NASA releases AR comic book about first woman to fly to the moon

The graphic novels tell the story of fictional astronaut Callie Rodriguez and her robot sidekick RT with unique interactive experiences, and reflects NASA's goal to put a woman on the moon.

 The Moon. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
The Moon.
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

NASA has made no secret of its plans to put a woman, as well as a person of color, on the moon in its widely-anticipated Artemis mission. But while that is still many years away, the US space agency has given people the chance to see what this might be like in the form of graphic novels and interactive experiences.

Dubbed First Woman: NASA's Promise for Humanity, these graphic novels tell the story of Callie Rodriguez, a fictional character created by NASA who, in her story, is the first woman and person of color to head for the lunar surface.

Written by Brad Gann and Steven List and illustrated by Brent Donoho and Kaitlin Reid, the first issue was released Saturday in honor of Free Comic Book Day and is available on NASA's website. Titled "Dream to Reality," it shows Callie's journey to prepare for her mission, featuring her robot sidekick RT. 

The 44-page comic shows Callie and RT in space, while also flashing back in time to tell her life story, back to her childhood at her father's auto shop fascinated with space, going through school and into NASA, overcoming challenges and loss to eventually become the astronaut she has dreamed of being her whole life.

The story itself ends on somewhat of a literal cliffhanger, with Callie losing contact with Mission Control and RT mysteriously stopping to function, adding drama to an otherwise heartwarming story and leaving readers something to look forward to in the next issue.

The comic can be read online or be downloaded as a PDF, but what really makes this stand out is the interactive experiences included in the comic itself, making it an Augmented Reality (AR) experience as much as a normal comic book.

The comic includes QR codes at various points of the story. By scanning these codes, readers can meet RT and learn about the many objects astronauts use. 

By downloading the First Woman app on the Apple App Store or Google Play, more features become available. By scanning pages themselves, readers can explore life-sized 3D environments, learn even more information about some of the technology used in the story and even take fun quizzes and challenges.

This is done thanks to the efforts of the "bully! entertainment" company, a Baltimore-based animation and game design studio with a focus on VR and AR.

The story of Callie Rodriguez is entirely fictional. However, as noted on the NASA website, the character "stands on the shoulders of real-life women who broke barriers to establish 'firsts' of their own," with inspiration being credited to such glass-ceiling breakers as the first woman in space Valentina Tereshkova, the first American woman in space Sally Ride and more.

And while it may be some years away, NASA is determined to put a woman on the moon, which the agency announced back in April 2021.

Several women and POC (People of Color), including some women of color, were announced in December as part of the Artemis program, including American astronaut  Jessica Meir, who is of Jewish-Iraqi descent.

The program itself is named Artemis to mirror the Apollo missions, which saw the US land astronauts on the moon.

The first Artemis mission, dubbed Artemis I, is set to depart in late December but will be unmanned.

Artemis II is currently slated for September 2023 and will feature the first astronaut-crewed lunar flyby in decades.

The Artemis III mission is tentatively slated for September 2024, which would see two astronauts land on the lunar surface.