Full record for tin-can n.

Definition a spaceship or space station
OED requirements antedating 1940
Earliest cite Lee Gregor, 'Flight to Galileo'
Comment 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": we would like to verify this in its first publication (Astounding, Jan 1938, as by "Don A. Stuart")

Notes:
Bill Woods mentioned on rasfw that 'A "tin can" is a (wet navy) destroyer'. The OED does have this sense for "tin can".

Last modified 10 December, 2009

Citations for tin-can n.

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1948 ‘M. Leinster’ Space-Can in Thrilling Wonder Stories June 117/1 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 Sci. Fiction Adventures Nov. 55/2 We're a couple miserable Texas cowboys. We built an interplanetary tin can. People made fun of us.
1952 ‘R. Rocklynne’ Interplanetary Tin Can in Sci. Fiction Adventures Nov. 54/2 Our tin can landed first.
1954 G. O. Smith Spacemen Lost in Startling Stories Fall 53/1 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-Sci. Fiction June 110/2 ‘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.’
1996 G. Benford Dark Sanctuary in Matter's End 147 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.