Hayley Arceneaux, a 2016 graduate of the Physician Assistant (PA) program in the School of Allied Health Professions at LSU Health Shreveport, is scheduled to become the youngest American in space on Thursday evening September 15. Arceneaux currently works as a physician assistant at St. Jude.
Arceneaux will be part of “Inspiration4,” named after the upcoming four-member space mission that aims to raise awareness and funds for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, where Arceneaux was cured of childhood cancer in the early 2000s. She will become the first person with a prosthesis in space as well as the first cancer survivor. The Inspiration4 Mission, comprised of Hayley, Chris Sembroski, Jared Isaacman, and Sian Proctor who will serve as commander, are set to become the first human spaceflight to reach orbit with a crew comprised entirely of private citizens. Every crew to fly in Earth orbit to date has been led by a government-employed astronaut.
This space mission varies from those in July by Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin – founded by billionaires Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos – as these suborbital missions only reached the edge of space, giving the passengers a few minutes of microgravity and offering brief views of Earth from an altitude of more than 50 miles. The Inspiration4 Mission is a three-day flight in which the Crew Dragon capsule will circle Earth dozens of times before re-entering the atmosphere for a parachute assisted splashdown off the coast of Florida. This will be just the fourth flight of the Crew Dragon capsule with people on-board, following three launches that carried NASA astronauts to the International Space Station.
Advocating for St. Jude is nothing new for Arceneaux, who at 10 years old was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a rare type of bone cancer that doctors discovered in her left leg. Her diagnosis came one week after she earned a black belt in Taekwondo.
Arceneaux and her family then went to the St. Jude campus in Memphis, where she’d soon endure “a very difficult surgery” in which doctors successfully removed the tumor and installed an artificial femur and knee. That led to “a year of very intense chemotherapy,” but Arceneaux described it as “an important time” that “made me who I am.”
Roughly nine months after starting at St. Jude, Arceneaux got even more life-changing news. It came on Jan. 5, when she received a Zoom invitation from the hospital saying, “they had an opportunity for me.” She accepted the Zoom invite and logged in. In the weeks after, she’d refer to it as a day she will “never forget.” “When I got on the call, they started talking about the background of this mission to space and then they asked me if I wanted to have a seat on board,” she recalled. “Immediately, I said, ‘Yes, yes.’”
Arceneaux met Isaacman on a Zoom call a few days after accepting the mission. He showed her a PowerPoint presentation detailing his idea for the trip “and how he wanted to use it for good to raise money for St. Jude and also to inspire people.” She had to keep the news under wraps for weeks, telling only a few family members and close friends. She told her mother, who said she couldn’t pass up the “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.” She then told her brother and sister-in-law, two aerospace engineers who Arceneaux said “reassured me how safe space travel is.” A few friends said they plan to make T-shirts for the launch.
The launch webcast will start on SpaceX's YouTube channel Wednesday at 3:45 p.m. EDT (1945 GMT) and will also stream here at Space.com, courtesy of SpaceX. The five-hour launch window at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida opens at 8:02 p.m. on Wednesday, August 15.