acrylic on board
Image (c) 2001 Frank Wu
This is a piece I did for an unpublished story by sci-fi writer James L. Terman called "The Mandate of Heaven," about the treacherous journey of a fusion-powered spaceship called the Chairman Mao. Despite Jim's protests that the story is not a comedy, I decided to call my acrylic painting "Chairman Mao Goes to Mars." The big streak is the Valles Marineris, a 4000-km long canyon across the face of the red planet. The spacehip Mao is shown here maneuvering on its closest approach to Mars (that's why its adjustable engine bells are flared - to maximize the precise control of thrusting).
The Mao has an engine similar but not identical to the VASIMR concept. The engine generates a lot of excess heat, and this must be dissipated by radiative cooling panels. I decided that the panels should be spread out like flower petals to maximize their effectiveness, and they become the ship's most distinctive feature. In Jim's story, water is pumped through the panels, but sabotage damages one, leading to a catastrophic loss of precious water. If the crew cannot find an alternate source of water, they cannot keep the engine running and will be forever lost in space.
Images (c) 2001 Frank Wu