By Samuel Voas, wranglernews.com
Dr. Sian Proctor sits near a window in her Tempe home art studio/office. The wall behind her is an asymmetrical pastiche of space-theme drawings and watercolors.
The work has a dreamlike quality that borders on psychedelic. She calls it space art.
A collection of 20 or so postcard-size vignettes feature a candy-colored astronaut floating through stippled starscapes, peering down at polychrome planets.
In each scene, the character’s face is obscured by her space helmet. But somehow, the identity of Proctor’s spacewalking character is no mystery.
Now, decades later, a pencil-drawn childhood dream is set to become reality, and all thanks to that art.
Proctor earned a seat as a mission pilot on the crew of SpaceX’s Inspiration 4, the first all-civilian space mission. The four-person team is scheduled to launch from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center in September. During their three days in orbit, the civilian spacefarers will conduct scientific research as they circle the Earth at more than 17,000 mph. That’s about 5 miles per second, or once around the planet every 92 minutes.
One imagines that behind her rounded space-helmet visor, the face of a two-dimensional Sian Proctor will be beaming across her cartoon cosmos with a school-girl elation.
The expression is not hard to imagine. The 51-year-old South Mountain Community College professor grins with the infectious joy of a child as she talks about the inspiration behind her celestial art.
It’s impossible not to smile back.
“This is the door opening, so that it’s not about being the best of the best only going into space anymore,” she said of the all-civilian mission. “It’s about how do we open up space so that regular people who want to go to space have an opportunity to go.”
Since she was a little girl, Proctor has had the dream. Perhaps this should come as no surprise, given that her father was a NASA-contracted engineer who worked on the Apollo 11 mission, helping Neil Armstrong take that one small step. In fact, Proctor was born 8 1/2 months after the 1969 moon landing.
“So, I consider myself a moon-celebration baby,” she said, grinning. “Space is kind of in my blood.”
As Proctor prepares for her trip, she also reflects on her family’s roots in STEM and her father’s legacy.
“I became a scientist because of my father, a self-trained mathematician and scientist who never went to college or got a degree,” Proctor said. “He instilled a love of math and science in me and my siblings, and I’m so thankful he also helped unleash my inner explorer.”
In celebration of National Astronaut Day on Wednesday, May 5, the Maricopa County Community College District is highlighting Proctor and her passion for space exploration.
“Dr. Proctor has been a professor with the Maricopa Community Colleges for decades and our students, staff, faculty and community are better because of her excellent example of hard work, passion and dedication,” said Dr. Steven R. Gonzales, MCCC district interim chancellor. “We are overjoyed that she has been selected for this mission and cannot imagine a more deserving person to earn this opportunity. Everyone within our system is looking forward to the advancements her space exploration will bring to the STEM community.”
Proctor is grateful for the opportunity to further serve as a role model to her students.
“One of the things that I always tell my students is that education is power,” she said. “It gives you options and opportunities, and it doesn’t stop with a degree. It’s about finding your unique strengths and passions, and being able to share them with the world. To all the community-college students out there: Don’t give up, keep going, keep pursuing your dreams, and they will come true. You just have to believe in them.”
Billionaire Jared Isaacman, founder and CEO of payment-processing giant Shift4 Payments, organized the Inspiration 4 mission in conjunction with SpaceX. Isaacman will serve as the crew’s captain aboard the Dragon spacecraft. The 38-year-old entrepreneur is the primary financier of the venture, though the exact dollar amount he has committed remains unknown even to Proctor.
Isaacman staged a contest to choose his three crewmates. The criteria was based on Isaacman’s 4 pillars of inspiration: Leadership, Hope, Generosity, Prosperity. Proctor set herself apart by beating about 200 applicants for the Prosperity seat.
“It was all about showing your entrepreneurial spirit,” she said. “So, I had to open up a Shift4 shop and it’s called MySpace2Inspire, and that’s where I sell my artwork.
“MySpace2Inspire is about getting people to think about their unique space, the space that they inhabit and their strengths and their passion and how you take that and use that to inspire those within your reach and beyond. I’m using my space to inspire those within my reach and beyond through art and poetry.”
With her shop, Proctor hopes to create what she calls a J.E.D.I. space: a just, equitable, diverse and inclusive space for humanity moving forward.
The mission aims to raise $200 million for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital to help end childhood cancer.
Although her creativity and entrepreneurial spirit earned her a seat on Inspiration 4, she possesses an array of technical and professional skills that make her eminently qualified to be an astronaut. In fact, she once nearly was selected by NASA to become one.
Proctor is an experienced geoscientist, with a B.A. in Environmental Science, and a M.A. in Geology. She is a licensed pilot and is scuba certified. She has completed four missions as an analog astronaut, living for extended periods in earthly habitats meant to simulate the conditions of the moon or Mars. Proctor’s battery of technical qualifications were recognized by NASA in 2009, when she was a finalist in its astronaut-selection process.
According to Proctor, the independent body that judged the Inspiration 4 contest was unaware of all that when it selected her.
“I have been, for my entire life, chasing space, trying to figure out, ‘Well, how can I become an astronaut?’” Proctor said.
If she ever got to space, she was sure it would be the traditional way, through training in science and aviation.
“But then, in the end, what has gotten me there is my love of art and poetry,” she said.
Space art and poetry are not Proctor’s only passions. She is a devoted educator with 20 years teaching geology at South Mountain Community College. Even as her focus shifts to mission preparation, Proctor remains dedicated to her students. She hopes to teach a lesson from space.
“I’m definitely going figure out how to bring students, not only my students at the Maricopa Community Colleges but also students around the world, and get them inspired,” she said.
The SpaceX Inspiration 4 mission aims to raise $200 million for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital for cancer treatment. Already, it has amassed more than $120 million for the cause.
Proctor is ecstatic about her imminent journey into the empyrean, but she remains committed to the well-being of the 8 billion people who will remain down here on our little blue rock.
A three-dimensional Sian Proctor will be beaming down at us with that childlike joy. It’s impossible not to smile back.
“(I hope) to give people hope and inspiration for a better world, a better tomorrow,” she said.
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