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Sian Proctor becomes first Sun Devil astronaut

After a successful launch Wednesday, ASU alumna Sian Proctor and three crew mates are now safely orbiting the Earth

SpaceX Launch photo.png
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launches from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Merritt Island, Florida on Saturday, April 23, 2021.

Sian Proctor, ASU alumna and geoscientist, made history as the first Black woman to pilot a spacecraft Wednesday aboard SpaceX's historic all-civilian launch into space. She is officially the first Sun Devil astronaut.

Proctor is one of four individuals aboard the first-ever all-civilian space mission, Inspiration4. The mission is a fundraiser for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital with the goal to raise $200 million for adolescent cancer research.

"She said she wanted to be the Black female equivalent of Bill Nye the Science Guy," said Steve Reynolds, School of Earth and Space Exploration professor and Proctor's former adviser, "I said, 'Let’s do that!'" 

Reynolds told ASU News, "She greatly exceeded her original goal in her own way, including inspiring students in underrepresented groups when she was teaching in South Mountain college and now becoming an astronaut!"

The four crew members aboard the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft were chosen to represent the four pillars of the fundraising mission: leadership, prosperity, generosity and hope. Proctor, chosen as a crew member earlier this year, filled the prosperity seat for her work to combine science with art, poetry and public outreach.

"I won the prosperity seat for Inspiration4 and I did that not as a scientist, or an explorer, or an analog astronaut, which are all on my resume," Proctor said during the launch livestream on Wednesday. "I actually won this as a poet and an artist."

Proctor was born in Guam while her father worked in the territory to track flights for NASA's Apollo space program in the late 1960s.

"Dr. Proctor grew up with a front-row seat to space as her father worked as a NASA contractor," said Jared Isaacman, commander of the all-civilian mission and founder of Shift4 Payments, during an Inspiration4 Q&A in March. "She is here because her passion for space exploration shaped her career."

Proctor was also a finalist for NASA's astronaut candidate program in 2009 and has since been working as a professor at South Mountain Community College in Phoenix. She also has been working as a space artist. She uses Afrofuturism art to "encourage conversations about women of color in the space industry," according to her website.

In early 2021, Proctor submitted a business proposal on Isaacman's e-commerce platform, Shift4Shop, to be considered for the prosperity seat on Inspiration4. Of the roughly 100 proposals submitted, Proctor's was chosen in late March.  

"It is such an honor to be a part of the Inspiration4 crew and to go on this journey. I like to think that space has been in my DNA," Proctor said during the March Q&A after being selected. "As I go on this journey, I just am so thankful and appreciative to be able to share my inspiration and my goal of prosperity through creativity with all of you."

The Dragon rocket launched from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida just after 8 p.m. EST. Proctor is joined by Mission Commander Isaacman, Hayley Arceneaux, a physician assistant and cancer survivor, and Christopher Sembroski, an aerospace engineer and U.S. Air Force veteran.

As of this morning, the crew "is healthy, happy, and resting comfortably. Before the crew went to bed, they traveled 5.5 times around Earth, completed their first round of scientific research, and enjoyed a couple of meals," SpaceX tweeted.

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