The First Black Woman Pilot In Space – Dr. Sian Proctor | The Danny Miranda Podcast (210)

Key Takeaways

  • Dr. Sian Proctor applied to be an astronaut in 2009 but came short on her mission to actually become one
    • Her first reactions were overflowing with feelings of inadequacy; she wanted to change, to become better, reinvent herself, etc.
    • She let the “no” from NASA control her life
  • Curiosity and exploration are about taking control of fear
    • The sense of independence and assurance to go out in the world came from her childhood
    • Her dad was always supportive, encouraging her to figure out her likes/dislikes
    • “He never told me there were no black female pilots.” Dr. Sian Proctor
  • Sian was always on the edge as a trailblazer:
    • She was the only black female in her classes and the only geoscientist
    • She was always chasing space and trying to figure out how to become an astronaut. In the end, it was her love for art and poetry that got her there
  • She won the “Prosperity” seat as a poet (a poem called “Space to Inspire”), not as a geoscientist 
    • She became the first Black Woman to Pilot a Spacecraft at age 51
    • She knew she had to work twice as hard because she is a black female
  • “People from a privileged platform don’t see how hard people of color have to work to be accepted in these spaces, and the narrative that we have to go through to achieve this.”Dr. Sian Proctor
  • The overview effect – a cognitive shift in awareness while viewing the Earth from outer space
    • Sian wishes everyone could experience it; the sense of awe, and the feeling of responsibility for taking care of our planet
  • “I felt like my entire life I was turning over rocks and saying ‘is this the right opportunity?’ as an explorer, kind of looking for that thing.” – Dr. Sian Proctor
    • And then came Inspiration 4, and it only took 51 years to happen!
  • “All of these little moments, zig and zags that you have in your career they add up and they complement each other in ways you don’t realize until further down the road.”- Dr. Sian Proctor

Key Books Mentioned

  • Space2inspire: The Art of Inspiration by Dr. Sian Proctor
    • Dr. Sian Proctor combines her spaceflight experiences and artistic vision into a compelling tale about her journey of becoming the first black female to pilot a spacecraft
  • Becoming by Michelle Obama
    • The book helped Sian become more forgiving to herself in times of extreme pressure

Intro

  • Dr. Sian Proctor (@DrSianProctor) is a geoscientist, SpaceX astronaut, Afrofuturism artist, and poet. She has a B.A. in Environmental Science and an M.A. in Geology. As the pilot of SpaceX’s Inspiration 4, she became the first African American woman to pilot a spacecraft
    • In this episode, Dr. Sian Proctor talks about dealing with race and gender bias, the overview effect, settling Mars, and her many talents and interests
  • Host: Danny Miranda (@heydannymiranda)

What to Do if Your Pond Freezes Over?

  • If you are anything like Dr. Proctor, you will play hockey
    • She grew up in Nashua, New Hampshire and they had a pond that would freeze over every winter where she would play hockey
    • She always admired female hockey players; they were not common in the 70s and 80s
  • When she moved to Arizona, Sian enrolled in an ice hockey program and started playing pick-up hockey
    • She was the only female player and at first, none of the guys acknowledged her
    • Nevertheless, she kept saying to herself that she belongs here. After all, she paid the $10 to play like everyone there
    • She came every single week eventually they started to acknowledge her
    • She got better and joined the ASU Women’s Hockey team and played with them for 4 years while in grad school
  • What made her keep going despite being the only female in a male-dominated sport?
    • It was the idea of belonging to spaces you normally wouldn’t have access to
    • “People of color and women have had a history of having to tell themselves they belong.”Dr. Sian Proctor
  • In time, they accepted her as much as she wanted to be there 
    • She needed to introduce them to the idea of being a part of their environment and how her presence was not going to be disruptive for their “boys club”

Almost an Astronaut

  • The dream of becoming an astronaut disappeared at age 15 because she got glasses and couldn’t become a military aviator
    • “If I can’t be a military aviator, then I can’t be an astronaut,” she said and forgot all about it, continuing her life as an explorer, scientist, and an athlete
  • However, in her late 30s, a friend sent an e-mail that said NASA is looking for astronauts
    • She was surprised that her friend thought about her as an astronaut
    • But it made sense because she was always open about her love for science and exploration 
    • If you put your authentic self out there, people will think of you when an opportunity arises
  • At that time, she didn’t know anything about NASA’s selection process or requirements because she thought it was out of her reach
    • However, she met 95% of their qualifications and applied for their astronaut candidate program despite self-doubt and imposter syndrome
    • It was a year-long process with two rounds of interviews and a phone call where NASA ultimately said “no” to her application
    • Her first reactions were overflowing with feelings of inadequacy; she wanted to change, to become better, reinvent herself, etc.
  • She let the “no” from NASA control her life
    • What she should’ve done was take a break, celebrate the fact that she was almost a NASA astronaut, and get back to enjoying her life’s passions

“Here’s a Rambo Knife, Go Out in the Woods and Play”

  • How do you cultivate curiosity for new technologies?
    • Curiosity and exploration are about taking control of fear
    • The sense of independence and assurance to go out in the world came from her childhood
    • She grew up in an era where you ran free as a kid 
  • Her dad was always supportive, encouraging her to figure out her likes/dislikes
    • Sian loved planes so her father bought her model airplanes and books about planes
    • He drove her every week to kids’ Civil Air Patrol meetings
  • “He never told me there were no black female pilots.” Dr. Sian Proctor
    • When she was into Rambo and wanted Rambo’s knife, he bought it for her
    • He was “that kind of dad”
    • He helped her to get to know herself without fear
    • Once you fear the world, you become hesitant to take risks and opportunity

Mars Attacks!

  • Sian completed four missions as an analog astronaut
    • Analog astronauts are people who love space and want to contribute to human space flight, but on Earth
    • Basically, they live in simulated Mars habitat on Earth
    • Sian enrolled for NASA’s simulated Martian mission to investigate food strategies for long-duration space flight
  • Colonialism and the words we choose (challenges for “settling” Mars)
    • Pursuit of J.E.D.I. space: a just, equitable, diverse, and inclusive space for humanity moving forward
    • The first step is to have a global conversation about bringing humanity to Mars (access, training, choice of ambassadors, etc.)
    • Stripping away the nationalistic narrative of competition and conquering
    • Solving for space solves for Earth (food and water distribution, energy, waste management)
  • We need to be thoughtful about things we struggle with the most on Earth; new technologies must be developed to help us thrive on Mars

Trailblazing New Territories

  • “You can take a seasoned black female and she can do this, don’t be afraid to reach outside of your normal comfort zone and choose the best of the best.”Dr. Sian Proctor
  • Always on the edge as a trailblazer:
    • The only black female in her classes, and the only geoscientist
    • She was always chasing space and trying to figure out how to become an astronaut. In the end, it was her love for art and poetry that got her there
  • Sian won the “Prosperity” seat as a poet (a poem called “Space to Inspire”), not as a geoscientist 
    • She became the first Black Woman to Pilot a Spacecraft at age 51
    • She knew she had to work twice as hard because she is a black female
  • “People from a privileged platform don’t see how hard people of color have to work to be accepted in these spaces, and the narrative that we have to go through to achieve this.”Dr. Sian Proctor
    • For Sian, it was all about figuring out ways to survive in foreign spaces and new territories. That is, after all, another form of exploration
    • She enjoyed every part of the process but was very aware that if she messes up at becoming the first black female pilot of a spacecraft everybody would react like she wasn’t good enough
  • Reading Michelle Obama’s book “Becoming” helped her learn to become more forgiving to herself, e.g. if she felt like she messed up, or had a bad day, feeling disconnected, etc.
    • There was a lot of pressure for her to succeed
    • “Learn to be more forgiving to yourself.”Dr. Sian Proctor

The View From Space

  • The overview effect – a cognitive shift in awareness while viewing the Earth from outer space
    • Sian wishes everyone could experience it; the sense of awe, and the feeling of responsibility for taking care of our planet
  • Why is the overview effect so powerful?
    • Think about how you feel when you experience a full moon
    • It makes you feel connected to the moon and full of light and energy
    • “Earthlight is a thousand times brighter and more brilliant and more beautiful than moonlight.”Dr. Sian Proctor
  • To experience earthlight; the lives and dreams of all people on the planet makes you feel hope
    • Sian thinks we are on starship Earth and that humanity needs to unite as one
    • It all comes down to the distribution of resources and power and their use
    • Conversations need to be had around that; we are all in it together and all our actions make a difference

Saying “Yes” to Early Technology

  • Her friend Kyle Schimber (whom she met at Yuri’s Night) suggested doing an NFT auction as a way to raise money for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital for cancer treatment
    • Sian created an NFT, and many other amazing people joined her (Ronald John Garan Jr., Nicole Stott)
    • They all came together with an idea to take the NFTs into space with them
  • It was all very fascinating to Sian; claiming “space” in digital space and putting your art out there and having it identified to you
    • Raising money and creating a traceable legacy because it’s on blockchain
    • Selling NFTs while in orbit, they raised 400,000$ for St. Jude
  • Both her master’s and Ph.D. were about digital space, and teaching with technology (virtual field trip in geology); she likes to look for projects that intrigue her

“Jack of All Opportunities, Master of Life Experiences”

  • “I felt like my entire life I was turning over rocks and saying ‘is this the right opportunity?’ as an explorer, kind of looking for that thing.” – Dr. Sian Proctor
    • And then came Inspiration 4, and it only took 51 years to happen!
    • She was becoming and arriving in every moment before that
    • “All of these little moments, zig and zags that you have in your career they add up and they complement each other in ways you don’t realize until further down the road.”- Dr. Sian Proctor
    • She didn’t have it all figured out after graduating; she tried different things and was always learning something new
  • “Jack of all trades, master of none”
    • Her dad was worried about her success because she never focused on just one thing
    • She rephrased the saying as “Jack of all opportunities, master of life experiences”
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