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"It was [H.G. Wells'] adolescent fiction, his imaginative stories, that live forever - and yet are not acknowledged in literature classes as being great literature. So to hell with the academics!"
- Greg Bear

Water to Cushion Acceleration  
  The use of water to cushion and protect against extreme ship accelerations.  

As far as I know, this is the earliest reference to this idea in sf.

A large, lightly loaded freighter heads to Mars, carrying executives and a large tank of sea water for use in a chemical plant. Duke Stetson decides to take a swim.

The moment his body sank into the water, the excess weight he was carrying slipped off. Floating in the water, the effect was the same as though he was on Earth, for the water buoyed him up perfectly.

Suddenly there came a crash... the rockets, without control, opened up to full.

Rocket motors, designed to produce an acceleration four times gravity on the ship when loaded to capacity, broke loose when the ship was practically empty... the ship rocketed forward under an acceleration seven and three-quarters times the gravity of Earth.

Stetson lapsed into unconsciousness almost instantly as the enormous acceleration weight pressed down on him. But the water he floated in saved him from death.

From The Derelicts of Ganymede, by John W. Campbell.
Published by Wonder Stories in 1932
Additional resources -

Compare to the cider press from Double Star (1956) by Robert Heinlein and the acceleration-tank from Triplanetary (1934) by E.E. 'Doc' Smith.

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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from The Derelicts of Ganymede
  More Ideas and Technology by John W. Campbell
  Tech news articles related to The Derelicts of Ganymede
  Tech news articles related to works by John W. Campbell

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