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"One can see the free software movement as a precusor for a "free hardware" or "free wetware" movement--one that will provide free libraries of designs for biological or nanotechnological products that replicators can be programmed to churn out."
- Charles Stross

  Electromagnet-tipped rods used by meteor miners to capture iron-rich asteroids in space.  

How would you capture a large ferrous asteroid flashing by your ship? As you note, Eshbach made a common mistake, referring to asteroids in space as meteors.


“Soft snap! Huh! What you watched is a soft snap compared to meteor mining in the early days. Today we use magno-bars, separated from the space boats by fifty or a hundred feet. In those days we magnetized the outer steel shell of the cars, and used them to puli the meteors from their course. Lots of fun edging up to a mass of iron flashing through space at the rate of twenty-six miles a second — I don’t think!

(Magno-Bars from 'The Meteor Miners' by L.A. Eshbach)

And that’s their average speed. A little jump in the wrong direction — and your boat was smashed to bits . . . And we didn’t have atomic power in those days, either, we used rockets!"

Technovelgy from The Meteor Miners, by L.A. Eshbach.
Published by Amazing Stories in 1935
Additional resources -

What was it like to snatch an asteroid from the void?

The meteor miners rushed for their respective two-men crafts, stored in the boat racks near the base of the cruiser, and prepared for their first excursion into space. As they finally closed their airlocks, each crew switched on their radiophones and visiplates; and in the Dispatcher's room twelve screens flashed into life. Each bore an image of the corresponding meteor car resting in its rack; and beside each screen was a dial that would record the distance separating the smaller craft from the big cruiser.

(Two-men ships from 'The Meteor Miners' by L.A. Eshbach)

When all were ready, Mott released them one by one, and under their own power, each towing a huge iron bar, wound with insulated wire, they darted into the void...

Watching the screens, old Steve Anders saw them speed into the swarm, find iron meteors, and begin the struggle to check their flight...

Suddenly the iron bar leaped out against the meteor as the crew sent a current through its coils, transforming it to an electro-magnet. The cable tautened; and the car and the meteor sped along side by side.

Slowly the men reduced their pace, arresting the speed of the spatial missile. Slower, steadily slower — and the thing was accomplished. With the mass of Meteoric iron held fast to the steel bar, they moved on, searching for a second victim. One, or possibly two more meteors they’d secure, depending upon their size, then they’d return to the Atlas.

That was the life !

Compare to the first reference to asteroid mining from Edison's Conquest of Mars (1898) by Garrett P. Serviss.

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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from The Meteor Miners
  More Ideas and Technology by L.A. Eshbach
  Tech news articles related to The Meteor Miners
  Tech news articles related to works by L.A. Eshbach

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