St. Jude Children's Research Hospital announced Monday that former patient and bone cancer survivor Hayley Arceneaux will join billionaire Jared Isaacman on the first all-civilian SpaceX flight later this year. At 29, Arceneaux will become the youngest American, as well as the first person with a prosthetic body part, to go to space.
"My battle with cancer really prepared me for space travel," Arceneaux, who now works as a physician assistant at St. Jude, told The Associated Press. "It made me tough, and then also I think it really taught me to expect the unexpected and go along for the ride."
Growing up in Louisiana, Arceneaux first had dreams of becoming an astronaut when her family traveled to NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston when she was 9 years old. Shortly after that visit, she received life-altering news when she was diagnosed with bone cancer at 10. As part of her treatment, Arceneaux had to get surgery at St. Jude's to replace her knee and get a metal rod in her left thigh bone.
"I told myself over and over when I was going through treatment that God had a plan," she said in a recent St. Jude interview. Now, nearly 20 years later, Arceneaux's upcoming travel to space seems like a full circle moment. "I'm overwhelmingly grateful for His faithfulness and my wild journey."
The 29-year-old was chosen as one of four people to join Isaacman, pilot and founder of payment processing company Shift4 Payments, on his charitable mission titled Inspiration4. Isaacman announced the mission earlier this year, with a pledge to raise $200 million for St. Jude to help fight childhood cancer. The 38-year-old entrepreneur, who has a net worth of $2.3 billion, according to Forbes, has already committed $100 million of his own money to the cause.
In a tweet on Monday, Isaacman said he was excited about Arceneaux joining him in space and he knows that she will be an "inspiration to people all over the world."
In addition to Arceneaux, the other seats on Isaacman's mission will be filled by a winner selected from a sweepstakes contest that raises money for St. Jude and by an entrepreneur who wins a contest sponsored by Shift4 Payments. Isaacman is expected to announce who these individual winners are in March.
Right now, liftoff for the mission is targeted for October at NASA's Kennedy Space Center, with the trip lasting for two to four days, reports AP. Isaacman, who purchased the rocket launch from Elon Musk's SpaceX for an undisclosed amount, says he believes this mission "is the first step towards a world where everybody can go and venture among the stars."
"I know that the money raised and the awareness raised from this mission is going to change lives…" Arceneaux, who will serve as the crew's medical officer, said. "And it means so much to me both as a former patient and now an employee to know that we're going to be able to help so many more kids because of this mission."