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Physician Assistant Who Battled Cancer as a Child Rides into Space on All-Civilian Launch


Her childhood wish is finally coming true. Many of us grow up dreaming of flying into space, but Hayley Arceneaux wasn’t sure if she’d ever get the chance. She was diagnosed with bone cancer as a child. Her recovery inspired her to train for the trip of a lifetime. 

The company known as SpaceX recently sent four non-astronauts into space by themselves in the world’s first all-civilian mission. She brought along a photo of her 10-year-old self to show other kids with cancer that anything is possible.

A Trip to the Stars

Arceneaux is a physician assistant at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, where she also spent time as a child. As a patient, she was diagnosed with bone cancer and had to undergo chemotherapy for about a year. She lost most of her femur bone to the disease and had to have it replaced by a prosthetic.

She later returned to the hospital for work. She says she spends most of her time helping families process the difficult news they received just a few hours ago. Her experience as a patient gives her a unique perspective.

“Working with the kids, it means so much because these kids are so brave,” she said. “They’re going through a big, life-changing thing…I do share with them that I was a former patient, especially with new kids. I love getting to share that with them.”

So, how did she wind up on the all-civilian mission to space?

The mission, known as Inspiration4, is designed to help raise money for the hospital, with a goal of $100 million. The facility treats various forms of cancer and child illnesses at no cost to parents.

The facility offered Arceneaux a seat on the Inspiration4 in early January. She immediately said yes, but had to consult with her mother just to be sure. She also called her brother and sister-in-law, both aerospace engineers, who helped her prepare for the idea of going into space.

“I do consider myself an adventurer, and so while I never thought I would be going to space, it fits, and this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” she said.

Rick Shadyac Jr., president and CEO of ALSAC, the fundraising and awareness organization behind St. Jude, said he “can’t think of a better crew member” for the mission than Arceneaux, considering her “incredibly powerful story” and family’s background in aerospace engineering.

The mission is being run by SpaceX, founded by billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk. The civilian astronauts began their training in March, which is nearly identical to the NASA curriculum. It includes basic skills, such as academics of orbital mechanics and emergency procedures.

The craft took off yesterday early in the morning. It will travel around the earth at 17,000 mph for three days before dropping back down off the coast of Florida.

Arceneaux and three others are riding in the Dragon spacecraft, which measures 26.7 feet tall with a diameter of 13 feet. Who said going to space had to be comfortable?

She is joined by Jared Isaacman, a 38-year-old billionaire high-school dropout, who is funding the trip to raise awareness for St. Jude after reaching a deal with SpaceX in 2020. He’s qualified to fly both civilian and military jets, but it’s always been his dream to go to space.

“This dream began 10 months ago,” Isaacman said at a news conference. “We set out from the start to deliver a very inspiring message, certainly the opportunities up in space and what can be done there. But also what we can accomplish here on Earth.”

The other two travelers include Chris Sembroski, an aerospace worker from Seattle who was selected from 72,000 entries to St. Jude, and Sian Proctor, an educator and trained pilot who was a finalist in NASA’s 2009 astronaut class.

Multiple networks and studios will be releasing content around the festivities. You can watch “Countdown: Inspiration4 Mission to Space” on Netflix to learn more.

The mission has already raised around $130 million for St. Jude.

A Stunning Achievement

Arceneaux is making history on two fronts. At just 29, she’s now the youngest person to ever make it to space. She’s also the first person with a prosthetic body part to leave earth.

Before take-off she said, “I plan on eating a glazed donut, my favorite kind, the morning of launch; I’ll be wearing my go-to red lipstick; and I’ll be launching into orbit with the memories of all my friends that didn’t make it through cancer, all the kids who are in the battle right now, and all the other survivors.”

We are so proud of Arceneaux for making her dreams come true. 

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