Hayley Arceneaux: The cancer survivor and physician assistant going on SpaceX Inspiration4 mission

Andrew Griffin
Wednesday 15 September 2021 10:48
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<p>Hayley Arceneaux, on the right, with the rest of her crew </p>

Hayley Arceneaux, on the right, with the rest of her crew

Hayley Arceneaux was the first person to be announced as joining SpaceX’s Inspiration4 mission – and, perhaps, remains the person who embodies what it aims to be most.

On the face of it, Inspiration4 is a private space trip like those others undertaken by billionaires this year. It is mostly intended as a pioneering marketing trip, with internet entrepeneur Jared Isaacman chartering a trip into space mostly for his own fun.

But as with those other billionaires, Mr Isaacman has looked to present the trip as something else besides, an inspiration to the world. As well as arguing that the trip will help encourage scientific interest and promote values such as “prosperity”, he has used the trip to help raise money for St Jude Children’s Research Hospital, generating more than $100 million in all.

Ms Arceneaux is living proof of the good that hospital does. As well as researching childhood cancer, it provides care for young people who are going through it, entirely free of charge.

She became one of young people when she was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a bone cancer, at the age of 10. She was treated and cared for by St Jude, undergoing chemotherapy and surgery.

After her care, she committed that she would come back to the hospital, and she did. Now out of treatment, she offers it to other people as a physician assistant at the same hospital that saved her life.

In keeping with that, she has been assigned the job of Medical Officer. As part of that, she will oversee the medical care and experiments during the mission, according to Inspiration4.

She has also been given the value of “Hope”, in keeping with the other values – “Prosperity”, “Leadership” and “Generosity” – that the four-strong crew is intended to embody.

Ms Arceneaux was due to be the youngest person in space, when the mission was announced. But since then Jeff Bezos announced that he would be taking 18-year-old Dutch student Oliver Daemen on his Blue Origin flight – on a trip paid for by his father – and that title was taken from her.

At 29, however, she will still become the youngest American in space. And she will be plenty of other firsts in space, too: the first American civilian woman, the first person with a prosthesis and the first pediatric cancer survivor.

Along with the rest of the crew, Ms Arceneaux will take off on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket – inside a Crew Dragon capsule attached to the top – and spend three days in space. After that journey, they will fall back down to Earth and splash into the ocean.

She and the rest of the crew have undergone a spectrum of astronaut training, which included orbital mechanics, operating in microgravity, zero gravity, and other forms of stress testing, as well as doing emergency training and mission simulations. The capsule is, however, autonomous and so their input will only be required if something goes severely wrong.

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