A 3D Space Suit

Air and Space Museum + Digitization Program Office

To tell the story of the first American in space, the Smithsonian Digitization Program Office and the National Air and Space Museum are digitizing in 3D—with the help of AI—one of the museum’s most iconic objects: astronaut Alan Shepard’s 1961 Mercury space suit.

The material properties of the multilayered, full pressure suit—in particular, its metallic sheen and exterior texture—make the object challenging to capture in fine detail through the 3D digitization process. Reflective surfaces do not always render well as technicians take images using a process called photogrammetry, which creates 3D images from photos.

A unique public-private partnership with Adobe Research enabled the Smithsonian to overcome this challenge and produce a “digital twin” of the suit in remarkable detail. Applying AI technology developed by Adobe Research—not currently available on the market—the Smithsonian and Adobe teams used photogrammetry and light and laser scans to accurately capture the reflectivity of the suit, in addition to every fold and stitch.

The resulting fully digitized 3D version is now available online, offering the public a close-up look at a milestone moment in aerospace history.

Published Winter 2024 in IMPACT Vol. 10. No 1

Click here to read more about how Smithsonian experts are applying artificial intelligence (AI) across diverse disciplines.

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