Cancer survivor Hayley Arceneaux to become youngest American in space with SpaceX launch

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Hayley Arceneaux is making history today, alongside four other non-professional astronauts, as they head to the stars on the first all-civilian mission to space.

Arceneaux, 29, a cancer survivor working at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital will become the youngest American in space when she blasts off this evening with entrepreneur and mission commander Jared Isaacman, Dr. Sian "Leo" Proctor and Chris Sembroski. Sally Ride, who was the first woman in space, currently holds the record – she was 32 when she was a part of the historic Challenger launch in 1983.

Arceneaux shared her excitement on Twitter, posting a photo of herself in uniform, prepared for today's mission.

“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,” Arceneaux wrote in People.

The historic mission will launch at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center today in Florida, where the Apollo and space shuttle missions embarked, with help from the reusable Falcon 9 rocket. The crew will travel weightless across a low Earth orbit at more than 17,000 mph for three days.

The Inspiration4 launch window is 8:02 p.m. ET Wednesday to 1 a.m. ET Thursday. The spacecraft and crew members will reenter the atmosphere days after launch off the coast of Florida.

A central goal of the mission, named Inspiration4, is to raise funds and awareness for St. Jude.

Inspiration4 has a St. Jude donation goal of $100 million, in addition to the $100 million donated by Isaacman. The hospital treats children with life-threatening diseases such as cancer at no cost to their families and researches cures.

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Arceneaux was treated for bone cancer at age 10

Arceneaux, who grew up in St. Francisville, Louisiana, was acquainted with St. Jude well before she began working there.

St. Jude treated Arceneaux for bone cancer when she was 10 years old. As a patient, Arceneaux underwent chemotherapy for a year and had most of the femur bone affected by the cancer replaced with a prosthetic device.

Former St. Jude patient and current St. Jude employee Hayley Arceneaux will be one of four people on the first all-civilian mission to space, scheduled to launch in 2021’s fourth quarter.
Former St. Jude patient and current St. Jude employee Hayley Arceneaux will be one of four people on the first all-civilian mission to space, scheduled to launch in 2021’s fourth quarter.

Arceneaux returned to St. Jude as a physician assistant in April. She often helps new patients and their families process the difficult news they may have heard hours earlier. Her experience as a patient provides added reassurance.

“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 I was a former patient, especially with new kids. I love getting to share that with them.”

St. Jude offered her the seat on Inspiration4 in early January. Arceneaux immediately said yes, shortly before calling her mom to discuss the opportunity. Another call with her brother and sister-in-law, who are both aerospace engineers, comforted her on space travel safety.

“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.

Latest space news: Space travel first: All-civilian mission to blast off

Jared Isaacman, founder of Shift4 Payments, is donating the three Crew Dragon seats to individuals from the general public.
Jared Isaacman, founder of Shift4 Payments, is donating the three Crew Dragon seats to individuals from the general public.

Rick Shadyac Jr., president and CEO of ALSAC, St. Jude’s fundraising and awareness organization, said he “can’t think of a better crew member” for Inspiration4 than Arceneaux, noting her "incredibly powerful story" and family's aerospace background.

SpaceX, the aerospace company founded by CEO Elon Musk, provided training for the mission’s crew. The training started in March and essentially was identical to a NASA curriculum, ranging from the academics of orbital mechanics to emergency procedures, Isaacman said.

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Arceneaux and company will be inside the Dragon spacecraft, which has a height of 26.7 feet and a diameter of 13 feet, during their journey. The tight quarters bring added importance to getting crew members comfortable with each other, Isaacman said.

Contributing: Marcia Dunn, Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Cancer survivor Hayley Arceneaux to be youngest American in space

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