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"There's no point in making a mistake unless you understand the mistake so that you don’t make it again."
- Alfred Bester

Pushpot  
  An independent rocket motor that can attach itself to an object bound for space.  

The idea of a pushpot is really cool; instead of having a few enormous rocket engines, use a lot of small boosters.

There was an outrageous tumult outside the wide-open gap in the Shed's wall. Something went shrieking by the doorway. It looked like the magnified top half of a loaf of baker's bread, painted gray and equipped with an air-scoop in front and a plastic bubble for a pilot. It howled like a lost baby dragon, its flat underside tilted up and up until it was almost vertical. It had no wings, but a blue-white flame spurted out of its rear, wobbling from side to side for reasons best known to itself. It was a pushpot, which could not possibly be called a jet plane because it could not possibly fly. Only it did.

It settled down on its flame-spouting tail, and the sparse vegetation burst into smoky flame and shriveled, and the thing — still shrieking like a fog-horn in a tunnel — flopped flat forward with a resounding clank! It was abruptly silent.

But the total noise was not lessened. Another pushpot came soaring wildly into view, making hysterical outcries. It touched and banged violently to earth. Others appeared in the air beyond the construction Shed. One flopped so hard on landing that its tail rose in the air and it attempted a somersault. It made ten times more noise than before — the flame from its tail making wild gyrations — and flopped back again with a crash. Two others rolled over on their sides after touching ground. One ended up on its back like a tumble-bug, wriggling.

They seemed to land by hundreds, but their number was actually in dozens. It was not until the last one was down that Joe could make himself heard. The pushpots were jet motors in frames and metal skin, with built-in jato rocket tubes besides their engines. On the ground they were quite helpless. In the air they were unbelievably clumsy. They were actually balanced and steered by vanes in the blasts of their jets, and they combined the absolute maximum of sheer thrust with the irreducible minimum of flyability.

... A gigantic crane-truck came in through the wide doorway. It dangled a pushpot. It rolled over to the launching cage in which the spaceship lay and set the unwieldy metal object against that cage. There was a clank as the pushpot caught hold of the magnetic grapples. The crane went out again, passing a second crane carrying a second pushpot. The second beetle-like thing was presented to the cage. It stuck fast. The crane went out for more.

From Space Tug, by Murray Leinster.
Published by Not known in 1953
Additional resources -

The idea of a pushpot derives from the "jato" units described in the quote. Jet-assisted take-off (JATO) units are basically solid-fuel rockets that can be strapped or bolted onto a plane to give it extra boost for take-off. I don't know how long they've been around, but they certainly antedated this novel.

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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from Space Tug
  More Ideas and Technology by Murray Leinster
  Tech news articles related to Space Tug
  Tech news articles related to works by Murray Leinster

Pushpot-related news articles:
  - Nano-Particle Field Extraction Thruster
  - Mini Ion Thrusters To Push Tiny Satellites
  - Tethers Unlimited Satellite Mini-Thrusters

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