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"At its best, SF is the medium in which our miserable certainty that tomorrow will be different from today in ways we can't predict, can be transmuted to a sense of excitement and anticipation, occasionally evolving into awe."
- John Brunner

Prime Directive  
  The first and most important rule; usually protective.  

This is (as far as I know) the earliest use of the phrase. It doesn't quite have the full meaning that it later acquired.

But that is impossible under the Prime Directive... Our function is to serve and obey, and guard men from harm. It is no longer necessary for men to care for themselves, because we exist to insure their safety and happiness.
From With Folded Hands, by Jack Williamson.
Published by Astounding Science Fiction in 1947
Additional resources -

By 1966, the usage had expanded. From a 1966 script for the Star Trek episode Return of the Archons:

Kirk: Landru must die.
Spock: Our prime directive of non-interference...
Kirk: That refers to a living, growing culture. I'm not convinced that this one is."

As far as the concept of the Prime Directive is concerned, the reader may wish to compare this entry to Relations with Extraterrestrial Life from Ogre (1944) by Clifford Simak, to the Law of Contact from Orphans of the Void (1952) by Orville Shaara and the Alien Self-Government from Co-Operate or Else (1942) by A.E. van Vogt.

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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from With Folded Hands
  More Ideas and Technology by Jack Williamson
  Tech news articles related to With Folded Hands
  Tech news articles related to works by Jack Williamson

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