NASA buys planetary artwork from undergraduate student in Singapore

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NASA paid Jarrod Chua $1,000 to modify one of his illustrations to postcard size, for use in its public outreach efforts. The Straits Times/Asia News Network

SINGAPORE – Mr Jarrod Chua has happily indulged in his hobby of drawing planet-themed comics after he received a stay-at-home restriction order while on national service in June 2020.

He then put the drawings on an Instagram page called @spaceytales.

A lifelong space enthusiast, his hobby has also helped stave off boredom.

To Mr. Chua’s surprise, his Instagram account attracted around 1,000 followers in just one month and has now soared to over 9,000.

He said: “Because I really like space and can do some graphic design, I thought why not combine my interests and skills…

“So, I decided to make an account with comics for fun.”

Now Mr. Chua, 22, is delighted that his artwork has caught the attention of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, or Nasa.

The US space agency contacted him in July 2020 for permission to republish one of his drawings related to NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope – a $9 billion instrument designed to peer further into the cosmos .

A few months later, NASA reconnects with him.

This time he asked to work with him to modify one of his illustrations into postcard size, to use in his public outreach efforts.

NASA paid him $1,000.

Mr. Chua said, “At first, I was quite happy and shocked, and didn’t think much about it. I thought they were just going to repost my drawing and that was it.

“Then it started to get more serious, and I was surprised that they wanted to pay me because I would have been happy if they didn’t pay me too.”

He added, “I was very happy that they saw the potential in my comics.”

The first year undergraduate of the Digital Communications and Embedded Media program at the Singapore Institute of Technology spent about a year working on the project with NASA’s Public Outreach Service.

The postcard with its illustration was launched last month on NASA website.

It depicts planet Earth using a Hubble Space Telescope to peer into the universe and getting an upgrade with the James Webb Space Telescope, which is 100 times more powerful than its predecessor.

The latest telescope, which was sent into space last month, is expected to revolutionize the understanding of astronomers in all parts of the cosmos.

Mr Chua said: “It’s like a huge time machine for NASA. They want to look further back in time and find out how galaxies started in the very beginning. They want to look at the first stars that lit up the universe.

His fascination with space began when he was a child. His parents took him to the library, where he leafed through picture books about space. He switched to astronomy-related books when he was older and still keeps up to date with the latest space-related developments through online articles and podcasts.

“I just find it fascinating how it’s like the last frontier for humans. I love its mystery and the fact that we haven’t explored so much space,” he said.

Mr. Chua’s father is a private rental car driver and his mother works at the Defense Science and Technology Agency as an executive assistant.

Mr. Chua has been scribbling planets, stars and the solar system in sketchbooks since he was a young boy.

His flair for drawing led him to enroll in a Business Innovation and Design degree at Singapore Polytechnic, where he chose Graphic Design.

His idea for space illustrations came about when he was browsing through other space-related Instagram accounts, which had a lot of text.

“I thought I could translate [content] in the comics to make people more interested in it,” he said. He created about 100 such drawings, depicting planets having simple conversations and conveying a certain fact or theory. It takes him three to four hours to create an illustration using Adobe Illustrator.

The comments he received were unexpected, he said. “I got direct messages from people all over the world supporting what I was doing, asking if I was selling merchandise and if they could buy a book of my designs.

“Some preschool teachers from abroad emailed me to say they liked my work and used it to teach their children.”

He added: “I think it’s because no other [comics creator] did this space-related stuff, and I got a lot of help from other comic creators giving me shoutouts on Instagram.

He hopes to compile his drawings into a children’s book and explore transforming his drawings of the planets into plush toys, among other merchandise such as posters and keychains.

He also plans to get patrons or subscribers who would pay a small monthly fee for his content.

Mr. Chua’s dream is to work for NASA at its Washington headquarters as part of its public outreach team.

“For now, I’m just hoping to create awareness and spark some interest in space content for kids,” he said.

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