A professor at South Mountain Community College – one of ten Maricopa County Community Colleges – the 51-year-old entrepreneur, educator, trained pilot, public speaker, and creator of Space2Inspire was announced as a final crew member of the Inspiration4 space mission in March 2021. She was chosen to represent prosperity — one of the four pillars of the mission.
Dr. Proctor's journey to space began on the island of Guam — more than eight months after the Apollo 11 moon landings. Due to the timing, she likes to think of herself as a celebration baby.
The family was on Guam because her father, a self-trained mathematician and scientist who never attended college, was working at a NASA tracking station. Dr. Proctor grew up with Neil Armstrong’s autograph on the wall of her father’s office.
As a teenager, she wanted to attend the Air Force Academy and fly F16s (it was the ‘80s and Top Gun was all the rage). She then wanted to transition into the astronaut program and become a Space Shuttle commander.
Two things happened to change the trajectory of her life. She discovered she needed glasses, dissolving her dreams of becoming a military aviator. And she lost her father to cancer.
But it was her fathers’ goal for his children to get a college degree — something that had eluded both of Dr. Proctor’s parents.
As a Black female science student, she spent four years earning a bachelor’s degree in environmental science and geology at Edinboro University in Pennsylvania. She spent another four years getting a master’s in geology. She then spent eight years earning her Ph.D. in science education at Arizona State University — totaling 16 years of higher education.
Then Dr. Proctor got her dream job as a direct result of her education. She became a geoscience professor at South Mountain Community College in Phoenix. During her 22 years teaching at SMCC, she’s been able to travel and teach around the world. She got her pilot’s license. Got scuba certified. She played hockey and ended up skating for ASU’s women’s ice hockey club team for four years, two of which as captain. And she went bungee jumping.
Things were going well. She let go of her earlier thoughts of going to space. Then, now in her late 30s, she got an email from a friend. “NASA’s looking for astronauts. You should apply,” it read. The curiosity was too strong for her to ignore.
Dr. Proctor is also a public speaker whose lectures act as a combatant against imposter syndrome, something she says she experienced before applying to NASA. She felt there was a stigma against being a community college professor, or that she wasn’t good enough. But once she looked back at her career, she realized she could do the job. All she had to do was apply.
Dr. Proctor became a finalist for the astronaut program in 2009.
Of the 3,800 people who applied, 2,800 were qualified, 450 were highly qualified, and 110 were brought to NASA Johnson Space Center to be interviewed. Dr. Proctor heard she was on the interview list while strolling the scenic SMCC campus.
NASA chose nine out of the 47 finalists. She didn’t get it.
However, after going through the astronaut selection process, she transitioned into becoming an analog astronaut. That is a person who engages in human space flight training and research but here on Earth. She has participated in moon and Mars simulations around the world. During a four-month Mars simulation in Hawaii, she also investigated food strategies for long-duration space flight. Her book “Meals for Mars Cookbook” catalogs her findings, but her major takeaway is, “If we solve for space, we solve for Earth.”
Because Dr. Proctor is also a poet and space artist. She is the founder of Space2inspire — meaning a unique space to inspire those within your reach and beyond. Dr. Proctor’s own artwork is what landed her this opportunity of a lifetime. She wants to create a Just, Equitable, Diverse, and Inclusive world (J.E.D.I. space) using Space2inspire as her motto.
Another goal of hers? Still journeying to space. And now it looks like that goal may finally be reached.
Inspiration4 will be launching this September from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center’s historic Launch Complex 39A with Dr. Proctor aboard. She will be the mission pilot on the first all-civilian mission to space.