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"I think we're still on that topic, still trying to figure out what computers are, how they change us, why we use them."
- Neal Stephenson

Space Tugs  
  Early use of familiar ocean vehicle in space.  

How to move more cargo space-ward? Space tugs. This is not the earliest use of this term. See space tug from Collision Orbit (1941) by Jack Williamson.

Martiacast VXV calling Vanguard. Can now observe the Starider. You've permission to enter the sphere of Mars to make contact with vessel. Are ordering out space tugs.
From Describe a Circle, by Eric Frank Russell.
Published by Astounding Science Fiction in 1942
Additional resources -

Murray Leinster, in his 1953 story Space Tug, made great use of this idea:

Sally's just gotten the real answer! The answer is for ships to go up to the Platform and not come back!"

He grinned at them. The Chief raised his eyebrows. Haney turned his head to stare. Joe said exuberantly: "They've been talking about arming ships with guided missiles to fight with. Too heavy, of course. But—if we could handle guided missiles, why couldn't we handle drones?"[Pg 97]

The three of them gaped at him. Sally said, startled, "But—but, Joe, I didn't——"

"We've got plenty of hulls!" said Joe. Somehow he still looked astonished at what he'd made of Sally's perfectly obvious comment. "Mike's arranged for that! Make—say—six of 'em into drones—space barges. Remote-controlled ships. Control them from one manned ship—the tug! We'll ride that! Take 'em up to the Platform exactly like a tug tows barges. The tow-line will be radio beams. We'll have a space-tow up, and not bother to bring the barges back! There won't be any landing rockets! They'll carry double cargo! That's the answer! A space tug hauling a tow to the Platform!"

See also the tug Marcus Garvey from Neuromancer by William Gibson.

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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from Describe a Circle
  More Ideas and Technology by Eric Frank Russell
  Tech news articles related to Describe a Circle
  Tech news articles related to works by Eric Frank Russell

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