With the Inspiration4 mission flying on a SpaceX Crew Dragon this week, Sian Proctor will become an astronaut with her art after decades of dedication to science and space.
On Sept. 15, four civilians who, less than a year ago, didn't know each other at all, will launch to space as part of the three-day Inspiration4 mission in orbit around Earth that will benefit St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. Flying alongside Proctor, who is a geoscientist, professor and artist, will be three other crewmembers: Jared Isaacman, a billionaire tech entrepreneur and the mission's commander; Hayley Arceneaux, a physician assistant at St. Jude and a childhood cancer survivor; and data engineer Chris Sembroski.
While this is an all-civilian crew — meaning the crew members are not "professional astronauts," or astronauts that work for an agency like NASA — Proctor's seat in the spacecraft could certainly be described as "a long time coming."
"I'm loving every minute of it," Proctor told Space.com.
After a brief slip in the targeted launch time, Inspiration4 is currently set to launch from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida no earlier than 8 p.m. EDT Wednesday, Sept. 15 (1200 GMT Thursday, Sept. 16).
Back in 2009, Proctor was a finalist in NASA's astronaut selection process. For years she has also completed many different analog space missions, including the first-ever analog mission at the Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation (HI-SEAS) research facility in Hawaii — a mission that lasted four months.
From her work as an analog astronaut and scientist to her dedication to science education as a geology professor at the Maricopa Community College in Arizona and her passion for Afrofuturism space art, Proctor has been exploring every corner of space and science for decades.
Now, Proctor has won a seat onboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon as Inspiration4's pilot. Although she has years of experience in space and science under her belt, she won the seat through her role as an artist, with an inspiring video message that she entered into the contest. And Proctor plans to do quite a bit of art while in orbit around Earth inside the Dragon capsule.
In addition to bringing pieces of art from her students, she will also be bringing materials to create her own poetry and art, including watercolor paints.
"I'm gonna sit in our cupula and write poetry as I look back at our amazing planet," Proctor said.
Becoming an astronaut is "like being lost in the Chocolate Factory," she told Space.com. "It's all good and delicious all the time, nonstop. Just so much happening. Lots of new training happening, getting prepared. It's exciting."
As part of the preparation to go to space for the first time and pilot a Dragon, Proctor has had to go through rigorous academics as well as simulations and various training exercises.
"You can never train too much. It's about being prepared," Proctor said. "But we'll have a little break in there because we'll go and we'll train, then we'll have a moment with our families and then we're in quarantine ... and then of course it's the launch," she said.
"I'm learning to become, to some extent, a systems engineer as the pilot," she said. "And that means that there's a lot of engineering that I didn't know that I'm constantly reviewing to make sure I understand all of these things ... you think about the complications of the Dragon capsule, and just how many systems come into making it so that not only can we go to space, but we can live inside this capsule and function for days as well orbiting the Earth ... understanding how all of this works — as a geologist, I'm like, hey, this is kind of cool!"
While the preparation for spaceflight has been challenging and rigorous, she added that one of her favorite parts was fighter jet training.
"It was wonderful," she said. "It's a dream come true. Ever since I was a kid, I wanted to be a fighter pilot; I saw that as the ticket to becoming an astronaut." However, she added, needing glasses at the time disqualified her from pursuing that as a young kid. But now, "I got to check that off the bucket list," she said.
Aside from the extreme training and preparation that Proctor and the rest of the crew have undergone before their flight, they've also gotten the chance to bond as a crew, as group dynamics are an extremely important part of any mission.
"That human aspect of us becoming a crew and a family has been the most rewarding, because everybody in my crew is amazing," Proctor said. "But then you extend that out to their family. And they're amazing, too. So all of a sudden, you have this extended, really awesome space family that you're a part of."
Disclaimer: Sian Proctor served as Mission Control for Chelsea Gohd's analog Mars mission and the two know each other personally.
Email Chelsea Gohd at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @chelsea_gohd. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.