Full record for ion drive n.

Definition a spacecraft propulsion system that uses electrically accelerated ions.
OED requirements antedating 1947
Earliest cite Jack Williamson, The Equalizer
Comment Mike Christie submitted a 1947 cite from Jack Williamson's "The Equalizer".

Earliest cite in the OED: 1958.

Last modified 6 July, 2008

Citations for ion drive n.

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1947 J. Williamson in Astounding Sci. Fiction Mar. 18/1 Lifecraft 18 was a trim steel missile‥. It had its own ion drive, a regular crew of six, and plenty of additional space for our party.
1962 C. Smith Ballad of Lost C'mell in T. Shippey Oxf. Bk. Sci. Fiction (1992) 303 Though men had had nuclear rockets since the beginning of consecutive history, they had used chemical rockets to load the interplanetary ion-drive and nuclear-drive vehicles or to assemble the photonic sail-ships for interstellar cruises.
1968 S. E. Whitfield in S. E. Whitfield & G. Roddenberry Making of ‘Star Trek’ ii. ii. 192 Discussions‥had already ruled out atomic power as inefficient and inadequate for achieving hyper-light speeds. Ion drive was ruled out for the same reasons.
1970 P. Anderson Tau Zero (1973) 25 The ion drive came to life. No man could have gone behind its thick shielding to watch it and survived.
2004 P. F. Hamilton Pandora's Star vii. 173 Once they'd fallen a kilometre from the gateway, their ion drives came on, pushing them into high-inclination orbits which would provide coverage of the planet's whole surface.
2006 N. Asher Polity Agent i. 27 The H-shaped craft drew to a sudden halt above them, then began to descend.‥One strut of the H contained the ion drive, and possibly its controlling AI—though such ships were usually telefactored—and crew quarters if necessary.