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"If you don't care about science enough to be interested in it on its own, you shouldn't try to write hard science fiction."
- Frederik Pohl

Deceleration Chambers  
  Stressed, the ship breaks apart into parts that may survive.  

Striking that mass of gas at half a light year a minute was like running into an unending solid wall. The great ship shuddered in every plate as the deceleration tore at her gigantic strength.
In seconds she had run the gamut of all the recoil systems her designers had planned for her as a unit.
She began to break up.
And still everything was according to the original purpose of the superb engineering firm that had built her. The limit of unit strain reached, she dissolved into her nine thousand separate sections. Streamlined needles of metal were those sections, four hundred feet long, forty feet wide; sliverlike shapes that sinuated cunningly through the gases, letting the pressure of them slide off their smooth hides.
But it wasn’t enough. Metal groaned from the torture of deceler­ation. In the deceleration chambers, men and women lay at the bare edge of consciousness, enduring agony that seemed on the verge of being beyond endurance.
Hundreds of the sections careened into each other in spite of automatic screens, and instantaneously fused into white-hot coffins.
And still, in spite of the hideously maintained velocity, that mass of gases was not bridged; light years of thickness had still to be covered.
For those sections that remained, once more all the limits of human strength were reached. The final action is chemical, directly on the human bodies that remained of the original thirty thousand. Those bodies for whose sole benefit all the marvelous safety devices had been conceived and constructed, the poor, fragile, human beings who through all the ages had persisted in dying under normal condi­tions from a pressure of something less than fifteen gravities.
The prompt reaction of the automatics in rolling back every floor, and plunging every person into the deceleration chambers of each section—that saving reaction was abruptly augmented as the deceleration chamber was flooded by a special type of gas.
Wet was that gas, and clinging. It settled thickly on the clothes of the humans, soaked through to the skin and through the skin, into every part of the body.
Sleep came gently, and with it a wonderful relaxation. The blood grew immune to shock; muscles that, in a minute before, had been drawn with anguish—loosened; the brain impregnated with life-giving chemicals that relieved it of all shortages remained untrou­bled even by dreams.
Everybody grew enormously flexible to gravitation pressures—a hundred—a hundred and fifty gravities of deceleration; and still the life force clung. The great heart of the Universe beat on. The storm roared along its inescapable artery, creating the radiance of life, purging the dark of its poisons—and at last the tiny ships in their separate courses burst its great bounds.
They began to come together, to seek each other, as if among them there was an irresistible passion that demanded intimacy of union.
Automatically, they slid into their old positions; the battleship Star Cluster began again to take form—but there were gaps. Segments destroyed, and segments lost.
From The Storm, by A.E. van Vogt.
Published by Astounding Science Fiction in 1943
Additional resources -

Compare to the escape pod from Star Wars (1976) by George Lucas.

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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from The Storm
  More Ideas and Technology by A.E. van Vogt
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