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"Science fiction writers, I am sorry to say, really do not know anything. We can't talk about science, because our knowledge of it is limited and unofficial, and usually our fiction is dreadful."
- Philip K. Dick

Teakettle  
  A standard rocket (uses hydrogen as a booster to leave the atmosphere).  

Heinlein used this term because he saw all spaceships being powered by atomic energy; the atomic pile would heat water or some other reaction matter.

All I know about spaceships is that the ones that operate from the surface of a planet are true rockets but the voyageurs call them "teakettles" because of the steam jet of water or hydrogen they boost with.
From Double Star, by Robert Heinlein.
Published by Doubleday in 1956
Additional resources -

One of the writing "tricks" that Heinlein uses to great effect in his stories is to use the common vocabulary of my grandparents (like "teakettle") to describe the common elements of the future. It lends a sense of familiarity and unconscious authority to the speaker.

The French Canadian word voyageur is also a nice choice to describe men who lived and worked in space. It neatly designates them as explorers and Americans, as well as spacemen, since the word was originally used to describe guides or traders in early North America.

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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from Double Star
  More Ideas and Technology by Robert Heinlein
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