My Teacher the Android Space Girl

Laura Nielsen for Frontier Scientists

I met her in space.

Ok, that’s not true. I met Cindi at the AGU Exploration Station, San Francisco, an annual free science event for families and teachers where kids can get hands-on science. I’d never met a space android girl before… what did she do up in space? What were those nets for?


Dr. Marc Hairston helped me out; he filled me in on the CINDI mission. He also handed me two colorful books that explain it all, telling me I’d like them. And he was right!

So what does an android space girl in the ionosphere do with her time? She catches space dogs, of course — her quest is a fun and quirky analogy to measuring neutral atoms and charged ion particles in the upper atmosphere.

CINDI (Coupled Ion Neutral Dynamics Investigation) is a NASA Mission of Opportunity which studies the ionosphere, the electric portion of the atmosphere. Plasma sensors built by the Center for Space Sciences at the University of Texas at Dallas were attached to the Air Force’s Communication / Navigation Outage Forecast Satellite (C/NOFS) and launched into space in 2008. Flying between 400 kilometers and 860 km above earth, CINDI takes measurements with the Ion Velocity Meter and the Neutral Wind Meter.

The way in which these atoms and electrically charged ion particles interact in the upper atmosphere – the border between Earth and space – can impact satellite signals. The data, accessible through a web-server at UTD, will help forecast disturbances in the ionosphere that have the potential to disrupt communication and navigation signals. Impressive, but can CINDI also inspire and educate future scientists? Yes. Dr. Marc Hairston and Dr. Mary Urquhart tell the story of Cindi the android space girl. Angeline G. Burrell brought her to life.

Oh, and would she give me her best superhero pose? Absolutely.

With one comic book, Cindi in Space (2005), targeting middle-school students and another, Cindi in the Electric Atmosphere (2010), educating high school students, Cindi teaches us another creative way to get youth engaged with science.

Keeping kids interested is vital. These comics go a long way toward helping curiosity and imagination flourish.

CINDI IN SPACE with artwork by Erik Levold — NASA: CINDI Small Explorer Mission: Story by Dr. Mary Urquhart and Dr. Marc Hairston

Measurements collected by CINDI in the equatorial upper atmosphere of the velocity of charged particles and their interaction with neutral atmosphere wind will help inform space weather predictions. They will also aid scientists in predicting when charged particle concentrations or ‘bubbles’ might cause scintillation in satellite-based communication and navigation systems. The frontiers of space and the interaction of our planet with solar irradiance are hot issues right now, with space weather predicted to impact our technology.

Craving a little fun reading? You can find the free, complete comics online for your perusal, as well as educational materials to aid in lesson plans. According to NASA, the third installment of the Cindi series, Cindi in the Solar Wind, is upcoming.

The comics are illustrated by Erik Lervold and written by Dr. Mary Urquhart & Dr. Marc Hairston as part of the NASA: CINDI Small Explorer Mission.

‘Cindi’ Angeline G. Burrell (Ph.D. Candidate at UTD) with Dr. Marc Hairston (UTD)



Here is a NASA video about CINDI from the AGU Conference 2010.
NASA Science on the Road: Space Dogs and the Electric Atmosphere

FrontierScientists attended the American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting 2011.

Back to Space Weather and your Technology.
Back to Space Weather Predictions.


CINDI education & public outreach

UTD Center for Space Sciences

Comic Relief Helps Explain NASA Science

CINDI Hunts Giant, Radio-Busting Plasma Bubbles

UT Dallas Project Helps Fill Out Picture of Earth’s Ionosphere