with the proper propulsion system, may switch from a reaction drive to a system using electrogravity energy once they have progressed sufficiently beyond the disturbing influence of this planet with its strong electrogravity field.

  • 1970 J. Blish Spock Must Die! x. 69 James Blish

    Even so small a ship as a seven-man reaction-drive shuttle offers abundant crannies in which to hole up.

  • 1980 M. A. Rothman On Designing an Interstellar Spaceship in Asimov’s Science Fiction Sept. 118 page image Milton A. Rothman bibliography

    If conservation of momentum is a valid law, then every interstellar space drive must be a reaction drive.

  • 1993 G. A. Landis & J. Strumolo Cost of Styxite Science Fiction Age Jan. 42/2 page image Geoffrey A. Landis Jorj Strumolo bibliography

    Auxiliary systems, check. Prime reaction drive, check.

  • 2015 S. White Soldiers Out of Time xix. 145 page image Steve White bibliography

    But subtle fluctuation of the artificial gravity let them know, even in the dim depths of the slave compartment, when the Primary Limit had been entered and the transport was maneuvering under reaction drive.

Research requirements

antedating 1942

Earliest cite

L. M. Jensen, in Astounding

Research History
Bill Seabrook located and Mike Christie confirmed a 1949 cite from Theodore Sturgeon's "Minority Report".
Ben Ostrowsky submitted a 2015 cite from Steve White.

Earliest cite in OED2: 1957, which was from the novel version of the Sturgeon story; OED3 now has the 1949 cite (misdated as "1941").

Last modified 2021-08-20 17:39:03
In the compilation of some entries, HDSF has drawn extensively on corresponding entries in OED.