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Adventure Through the Water Cycle With NASA’s New Comic Book

The comic brings whimsy and fun into the story of the Global Precipitation Measurement satellite mission

(courtesy NASA.gov, illustration by Aja Moore)
smithsonian.com

Rain, snow and other forms of precipitation are a vital part of the world's ecosystems and a life-giving source of water for humans. As important as precipitation is, learning the ins and outs of the water cycle can get tedious for students in school. That is, unless a team of creative minds comes together to create a Japanese-style manga comic book that tells the story instead.

To study the wet world of precipitation, NASA and the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency launched the Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) satellite mission in 2014. The satellite mission beams global estimates of rain and snow back to Earth every three hours.

To teach kids about this mission, the agencies held the GPM Anime Challenge in 2013, which asked artists aged 13 and older from around the world to come up with characters that could tell the GPM story. The two winners were Yuki Kiriga and Sabrynne Buchholz. 

Buchholz, who was 14 at the time, came up with a personification of water and precipitation named Mizu-chan (Mizu means water in Japanese) who wears a blue dress ringed with clouds. Kiriga, a comics writer and illustrator who works for Japanese publishing companies, came up with a personification of the satellite itself, GPM, who rides on a spacecraft-like platform. 

After the long wait, the comic book based on these winning submissions is finally published. The story explains the GPM mission and goals, writes Rani Gran in a NASA press release, but it's also fun. The full issue of Raindrop Tales: GPM Meets Mizu-Chan, is available online.

Dorian Janney, an education and communication specialist with GPM, first thought of the power of comics when she was a middle school teacher. She noticed students in her classes drawing manga-style characters and realized that interest might be a way to connect to young people. 

Other science communicators have realized the same thing. The National Institute of Standards and Technology has a comic book series that follows the SI Superheroes, who keep the world's measurement systems free from the influences of villains like the "nefarious Major Uncertainty." Online comics about science and math are exceedingly popular. There's also The Manga Guide to Relativity and many more science-based stories for comics fans to read.

The GPM team worked hard to craft an engaging story and drew on the skill of illustrator Aja Moore. Her grasp of the technical detail of satellites and space craft helped bring their story to life. Additional educational materials provide more information about the satellites involved in the mission and help define the science terms used in the comic.

Educators who have seen the comic are already raving about it. "It was a big hit!" says Beth Williams of Prendergast Elementary School in Ansonia, Connecticut, in the press release. Her fourth-grade students read it together as a projection on their classroom smart board. "We read it once for content and then again to examine the drawings. We talked about the connection with Japan and they loved the artistry.”

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