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I.N.S.S. MacArthur



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Inspired by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle’s novel The Mote in God’s Eye.

This is my own visualization of MacArthur, an evolved representation of the ship I saw in my minds-eye on my first reading of the novel—clearly a radical departure from the usual depiction of the spacecraft as a design-variant of *AMT’s Leif Ericson model.

The ship I envisioned was informed by MacArthur’s role as a Second Empire warship tasked to implement Imperial policy. Set against the backdrop of Jerry Pournelle’s  CoDominium future history, the logic of her design is driven by the specter of the Secession Wars which had wreaked civilization across hundreds of worlds.

The weight of Pournelle’s history is conveyed within the first four pages of Mote in God’s Eye and expanded upon by all further description.

Niven and Pournelle set the tone with descriptions of worlds plunged into savagery and dark ages as a consequence of those wars and others laid completely to waste to prevent the reigniting of further conflict. The scenes which set the tone for me were the reflections of Rod Blain as he rode one of MacArthur’s landing-boats down to the surface of New Chicago:

“They were over mountainous country, and he saw no signs of war. There hadn't been any area bombardments, thank God.  

It happened sometimes: a city fortress would hold out with the aid of satellite-based planetary defenses. The Navy had no time for prolonged sieges. Imperial policy was to finish rebellions at the lowest possible cost in lives-but to finish them. A holdout rebel planet might be reduced to glittering lava fields, with nothing surviving but a few cities lidded by the black domes of Langston Fields; and what then? There weren't enough ships to transport food across interstellar distances. Plague and famine would follow.

Yet, he thought, it was the only possible way. He had sworn the Oath on taking the Imperial commission. Humanity must be reunited into one government, by persuasion or by force, so that the hundreds of years of Secession Wars could never happen again. Every Imperial officer had seen what horrors those wars brought; that was why the academies were located on Earth instead of at the Capital

—Commander Roderick Blaine’s reflections in descent over the just surrendered rebel planet New Chicago, from The Mote in God’s Eye.

MacArthur described in the pages of Mote in God’s Eye is a warship capable of reducing the habitable surface of a world to glittering fields of lava. I’ve equipped MacArthur with the missile launch capacity to accomplish such a task, along with batteries of laser-cannon, particle-beam weapons, and CIW turrets as might be required.

Niven and Pournelle proposed that MacArthur could refuel by scoop-diving in the atmosphere of gas-giant planets, so I’ve outfitted her with rather large scoops—personally I’m dubious of scoop-diving the atmosphere of a gas giant as a technique for refueling … however since composing this post I have seen some technical material that makes good argument that scoop-diving is technologically feasible. Still the following considerations apply: hydrogen is annoyingly low-density, many high speed passes ramming through a gas giants atmosphere would the ship have to make in order to take on a useful amount? How deep would she have to dive? Certainly she would need to vent the useless atmospheric gasses which undoubtedly would be present in the atmospheric mixture. These being immeasurable factors—I designed the scoops large, and I rather like the effect.

For stability during atmospheric scoop-diving I gave the ship a rather large circular-wing, my hand-wavium engineering team assures me this is the perfect place for mounting the primary wave-guides for the Langston-Field and the Alderson drive, along with an extra four primary (and four secondary) battery of laser cannon. My rule of thumb on this being: If it’s important (meaning your life depends on it) you better have at least two – if it’s going into combat, you’re better off with four. This dovetails rather nicely with the first rule of government contractors everywhere and in every time: “Why settle just one when for merely twice the price you can build two?”

Which leads us to …

MacArthur’s Armament:

Missile Batteries: 220 Launchers total.

Four Bow-mounted Missile Batteries: 24 Launchers.
Four Main Missile Batteries (dorsal, ventral, port, starboard): 196 Launchers.

Laser Cannon: 288 individual cannon arranged in eight main and secondary batteries.

Four Bow-mounted Batteries of 72 cannon.
Four Wing-mounted Main Batteries of 180 cannon.
Four Wing-mounted Secondary Batteries of 36 cannon.

Neutral Particle Beam Cannon 4 (I crafted my model along the same lines as the SDI system pictured on this page from Winchell Chung’s Atomic Rocket’s site: Particle Beam Weapons) Because these tend to be rather long weapons, having an accelerator and out-bound emitter path (kind of bent in a “U” shape) you can recognize them on the model due to the height of the turret above the hull – necessary to provide clearance to incline the weapon.  In this view there two are fully visible, one being positioned on the dorsal surface center-line rear of the flight-bay, and one starboard center-line low on the flank due to the rotation of the model in this image.


Commentary on the Matt Jefferies design.

The unfortunate fact of the Leif Ericson model is that its design reinforces one of the most hackneyed motifs in science fiction – the absurd notion that space is like an ocean, so the decks of spacecraft might be laid out like those of an ocean liner. The forward submarine-like sail coupled with the flattened-whiskey-bottle profile, regardless of Matt Jefferies intentions, reinforce the idea. (Don’t misunderstand; I enjoy Star Trek as much as the next guy – but from a design standpoint, it’s just wrong.) From Star Trek to Firefly virtually all of television SciFi gets this wrong. Even if some loop-hole in physics results in technology to simulate the force of gravity (other than thrust or centrifugal spin) engineers will never design spacecraft with decks laid out in this fashion for the simple reason that, should your magical gravity-generator fail while the vehicle is under thrust, all of your wide and broad decks will suddenly become vertical cliff faces down which your brave crew will tumble like “bags-of-mostly-water” to “splat” messily against the rear bulkhead.  

I’ve reduced the forward sail (a feature of Matt Jefferies design on both the Leif Ericson and the Botany Bay). On the Leif Ericson design I can (well almost … but no, not really) see the utility of the feature, MacArthur rotates on her long-axis to generate centrifugal gravity, and that forward “neck” on the Leif is rather narrow—meaning it would be in zero-g under spin—my MacArthur is a large cylinder in cross-section, and so the feature does not serve the same purpose. I almost omitted it entirely (forcing the choice to depart from the text of a novel that is hands-down, the best first-contact story ever written—a choice I was unwilling to make). The secondary purpose of the space, as a damage-control station, saved it: I arranged seven large EVA locks (large meaning each one can accommodate four to six space suited engineer’s and their gear and a couple of “space-taxies”) around its base, because the need for damage-control extends even to those many systems mounted on the hull (including the hull itself (Imagine the grousing of the engineers tasked to perform repairs out on the hull during combat: “What do you mean it’s dangerous? Its combat—of course it’s dangerous!”)). I reduced the height (it extends only two levels above the main hull) and moved it back to forward edge of the hanger-deck. Captain Blain’s watch-cabin now occupies its forward compartment, overlooking the bow.    

*AMT’s Leif Ericson model. Most know the background: Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle used AMT’s plastic model kit Leif Ericson as a starting point to both constrain, and help formulate, their ideas about the design of MacArthur. The Leif was designed by Matt Jeffries who created the starship Enterprise for the original series, and the Botany Bay for the Star Trek episode “Space Seed.”

In 1968 Jefferies was contracted by AMT to create the Leif Ericson, a story pamphlet, included with the original model kit, filled-in the back-story of the Strategic Space Command universe and the role of the Leif  as an Explorer class ship.  Jeffries design was later considered to fill the role of the starship Pegasus for the never realized television series War of The Worlds.

Note: These tasty bits of back-story courtesy of Winchell Chung’s Project Rho site, Leif Ericson models page, here: Leif Ericson Models. I highly recommend the page for its array of Leif Ericson designs as interpreted by a number of remarkably talented artists.    

Coal Sack/Hooded-Man figure is a composite of my own air-brush painting in Photoshop enhanced with selected crops of Hubble, Spitzer, and *SDO images.


M42 Post-Coolant, Courtesy NASA/JPL
Messier 78, Courtesy NASA/JPL
The Sun via Solar Dynamic’s Observatory, Courtesy NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

Stock Resources:


Related Images:

Coal Sack, New Caldonia, Murcheson's Eye, & Mote


MacArthur:New Caldonia Orbit

Starship Fixture Design


The Langston Field Effect: Descent to Fire

*Solar Dynamic’s Observatory
Image size
4000x4000px 4.43 MB
© 2014 - 2023 William-Black
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GalacticRimRunner64's avatar

I love the "Moties" books and seeing another design take on MacArthur, especially with your reasoning behind the decisions you made. Nice work.