MSUM Planetarium sparked big dreams for creative astronomer, filmmaker

2022 marks the MSUM Planetarium's 50th anniversary. After a half century of inspiring a curiosity in what exists beyond our sky, the people behind the Planetarium honor its significant milestone by sharing the historical orbit of this community asset. You can help ensure the continued success of the planetarium by donating today.

Working at the MSUM Planetarium changed Mary Jane Dodge’s life.

Dodge, who graduated in 1974, and was known as Mary Jane Butler at the time, came to MSUM expecting to study English; she wanted to be a writer. Then she took an astronomy class that led to a lifelong career in planetariums and film-making.

“It was one of those times when I had a fantastic life-changing experience,” she says.

As a student, she started hanging out in the science buildings because she loved her astronomy course so much. Eventually, she was hired as a work-study student to help at the planetarium. That experience prompted her to pursue an individualized major she called Creative Astronomy.

Mary Jane heats a space shuttle tile 1979 Hutchinson KS.jpg

“My focus was on astronomy education,” she says. “I wanted to get a job at a planetarium.”

As a senior, Dodge produced her first multimedia planetarium show about interstellar space travel. She incorporated David Bowie’s classic “Space Oddity.” She also used what was then a recent panoramic shot of the moon taken by astronauts on Apollo 15.

“That experience allowed me to use all of my skills,” she says.

After graduation, Dodge started working at the planetarium in Hutchinson, Kan. It was a small organization, but after she started, a new director brought with him his NASA contacts. Thanks to those connections, the planetarium received over $200 million worth of NASA artifacts, including the Apollo 13 flown command module and space suits, that served as the foundation for a new space museum. Dodge was there from the beginning and even helped build the new Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center.

Around this time, the industry was in awe over IMAX projectors, which could fill an entire screen with images. Dodge and her boss saw one of the first IMAX films, “To Fly!”, at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., and decided they needed their own IMAX projector.

The dream paid off.


“It was extremely popular,” she says. “We drew from the entire state of Kansas.”

That experience also launched the next stage of Dodge’s career as an IMAX expert who worked at museums in Denver, Boston and Spain. In Boston, she had the opportunity to produce her first IMAX film about the city of Boston. John Williams, the famed composer of hits like “Jaws” and “Star Wars,” wrote the score for the film.

Eventually, Dodge landed in New York, where she helped Sony Corporation open its first commercial IMAX 3D theatre. The screen was eight stories tall, 10 stories wide and became an overnight sensation.

Dodge was a consultant for theaters and filmmakers around the world for many years until she landed at MacGillivray Freeman Films, in Laguna Beach, CA producing and distributing IMAX documentary films full time.  Now she is producing an IMAX film about future cities that highlights what engineers are doing to solve problems like climate change to design a world that will be 100% sustainable in the future.

Mary Jane Exec Prod of Dream Big in Laguna Beach.jpg

“And it all started at MSUM,” she says. “There’s something about the happiness and joy that comes with doing something you love.”

As high-tech as her work has become, Dodge still thinks fondly about using Christmas lights for special effects during the MSUM planetarium show she designed. She says scientists hadn’t discovered planets beyond our solar system at that time.

“Now we have more than 4,000 planets in the universe and more discoveries are happening every day,” she says. “Nothing is better than keeping up with all the discoveries scientists have made about our universe.

Read more about Mary Jane’s work at https://dreambigfilm.com/team/mary-jane-dodge/

Make Sure Your Story Is Heard

Let us know how your life has been changed by being a Dragon: tell us your MSU Moorhead story today!

Send Us Your Story

More Stories from Dragons

View All Dragon Stories