Maj. Sian Proctor, the Arizona Wing member who orbited Earth for three days in September as the first Black woman to pilot a spacecraft, shared her experience recently with nearly 200 members from the Arizona and California wings.
During her half-hour presentation – “Space2inspire: Fostering an Open, Creative, and J.E.D.I. Space” – Proctor described being selected for the Inspiration4 flight aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule in a contest sponsored by Jared Isaacman, the entrepreneur who privately funded the mission. She had applied for the “Prosperity” seat on the flight, launching an online shop called My Space2inspire where she sells her space-themed art and poetry.
“I became a space artist during COVID,” Proctor said, “and decided that I should apply [for that seat] because being engaged in the arts really transformed me.”
She shared the short video she used to apply for the contest, reading a poem she wrote for the occasion. It explains her concept of “J.E.D.I. Space”: “We have J for justice to ignite the bold; E for equity to cut past the old; D for diversity to end the fight; and I for inclusion to try to make it right.”
She was unsure about applying, she said, figuring many others would make better candidates for the seat. “A lot of times we have this voice inside our head that is going to fuel us with doubt about whether or not we can do anything,” Proctor said.
“They call that the ‘imposter syndrome’ voice, and the way I’ve learned to deal with it is having a conversation [with myself] about it: ‘They may never select me, but what if they did?,’” she said.
Proctor received a call March 7, 2021, from Isaacman telling her she had been selected for the Prosperity seat. Though she was chosen based on her artistic entrepreneurship, Isaacman also named her the mission pilot.
Intensive training for the mission included undergoing a centrifuge experience, flying the SpaceX simulator, hiking Mount Rainier as a teambuilding exercise, and completing a zero-G flight.
“Getting the ‘golden ticket’ to go to space was an amazing moment,” said Proctor, an assistant director of aerospace education for the Arizona Wing and member of the Sky Harbor Composite Squadron. “When I was a cadet, there were two things I wanted to do. I wanted to go to the Air Force Academy and fly F-16s, then transition to becoming [an astronaut], like Dr. Mae Jemison (the first Black female to go to space).”
The dream of being a military pilot was dashed when Proctor’s vision declined and she had to get glasses. “When you get those kinds of disappointments, you have to figure out how to move forward,” she said. “For me, that was becoming an analog astronaut, living in moon and Mars simulations. It took preparation and persistence. Preparation was things like Civil Air Patrol, traveling, and education. That’s how you prepare for opportunity.
“Then you have persistence when you get setbacks, like a ‘no’ when you apply for something that you really want and don’t get it. You have to be persistent and find new ways to keep moving forward,” Proctor said. Entering the contest for an Inspiration4 mission seat was a way of exercising persistence, she said.
“That responsibility of being a role model and encouraging other women of color – and people of color – to pursue space and space exploration is something that I’m very passionate about,” Proctor said. “As we write the narrative of human spaceflight now, and we are going to the moon, Mars, and beyond, it’s really important that we strive for this ‘J.E.D.I. Space’ if we truly want space to be for everyone.”
Proctor urged the cadets to explore a variety of options, telling them the arts and sciences aren’t mutually exclusive. She foresees future space travel as requiring not just engineers, pilots, and scientists but also artists, architects, and people working in new jobs that haven’t even been created yet.
After her presentation, Proctor spent nearly an hour answering questions from cadets and adult members.
When asked if she will return to space, Proctor replied, “I hope so. I want to be a moon walker,” she said, and would be interested in going to Mars if asked. “I think there will be opportunities for some of us ‘seasoned individuals’ to go to space,” she said.
Capt. Brett Russo, an Arizona Wing assistant director of aerospace education who facilitated the live chat along with 1st Lt. Kailash Kalidoss, the California Wing’s Group 2 aerospace education officer, concluded the session with a message for cadets: “Learn to fly. Learn to code. Stay in Civil Air Patrol and promote. Don’t ever give up on any dreams … because as we can see from Sian, you never know what is coming around the corner.”
The two wings’ aerospace education teams hosted the program. Proctor participated in a similar session, “Becoming an Astronaut,” in July 2021, while she was in training for the September flight.
Maj. Ron Marks
Director of Aerospace Education
Maj. Margot Myers
Public Affairs Officer