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"I did more research, and realized I almost would rather be a biologist than a writer, because there was incredible stuff going on!"
- Greg Bear

Big Push  
  A linear accelerator built on a long track; a mass driver.  

In principle, it is kind of like having a slingshot with a rubber band that is a hundred miles long. Put your vehicle on the track, then accelerate it until it can fly off.

Probably there will never be another funeral like Jack's. The Big Push is only a third finished, and it's still two hundred miles of the biggest linear accelerator ever built, an electronic-powered railway crawling across the Earthside face of the Moon. One day we'll use it to launch starships.
Technovelgy from Limits, by Larry Niven.
Published by Del Rey in 1985
Additional resources -

From the story Spirals by Niven and Pournelle.

The Space Studies Institute built prototype mass drivers as early as 1975; as far as I know, the concept originated with Gerard K. O'Neill in the early 1970's.

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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from Limits
  More Ideas and Technology by Larry Niven
  Tech news articles related to Limits
  Tech news articles related to works by Larry Niven

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