Sian Proctor, a 51-year-old community college professor from Tempe, Arizona, has become the first Black woman to serve as the pilot of a spacecraft. The pilot of the Inspiration4 mission achieved the historic feat on Wednesday when she joined three astronauts who flew into space aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9, the Daily Mail reported.
“I’m really grateful to be here and to have this opportunity,” Proctor told reporters, according to Space. “There have been three Black female astronauts that have made it to space, and knowing that I’m going to be the fourth means that I have this opportunity to not only accomplish my dream, but also inspire the next generation of women of color and girls of color and really get them to think about reaching for the stars and what that means.”
While Proctor becomes the first Black woman to serve as the pilot of a spacecraft, the crew also made history as they embarked on the first all-civilian space mission. Jared Isaacman, 38, Hayley Arceneaux, 29, and Chris Sembroski, 41, joined the Arizona professor.
In 2009, NASA selected the trailblazer as one of 47 finalists who had dreams of working with the space agency, The New York Times reported. In the end, however, the professor was not chosen as one of the nine new astronauts who earned the opportunity. After applying two more times, Proctor still hadn’t been chosen.
Despite the setbacks, the educator wasn’t relenting. In 2013, she became one of six people who embarked on a special project financed by NASA, which required the scientists to live in a small building near a Hawaiian volcano for four months. The initiative was part of an effort to study the isolation and stresses of an extended trip to Mars.
In March, Proctor learned that she had been chosen as an Inspiration4 crew member. The scientist earned the opportunity when she was selected as the top entrant of an independently judged online business competition conducted by Shift4Shop, an eCommerce platform.
Shift4Shop owner Jared Isaacman, one of the crew members joining Proctor on the mission, purchased the entire SpaceX flight. The Inspiration4 project is also aiming to raise $200 million for St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital.
Six other Black woman astronauts have worked with NASA prior to Proctor. Mae Jemison became the first Black woman to fly to space in 1992. Stephanie Wilson and Joan Higginbotham then followed in Jemison’s footsteps.
Yvonne Cagle, Jessica Watkins and Jeanette Epps are the only other Black women who work as NASA astronauts. However, they have never flown to space.
Proctor said she has has to deal with added pressures as a Black woman in her industry.
“Growing up as a Black female and always trying to be a high achiever and not mess up, just having that pressure on yourself of thinking about not wanting to be eliminated, not wanting to miss out, [you have to] make sure you’re the best of the best, because you’re opening up the door for the people who follow you,” she said.