The stars seem continually aligned for Hayley Arceneaux, who following a battle with bone cancer when she was 10 years old, grew up to become a physician assistant in child oncology at St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital—the same facility where she was treated.
As if that wasn’t enough reason to thank her lucky stars, Arceneaux, who’s now 29, was selected by the St. Jude’s staff from hundreds of other employees to represent the famous hospital on the first-ever all civilian spaceflight, arranged by SpaceX, to take place at the closing of 2021.
Inspiration4 is a private, multi-day, sightseeing and research trip into low-Earth orbit that was purchased by Jared Isaacman—CEO of the payment processing company Shift4Payments—as a massive fundraiser for St. Jude’s.
Four seats will be available in the Dragon Capsule, symbolically representing four pillars, of which Arceneaux’s will be the pillar of hope, for obvious reasons. The other two seats haven’t been assigned yet, but one will go to a sweepstakes contestant who’s donated a certain amount to St. Jude’s, and the other to a random business owner who uses Isaacman’s payment service.
“My battle with cancer really prepared me for space travel,” Arceneaux said in an interview with The Associated Press. “It made me tough, and then also I think it really taught me to expect the unexpected and go along for the ride.”
Arceneaux hopes to show the kids at St. Jude’s that “the sky is not even the limit anymore,” telling AP that “it’s going to mean so much to these kids to see a survivor in space.”
The team, when finally assembled, will receive rigorous training in everything necessary to operate in the unique conditions of space, as well as the aspects of the SpaceX Dragon capsule.
A series of firsts
Like with most spaceflights, Arceneaux will be setting a series of firsts; becoming both the youngest American woman, and the youngest American to exit Earth—surpassing Sally Ride who was 32 when she embarked on a spaceflight in 1983.
She will also be the first American astronaut with a prosthesis. During the battle with bone cancer, she required surgery on her knee. Now her thigh bone contains a titanium rod, and she still has bouts of pain there occasionally.
Inspiration4 is also the first entirely civilian spaceflight, as well as the very first privately chartered spaceflight. Isaacman announced the mission on February 1, saying that he hoped to raise $200 million for St. Jude’s—$100 million of that from his own fortune.
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“As I’ve spent time with Hayley in the earliest days of mission prep, she’s everything we want our team to represent—she’s interested in the world around her, devoted to caring for others, and hopeful for a better future for all of us,” said Isaacman in a statement. “She already inspires me, and I’m certain she’ll inspire many others as they get to know her in the course of our mission.”
Multiple reports state that Arceneaux—Memphis, Tennessee native and huge space exploration enthusiast—was at home when she got the call “out of the blue” from St. Jude’s.
NPR details that she ran the idea past her mother first, as well as her brother and sister-in-law, who are both aerospace engineers. They assured her how safe spaceflight was.
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“It’s an incredible honor to join the Inspiration4 crew,” said Arceneaux. “This seat represents the hope that St. Jude gave me—and continues to give families from around the world, who, like me, find hope when they walk through the doors of St. Jude.”
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