When NASA launched the Orion spacecraft on Friday, AE graduate student Zu Puayen Tan did more than look up in wonder.
He turned to art.
The mixed media result, "Dawn of a New Age of Exploration" expresses the Milaysia native's awe for the future of his chosen field. In it, a phantasmal maiden dressed in flowing gowns floats above the Orion capsule, gazing into unknown gallaxies that the viewer is inspired to imagine.
"It hints at the birth of a new vehicle, a new era of exploration," he says.
Tan is excited about the progress that the United States' space program has made toward landing on distant planets, but he thinks it's important to temper that enthusiasm with a calmer look at the implications of space exploration.
"Typically, we hear people talk about space exploration as being 'cool' or 'really badass,'" he said.
"But there's something beyond that -- the freedom, the serenity that it inspires -- that I was trying to capture."
The illustration is a combination of acrylic paint, photography, and graphic art software programs -- a mixture that has fueled his artistic talents for years. He turned out the piece in a matter of hours after Orion landed.
"I was excited about the flight, and I had been spending way too much time in the lab, so getting out to do some art made a lot of sense," he said.
The 25-year-old doctoral student completed his undergraduate and masters work in aerospace engineering at Georgia Tech and is currently doing research in the Combustion Lab under the direction of that lab's namesake, Dr. Ben Zinn.
His research examines how fuel responds to injection at high pressure temperatures, a process that holds much promise for next generation combustion.
"We don't know enough about how fuel behaves, so it's an important area. And the [Zinn] Combustion lab is equipped to achieve a combination of temperature and pressure that not a whole lot of labs can attain," he said. "It's exciting work."
Does it compete with his lifelong interest in visual art?
"No. The first things I ever drew were airplanes, and I've pretty much always wanted to work with them," he said. "This is just something that keeps me balanced."
Orion: Dawn of a New Era of Exploration, a mixed-media piece by GT-AE doctoral student Zu Puayen Tan, was inspired by the Dec. 5 Orion Exploration Flight Test 1 (EFT-1)