29-Year-Old Cancer Survivor Chosen For First Civilian SpaceX Mission

PA Images/rookisaacman/Twitter

A 29-year-old cancer survivor has been chosen to join the first all-civilian mission into outer space, which is tentatively planned for later this year. 

Hayley Arceneaux, who works as a physician’s assistant at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, was selected after 37-year-old billionaire Jared Isaacman purchased the private flight from Elon Musk’s SpaceX.

When Arceneaux was just 10 years old she was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a type of bone cancer that typically affects the arms or the legs. The young girl, who wanted to be an astronaut when she grew up, began chemotherapy and underwent a surgery to replace part of her femur with an internal prosthesis.

Arceneaux recalled being ‘really sick from the chemo’, telling People: ‘It made me feel weak from my blood counts being low. Then I got some fevers that required more admission to the hospital. And, of course, I lost my hair.’

With her new prosthetic, Arceneaux relearned how to walk over the course of several months, and after finishing her chemotherapy sessions she was finally cleared to go home. Her experience gave her a passion for healthcare, and after being treated at St. Jude she later went on to work there.

The 29-year-old explained:

I remember just crying because it was such a mixture of relief, and then also I didn’t want to leave because I had become so comfortable at St. Jude, and I really felt like they were my family and I looked forward to going to St. Jude every day. And I still don’t want to leave. St. Jude is my whole world.

Isaacman, who works as CEO of the payment processing company Shift4 Payments, heard Arceneaux’s story and felt she was a perfect fit for the all-civilian mission, known as Inspiration4.

On January 5, Arceneaux received a call asking if she wanted to join Isaacman in space, and she knew she couldn’t pass up the opportunity. She recalls ‘shaking’ as the proposition was ‘such a shock and so overwhelming, but in an exciting way’.

After having spent time with the 29-year-old during preparation for the mission, Isaacman confirmed that she is ‘everything we want our team to represent’.

He told People: ‘She’s interested in the world around her, devoted to caring for others and hopeful for a better future for all of us. 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.’

Isaacman and Arceneaux will be joined on the mission by a business owner who uses Shift4 Payments, as well as one other person who is yet to be chosen. Anyone who donates to St. Jude during the month of February will be entered into a random drawing for a seat of their own on the trip, which will last three to four days.

According to SpaceX, the crew will ‘receive commercial astronaut training by SpaceX on the Falcon 9 launch vehicle and Dragon spacecraft, orbital mechanics, operating in microgravity, zero gravity, and other forms of stress testing’ ahead of the mission.

Arceneaux, who has been named Chief Medical Officer for the flight, said:

I don’t know my exact schedule as far as training, like how much I’m going to have to be away this year, but St. Jude and my co-workers have been so supportive and it’s been worked out.

But I’m still working my job, and also getting to have this experience. What an incredible opportunity this is for St. Jude.

The mission is set to depart Earth from Kennedy Space Center’s historic Launch Complex 39A before travelling ‘across a low earth orbit on a multi-day journey that will continually eclipse more than 90% of the Earth’s population’, according to SpaceX.

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