Actress Taraji P. Henson Just Helped Bring Amazon's Alexa to Space — Here's Why

The "Hidden Figures" star also talked about the importance of having diverse role models in STEM professions.

Taraji P. Henson seen at NASA Mission Control

Courtesy of NASA

For actress Taraji P. Henson, life may be imitating art as she was recently on hand at NASA's mission control center in Houston for a very special cause.

"I've become a face for space with this little movie I did," Henson joked while chatting with Travel + Leisure, of course, referencing her award-winning role as famed mathmetician Katherine Johnson in "Hidden Figures."

Henson worked with Amazon's Alexa and the scientists at NASA to launch the first-ever AI Alexa experience into space via the spacecraft Orion, used on the the Artemis I mission. The mission also happens to be the first of hopefully many intended to land the first woman and the first person of color on the moon. 

"I was excited because I know how impactful that film was, and how, how impactful it was for little girls and for girls of color because when I was growing up, there was this unspoken understanding that math and science were just for boys," she said. "So I never asserted myself in those classes. But when I did 'Hidden Figures,' I just started thinking, 'Hmm, if I saw someone that looked like me, then maybe I would have had a different perspective about it.'" 

“When you talk about STEM education, that affects every human on the planet,” Henson added. “So in that field, it should look like what the world looks like.”

Ahead of Orion's successful return to earth this week, Alexa was successfully integrated into the spacecraft, meaning that anyone with an Alexa device can learn more about the Artemis mission just by asking the device a few questions, which is exactly what Henson did while seated in mission control.

“I asked Alexa, ‘How was the spacecraft?’ ‘Did we have enough oxygen?’ ‘Did we have enough gas?’ I asked her to play songs. I asked her to set the party mood lights,” Henson shared with delight. “We had a good time up there.” 

As for how she personally feels about space travel and what she’d say if someone gave her an invitation to travel to space, Henson explained she’d politely decline.

“I'll stay in the control center, and I'll talk to you from there,” she said, adding with a laugh, “Maybe if they figured out a private aircraft that gets me there faster.”

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