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"We [science fiction writers] always wanted to believe in "private sector" space -- hucksters make better characters than a government does."
- Larry Niven

Multi-Generation Space Voyage (Generation Ship)  
  A space ship and voyage intended to last across multiple human generations.  

Probably the first science fiction story about this idea.

“This is Captain Sperry telling you good-by,” the amplified voice boomed. “In behalf of the thirty-three, I thank you for your grand farewell. We’ll remember this hour as our last contact with our beloved Earth.”

The crowd held its breath. The mighty import of our mission struck through every heart.

“We go forth into space to live—and to die,” the captain said gravely. “But our children’s children, born in space and reared in the light of our vision, will carry on our great purpose. And in centuries to come, your children’s children may set forth for the Robinello planets, knowing that you will find an American colony already planted there.”

The captain gestured good-by and the multitude responded with a thunderous cheer. Nothing so daring as a six-century nonstop flight had ever been undertaken before.

From The Voyage That Lasted 600 Years, by Don Wilcox.
Published by Amazing Stories in 1940
Additional resources -

Take a look at the article for the first use of the sf phrase "generation ship" from Star Ship (1955), by E.C. Tubb, which has additional references.

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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from The Voyage That Lasted 600 Years
  More Ideas and Technology by Don Wilcox
  Tech news articles related to The Voyage That Lasted 600 Years
  Tech news articles related to works by Don Wilcox

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