HEART OF A LION: Educator Tempe’s dream of soaring into space has finally come true

SpaceX astronaut Dr. Sian Proctor of Tempe, a longtime educator at South Mountain Community College, embodies Women’s History Month as the first black woman to go into orbit and the first to pilot a spacecraft space and aboard the first all-civilian crew.

First black astronaut embodies Women’s History Month

Space has always been in Dr. Sian Proctor’s blood.

It was her fascination throughout her childhood, largely because her father, Ed, worked on the Apollo 11 mission from a NASA base in Guam, where she was born. His role in the mission that put the first man on the moon resulted in a note from astronaut Neil Armstrong that Proctor always treasured.

As a child, she collected star wars comics and memorabilia and IndianaJones trading cards – items she’s carried around for decades, not knowing why.

Forty years later, she got it.

Dr. Sian Proctor was previously rejected by NASA in its astronaut program. It didn’t stop her and her perseverance paid off.

She stuffed them into her SpaceX duffel bag and took them with her into space, along with her students’ art and poetry and a Christa McAuliffe silver dollar, commemorating the first teacher in space, who died in the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger in 1986. Also on board was this precious autograph of moonwalker pioneer Armstrong.

Proctor, a Tempe educator, rocketed into space aboard SpaceX’s first all-civilian orbital mission, Inspiration 4, last September.

“Being bathed in Earth’s light is a big part of why you’re transformed in space,” she said. “This light is a thousand times brighter and more beautiful than the moon. You are just dazzled.

March is Women’s History Month, and Proctor is the epitome of observance. Not only did she make history as a member of the first all-civilian private mission to space, but also as the first black woman to enter space and the first to pilot a spacecraft.

“It was like being named to the Olympic team,” said Proctor, who turns 52 this month. “I was selected, but now I had to prepare to go out and win the gold medal.”

There was a learning curve, and she dealt with it like a Jedi knight.

Understand that Proctor is not one to shy away from risk and adventure. She is a major in the Civil Air Patrol, certified diver, bungee jumper, and former captain of the Arizona State University women’s ice hockey team.

The way she found a way to be strapped into the seat of a space capsule reflects her fiery side.

In 2009, Proctor was a finalist for NASA’s Astronaut Class. She was not selected.

She hadn’t finished. Armed with a bachelor’s degree in environmental science, a master’s degree in geology, and a doctorate in science education, she trained as an analog astronaut, performing spaceflight simulations on Earth. Proctor flew four missions.

Last spring, she entered a SpaceX commercial spaceflight contest, writing and reciting a poem for a Twitter video. She spoke about her life motto, Space2inspire, which she defines as “using my unique space to inspire those within my reach and beyond.”

And she spoke about her mission to create a JEDI space – fair, equitable, diverse and inclusive – for all humanity.

“When I talk about JEDI space, I’m not talking about outer space,” Proctor said. “It’s about the space you inhabit. It’s how can you best use this space, and it’s a matter of what you say, your actions, your intentions. If we all made our space JEDI space, think what the world would be like.

The video generated 70,000 likes.

This patch reflects Dr. Sian Proctor’s winning pitch to join SpaceX in the first all-civilian mission.

She won the competition. Her lifelong dream was finally coming true: she was going into space.

“As a seasoned black woman, that meant the world to me,” she said.

His selection is chronicled in the Netflix series, Countdown: Inspiration4 Space Mission.

“I strive to create that JEDI space that I talked about in my poem, and being able to represent black women was such an honor,” she said.

* * *

With one eye on the Sept. 15 launch from Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the geology professor/watercolourist/poet was laser-focused on staying in shape, avoiding COVID-19, memorizing the Dragon spacecraft manual and training his mind as a system engineer.

“It was a bit nerve-wracking because I had to learn to think, speak and act like an engineer. But I’m a geologist,” said Proctor, who taught geology and planetary science at the South Mountain Community College for 20 years.

In the week before the launch, Proctor and his three crew members received call signs. His was “Leo” – after Leonardo da Vinci, who, like Proctor, was a painter, scientist and engineer.

“You’re just dazzled” by the view of Earth from orbit aboard the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft, says Dr. Sian Proctor.

Each crew member received a final phone call. Proctor wanted to speak to former First Lady Michelle Obama. SpaceX did.

Proctor says what she took away from the conversation was “what it means to be a first. . . to be able to navigate it all and do it with such grace and style.

“I loved his book, To become. This (mission) was my To become moment.”

Finally, it was launch day. Proctor had prepared his whole life for the moment.

“My dad would be so proud,” she said. “He would probably also say, ‘See, I told you (that) you can do anything, you just have to work hard. “”

There was also apprehension. After all, the spacecraft would circle the Earth every 90 minutes for three days at 17,000 mph.

“But for me, as an explorer, if I died, that would have been the ultimate thing that I love the most,” she said. “And, I can’t think of a better way to do it.”

The Inspiration 4’s ignition was “fantastic,” she said, and after a few punches the crew got to work. They conducted research, measuring their bladders, arteries and even their eyeballs with portable ultrasound scanners. And they spoke with young patients at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, for which the mission reportedly raised about $200 million.

Proctor also taught a art lesson who was sent back to Earth, using colored pens and water-based paints capable of weightlessness to produce a beautiful rendition of the Dragon above Earth. She called the painting “AfroGaia”.

Crew members slept in sleeping bags locked to their seats to counter the weightlessness in the cabin, and ate like they were on a camping trip: cold pizzas, BLT sandwiches and floating M&Ms.

There was a small emergency: a fire alarm went off due to a malfunction in the recovery fan. There was no fire and the crew diagnosed and fixed the problem quickly, she said.

Although moving a little slower than the 17,000 mph Dragon spacecraft orbiting Earth, Dr. Sian Proctor is enjoying his new Mustang Mach-E after a successful SpaceX mission.

The highlight of Proctor’s incredible three days in space was his first glimpse of Earth from the Dragon’s Cupola. A full moon, about which love songs and werewolf legends abound, pales in comparison to a view of the blue planet, she said.

Proctor was also thrilled during the mission to be able to speak with her favorite musician, Bono from U2. Later, he sent her a note welcoming her to Earth, along with the album, The space between us by Scottish composer Craig Armstrong.

* * *

Space travel is life-changing, says Proctor, who now directs the Global Futures Institute at ASU’s Tempe campus and is an astronaut ambassador for the Maricopa County Community College District.

“The ‘I4’ mission gave me access to people and opportunities that I didn’t have before,” she said. “I now have more of a global platform to share my motto and my mission.”

As Black History Month drew to a close in February, Proctor released his book, Space2inspire: the art of inspiration. She is artist-in-residence with Subtractive, an art exhibition in Los Angeles, and her space art can be purchased at Doctor Proctor’s. Space2inspire.

She co-hosted an analog astronaut conference at the University of Arizona Biosphere 2 this spring and, along with her crew, is receiving the Space Inspiration Award from Orlando-based Space for a Better World at a gala commemorating Apollo’s 50th anniversary. 16.

What’s next for Dr. Sian Proctor? As a board member of Astronomers Without Borders, she is enthusiastic about raising awareness of astronomy.

“Looking at the night sky touches us all,” she said.

There are many oceans on Earth. After conquering space, Dr. Sian Proctor can now focus on the seas.

Beyond that, ocean exploration sounds intriguing.

“I think I’m going to become an aquanaut,” she says.

About Lucille Thompson

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