This article appeared in the September 15, 2021 edition of the Monitor Daily.

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On Inspiration4 mission, a poet champions diversity in space

John Kraus/Inspiration4 via AP
From left, Sian Proctor, Chris Sembroski, Jared Isaacman, and Hayley Arceneaux at Duke Health in Durham, North Carolina, on July 2, 2021, during hypoxia training in preparation for their SpaceX flight scheduled for Sept. 15, 2021.

Gil Scott-Heron’s “Whitey on the Moon” was a searing spoken-word indictment of inequality in 1970 (the year after Neil Armstrong made his famous lunar stroll). There’s been progress, but spaceflight has been mostly a white man’s journey.

That may be changing. 

On Wednesday evening, Sian Proctor expects to join three others in the first all-civilian crew in space – no professional astronauts on board. Unlike the Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic suborbital tourist jaunts of a few minutes in July, this private SpaceX flight plans to orbit the Earth for three days. Tech billionaire Jared Isaacman is footing the bill.

Ms. Proctor is a private pilot, geoscientist, teacher, and poet. She’s also going to be the first Black, female pilot of a spacecraft – a responsibility she doesn’t take lightly. “If we slip, then … people will say you were never qualified. They’ll compare you to the white, male fighter pilot who has always held that seat,” she tells Miriam Kramer in the podcast “How It Happened.” But she adds, “I feel like I’m up to the task.” 

Ms. Proctor often talks about the “J.E.D.I.,” not the Star Wars kind, but the goal of a just, equitable, diverse, and inclusive approach to human spaceflight. One of her crewmates is Hayley Arceneaux, a physician assistant, who will be the first astronaut with a prosthesis and, at 29, the youngest American in orbit. 

What does inclusive space travel look like? The crew of the Inspiration4 mission offers us a glimpse.

This article appeared in the September 15, 2021 edition of the Monitor Daily.

Read 09/15 edition
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