By HOLLY J. CONNOR, MS. Magazine
On September 15, SpaceX made history, launching the first all-civilian mission into orbit. Three days later—after circumnavigating Earth 47 times at the unfathomable speed of 17,500 miles per hour—the Crew Dragon capsule splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean off Florida’s Space Coast, ushering in a new era of human spaceflight.
Flying at the record-breaking altitude of 367 miles, higher than the International Space Station and Hubble Space Telescope, the Inspiration4 mission was also a giant leap for womankind: Dr. Sian Proctor, a 51-year-old geoscientist, community college professor and artist, became the first Black woman to pilot a spacecraft and the fourth Black American woman to go to space.
Born in Guam, where her father worked at the tracking station during NASA’s Apollo missions, Proctor dreamed of being a fighter pilot. Though she pursued a different life path, she always nurtured her lifelong passion for space exploration.
In 2009, in her late 30s, as her career in science education flourished, a friend convinced Proctor to apply for NASA’s astronaut program. While ultimately unsuccessful, Proctor was a finalist among the 47 applicants selected from 3,500 submissions. Disappointed but undeterred, Proctor spent 21 years as a professor teaching geology, sustainability and planetary science at a community college in Phoenix, Arizona.
In 2013, she served as an analog astronaut—individuals who work in a simulated space environment on Earth—for the first NASA-funded Hawai’i Space Exploration Analog and Simulation (HI-SEAS) mission, investigating food strategies for long-duration spaceflight and future missions to Mars. Proctor obtained her pilot’s license at age 36 and has since served as a major in the Civil Air Patrol as the aerospace education officer for its Arizona wing.
From Mae Jemison to Sian Proctor: Representation Matters
In 1992, Mae Jemison became the first African American woman to travel to space, followed by Joan Higginbotham and Stephanie Wilson, who flew on NASA shuttle missions thereafter.
“I received a really lovely note from Mae Jemison congratulating me on the Inspiration4mission,” Proctor said. “To have her, the first Black female astronaut, tell me she was proud of my accomplishment was amazing.”
The day before launch, Proctor received an unforgettable call: Former First Lady Michelle Obama rang to acknowledge her achievement and wish the crew well on their mission.
“You are making history,” Obama said to Proctor and her smiling crewmates.
“That conversation meant everything to me,” Proctor told Ms. “Knowing I was now in a position to inspire millions of people I’ve never met through my story and this experience, I wanted to pay that back to someone who inspires me.”
Click here to read the full article on Ms. Magazine.