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"...a market economy is essentially a genetic algorithm for solving resource allocation problems..."
- Charles Stross

Emergency Corrective Rockets  
  Used when you seem to be off-course in your spaceship.  

"Two hundred fifty thousand miles off, you say? Which way?" Burns steady tones revealed no perturbation over the alarming news... "Have you tried the emergency corrective rockets?"

"Sure have. Used as many as I dared. The explosions didn't have the slightest effect!"

From The Emperor of the Stars, by Nat Schachner (w. AL Zagat).
Published by Wonder Stories in 1931
Additional resources -

They also use "corrective side rockets" to make routine course corrections.

As far as I know, the earliest reference to the idea of altering course (or stopping altogether) by using the reactionmass of small rockets was from Jules Verne's From the Earth to the Moon; see the entry for retro-rockets.

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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from The Emperor of the Stars
  More Ideas and Technology by Nat Schachner (w. AL Zagat)
  Tech news articles related to The Emperor of the Stars
  Tech news articles related to works by Nat Schachner (w. AL Zagat)

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