Dr Sian Proctor, a professor of geosciences at a community college based in Tempe, Ariz., By day and “analog astronaut” when possible, drops her Earth designation for “full-fledged astronaut” as she prepares for the Inspiration4 fully civilian space flight. aboard SpaceX’s Dragon capsule.
The three-day mission is the first space flight entirely made up of civilians and is expected to launch into Earth orbit on September 15. Proctor took its seat on March 30 by winning an online competition hosted by billionaire entrepreneur Jared Isaacman. , who bought his own ticket and three other seats at SpaceX.
“The stars have aligned for this, and I still can’t believe it,” said Proctor. “I wrote a poem on why they should take me, I read the poem and submitted the video of it, it resonated with people, and here we are. “
In addition to lecturing at South Mountain Community College and participating in analog missions such as a four-month NASA-funded Mars simulation in Hawaii, Proctor is a Solar System Ambassador, NASA’s volunteer program launched. by JPL aimed at raising public awareness of space exploration. .
Since arriving in 2018, Proctor has hosted a variety of in-person and online events, reaching a large segment of the population across the country, including professional education societies, community college students, participants in science festivals, community-based organizations, amateur astronomy clubs. , nonprofit organizations supporting STEM education, and the general public.
“She even collaborated with Solar System Ambassadors in other states for a global Twitter discussion on space exploration,” said Kay Ferrari, Solar System Ambassador coordinator.
Below, Proctor describes her mission selection experience, the winding path she took to reach space, her hopes for humanity and the future of space exploration, and how the Ambassador Program of the solar system has improved its ability to spread its message.
“I first heard of the competition because of a Super Bowl commercial, where Jarrod’s [Isaacman] company announced two seats; a “Generosity Seat” for someone who donates to St. Jude’s Children Research Hospital, and an “Entrepreneurship Seat” for someone who opened an online store through their website and submitted a video explaining why she should be selected, ”said Proctor. “The funny thing is, I didn’t even watch the Super Bowl, but someone on Twitter told me I should sign up.”
A winding path to space
Proctor had been on the astronaut route before and had a lifetime of NASA influence.
“My dad was really one of the ‘hidden figures’,” Proctor said. “I was born in Guam directly because of human spaceflight, because my father had worked at the tracking station during the Apollo missions. About eight and a half months after Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon, I was born – a baby who literally celebrated the moon landing.
She grew up wanting to be a fighter pilot with the goal of going into space thanks to the military, but she needed glasses as a child.
“Even then, I had impostor syndrome because I didn’t think I was smart enough to be an astronaut other than through the military,” Proctor said. But in her late thirties, as her career in education and science communications blossomed, she was persuaded to apply to NASA’s astronaut program.
“I was qualified. I had a doctorate, a pilot’s license, a diving certification… I just didn’t speak Russian, ”said Proctor. “Still, I didn’t even think I would pass the first round because I was working at a community college and felt like you had to go to MIT or Stanford or something.”
In 2009, Proctor reached the last 47 candidates selected by NASA out of 3,500 applications. The space agency chose nine new astronauts that year, but Proctor was not one of them. Over the next decade, she applied twice more and was not among the finalists. When NASA announced another round of nominations in February 2020, Proctor succeeded.
“I had just turned 50 and felt this was no longer my route to space,” said Proctor. “And even as I refused that, I remember saying that maybe one day I could find a trade space route, thinking it would be at least a decade away. I had no idea it would literally be a year later.
That year, like most of the country, Proctor spent a lot more time at home because of Covid. Her favorite hobby of traveling was out of the question, so she chose poetry and painting.
“I put my time and all my creative energy into training myself to be an artist,” said Proctor. Her artwork is done in the style of Afrofuturism and ended up being the centerpiece of the online marketplace that she needed to develop to enter the Astronaut Contest, with her video submission.
“My art reflects the idea in my poem submission on the ‘JEDI’ space [Justice, Equity, Diversity, Inclusion], and how we should think about access to space, ”said Proctor. “We all want this ‘Star Trek’ world, where you have representation and equal access to space. And when you start looking at how many black female astronauts there have been at NASA, it’s a poor performance. . There has only been one black astronaut assigned to the ISS in the past 20 years. You start to think of all the phone calls to schools and the science videos they made on the ISS, and there are no blacks in it. When children are looking for role models in these places, we have to actively seek out that “JEDI” space.
With his punched ticket, Proctor, who will operate as a pilot, trains with the three other Inspiration4 Dragon crew members: Isaacman, who will be the mission commander, Lockheed engineer Martin Christopher Sembroski and the medical assistant of St. Jude Hayley Arceneaux. . The team recently completed a three-day hike to Camp Muir on Mount Washington. Rainier as a crew liaison exercise.
“NASA is doing similar crew experiences with their astronauts,” said Proctor. “And this hike has been by far one of the most difficult I’ve done in my life. But for our crew it was a great learning experience. You’re pushed to your limits in an activity you’re not used to, and you end up relying on your crew to find the strength to keep up the effort.
Inspiration4’s fully civilian four-person crew (left to right) Christopher Sembroski, Hayley Arceneaux, Sian Proctor and Jared Isaacman stand on historic Launch Pad 39A. Image Credit: Courtesy of SpaceX
Sian Proctor at the helm of a Citation CJ3 jet en route to training events for the Inspiration4 crew at SpaceX’s facility in Hawthorne. Image Credit: Courtesy of SpaceX
Bringing the Solar System Ambassador to Space
With her flight in just a few months, Proctor is already thinking about what she can bring on the trip.
“I plan to bring each of my four Solar System Ambassador badges that I have received since joining in 2018. I want to bring so much history behind my journey that brought me here, and this program in fact part, ”says Proctor.
“As a representative of this unique mission on a civilian space flight, it really gives me this moment to share my love of STEAM and a new platform to create a space for inspiration. And the Solar System Ambassador program has always been about it. The amount of awareness that I have been able to do is increasing more and more, and it makes me very proud to be a part of this program and to be able to showcase it on this trip.
For Ferrari at JPL, Proctor’s plan to bring his badges struck a chord.
“I have tears in my eyes,” said Ferrari. “The Solar System Ambassadors are very proud of the connection they have with NASA through the SSA program.”
As for what that level of exposure might mean for the program, Ferrari sees the potential for another big wave of new volunteer applicants.
“Last I heard, Sian’s flight is scheduled for September – our application period,” she said. “It looks like the Solar System Ambassadors are coming out of their Covid hibernation with their events. It’s a slow, deliberate process to start hosting more events in person – which is fine with us. We want everyone to stay safe and follow guidelines. One lesson we’ve all learned is that they won’t give up on the virtual events they’ve hosted over the past year, and we’ll likely see more hybrid events reported in the future. “
And the future of ASS looks particularly bright, thanks to the affiliation of Proctor.
“I think that kind of show could give us another ‘Eclipse 2017’ answer – only potentially bigger,” Ferrari said.