Celebrating the women who defy gravity

A new installation created in partnership with Smithsonian magazine, Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum, and Dr. Mae Jemison uses mixed reality to showcase women’s critical contributions to the US space program.

From an early age, astronaut, physician, and scientist Mae Jemison has believed strongly that representation, inclusion, and diversity matter. It’s a belief that has guided her career and her path to becoming the first woman of color in space in 1992.

“When I was a little girl growing up, I was really irritated that there were no women astronauts and no people of color,” says Dr. Jemison. “As a seven-year-old, I thought, ‘What if aliens run into this crew? They’re going to think that those are the only people on Earth!’ I thought it was unreasonable for us not to have everyone represented.”

What’s above us unites us. What’s above us inspires us. What’s above us connects us. Space exploration is as old as humanity itself, and the sky connects us.

- Dr. Mae Jemison, the first woman of color in space

This year, Microsoft, Dr. Jemison, and Smithsonian magazine joined forces with The Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum to sound a rallying cry for representation and inclusion on Smithsonian’s Museum Day. They came together to create Defying Gravity: Women in Space, a mixed reality experience at the Intrepid that shares the stories of previously unsung women who’ve made critical contributions to the US space program.

Located beneath the Space Shuttle Enterprise, the experience uses Microsoft HoloLens headsets to take visitors on a journey through the history of women in the US space program; Dr. Jemison shares these stories, as well as her own. Of course, Dr. Jemison isn’t spending 10 hours a day at the Shuttle Pavilion. The tour is led by her hologram, created for the installation by Microsoft’s Mixed Reality Capture Studio.

106 cameras captured Dr. Jemison simultaneously from every angle so visitors can see and hear a life-sized version of Dr. Jemison in mixed reality. She guides guests through the Defying Gravity experience, as they learn about pioneers like Katherine Johnson, whose name you may recognize from the film Hidden Figures; Dr. Pat Cowings, an acclaimed aerospace psychophysiologist; and the Mercury 13, a group of experienced pilots who were set to become the female counterparts to the famed Mercury 7.

“This experience of hearing about the women who helped make the shuttle program and space exploration possible—I hope [it helps] that story stick,” says Dr. Jemison. “Because inclusion isn’t just a nicety. It’s a necessity. We need to use every perspective, and all the talent we have—it’s incumbent on us. There is no excuse.”