Next Stop: Space for Ariz. Wing's Proctor
Maj. Margot Myers
Public Affairs Officer
Ask her what she’s doing this summer, and Maj. Sian Proctor will tell you she’s “learning to fly a Dragon to space.”
Proctor, a member of the Arizona Wing’s Sky Harbor Composite Squadron, will be the mission pilot on the privately funded Inspiration4 flight aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule. She is an active contributor to the Arizona Wing Aerospace Education team, a professor at South Mountain Community College in Phoenix, a geoscientist, an analog astronaut and a space artist and poet. Proctor was selected recently as a member of the Explorers Club 50: Fifty People Changing the World the World Needs to Know About.
The commander of the Inspiration4 flight is Jared Isaacman, a pilot and billionaire businessman who’s paying an undisclosed amount for the mission, designed to raise awareness and funds for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Proctor won a spot on the crew in a competition for small businesses that are customers of Isaacman’s company, through her space art website, Space2Inspire.
The flight name – Inspiration4 – commemorates the four-person crew and its associated "pillars of support” for the hospital. Isaacman represents leadership. Proctor represents prosperity. Hayley Arceneaux, a physician’s assistant at the hospital, represents hope. Chris Sembroski, a former U.S. Air Force missileman and data scientist, represents generosity.
A SpaceX Falcon 9 launch vehicle with the Dragon capsule is scheduled to lift off in mid-September from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The mission will last three days while the Dragon capsule, named Resilience, orbits the Earth at 335 miles, about 75 miles higher than the International Space Station.
When notified of her selection, Proctor told The Associated Press, “It was like when Harry Potter found out he was a wizard, a little bit of shock and awe.”
Proctor applied three times to NASA’s astronaut corps and came close to selection in 2009. As an analog astronaut, she has participated in four simulated Earth-based missions, pursuing space-related exploration in Hawaii, Utah and Poland.
According to Proctor’s website, analog astronauts engage in a wide range of research such as human physiology, psychology, crew cohesion, exercise and nutritional studies along with testing cutting-edge science, technology and engineering applications. Analog missions are recognized by NASA and are seen as an important part of space exploration.
“Ever since I can remember, I have loved airplanes, just looking up at the sky,” Proctor said. “I was always fascinated by military aircraft and built models of them. I watched a lot of World War II movies. My dad always encouraged me to follow my passion.”
Proctor was born on Guam, where her father worked at the NASA space tracking station during the Apollo missions. She writes on her website, “I grew up admiring Neil Armstrong's autograph to my father on his office wall … I really want to continue my father's legacy of advancing human spaceflight … I want to be the first Black female commercial astronaut.”
Proctor’s father encouraged her to join Civil Air Patrol when she was 13 or 14. “My dad, who knew I wanted to be a military aviator and go to the Air Force Academy, told me about the Civil Air Patrol and asked me if I wanted to join,” Proctor recalls. “I became a member of the Rochester Composite Squadron in New York, and it was fantastic.
“I was in CAP for a couple of years. I went to encampment in upstate New York at Plattsburgh Air Force Base in the summer of 1987, before my senior year. I also remember getting to go on a field trip to Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio. Those were the first times I ever traveled on my own.”
Mike Dardzinski was a cadet officer in the Rochester squadron when Proctor joined. When asked if he recalls his first impressions of her, he replied with a list that includes passion, discipline, confidence, kindness and curiosity.
“She was not a normal teenager,” Dardzinski said. “She was very special. She was not tuned in to the things kids cared about, but clearly driven, and I remember her passion for flight and space even now.
“Sian was absolutely interested in flying, and I remember talking to her about it. I had already started training in Cessnas and was working to earn my navigator credentials. I know she took part in a number of flight-related events and outings, including at nearby Air Force bases,” he said.
“I remember the first time I got to fly and also flying in a Huey helicopter; those things really left an impression with me,” Proctor said. “Civil Air Patrol was the first stepping stone for me on the way to this path, my love of aviation and aerospace.”
After a couple of years in CAP, everything changed for Proctor. “Going into my senior year, I had to get glasses, so I knew I wasn’t going to be able to be a military aviator. That changed the course of my life,” she said.
“I wish someone had told me that I could have still gone to a military academy, that you don’t have to be a pilot, but I saw everything that way. With my dad getting sick (with cancer), I dropped out of CAP, and I didn’t run track that year. It felt like everything had changed.”
Instead of a service academy, Proctor attended Edinboro University in Pennsylvania, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in environmental science. Her graduate studies later led to a master’s degree in geology and a doctoral degree in curriculum and instruction: science education. She spent 21 years at South Mountain Community College teaching geology, sustainability and planetary science.
Arizona Wing members, especially cadets, have benefited from presentations in which Proctor shares her passion for science, space and exploration. She said she wants to give back to a program she valued as a teenager and remains committed to as an adult.
“When I became an adult and got my wings, I decided that I wanted to give back and volunteer,” Proctor said, “so I rejoined the Civil Air Patrol in 2010 at the old Glendale Composite Squadron 308, which no longer exists. I was the aerospace education officer and won the Air Force Association Frank Luke Chapter Teacher of the Year award in 2012.”
Proctor recalls two meaningful activities from that time.
She attended a CAP Aerospace Education Academy in Pensacola, Florida. “I wanted to increase my knowledge and skills as an aerospace educator,” she said. “That’s one of the things I love about CAP: it gives me an opportunity to give back but also enables me to grow by providing me with all of these rich experiences, to be able to make myself better.”
She also attended the National Emergency Services Academy at Camp Atterbury, Indiana, and was named her class’ distinguished graduate. She proudly displays the challenge coin she received and notes it’s among the items she will take with her on the Inspiration4 flight.
Starting in fall 2012, Proctor went on a year-long sabbatical at the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Emergency Management Institute in Emmitsburg, Maryland.
“When I returned, I ended up leaving CAP,” Proctor said, “but I really missed it, so I rejoined in 2019, this time at the Sky Harbor Composite Squadron in Phoenix, which was closer to home.”
Proctor said her favorite CAP experience this time is working with the cadets in her squadron as an aerospace education officer. In 2020, she also joined the Arizona Wing staff as assistant director of aerospace education.
“Even though her preparations for the upcoming flight keep her busy, she always finds time to help our program,” said Maj. Ron Marks, the wing’s director of aerospace education. “She took the lead on our ‘Growing Space Chiles for NASA’ project as well as the national high-altitude balloon project and has also generously provided discovery sessions for cadets about her experiences as an analog astronaut.”
Proctor said she feels fortunate to be part of the wing aerospace education team, though training for the Inspiration4 mission demands most of her time these days. Last week, however, she met virtually with Arizona Wing and Southwest Region cadets for a presentation she calls “Becoming an Astronaut – a Journey of Determination, Resilience and Creativity.”
Though it lasted only two years more than three decades ago, Proctor cited significant aspects of her time as a cadet that affected her experience as a senior member.
“As a cadet, I really enjoyed the camaraderie with my fellow cadets and the sense of discipline that comes with being part of CAP,” she said. “You show up every week, you come prepared, you are engaged. That helped me early on and throughout my career – being a part of something and being engaged, fully giving your attention to it.
“That’s one of the reasons I wanted to come back and be part of the organization as a senior, not only to give back in a meaningful way but also, from an educational standpoint, to share all of the things I’ve done with the cadets.
“I want to help them have that sense of dedication and passion for something that can not only affect their lives but also impact society in some way. I love talking to the cadets about my journey and how I ended up where I am now. I’ve talked to the cadets about being an analog astronaut, my travels and my exploration.
"I’m looking forward to coming back and sharing this newest experience with them.”