Feb 23, 2021 - Science

An unlikely astronaut

Photo illustration of Hayley Arceneaux.
Photo illustration: Axios Visuals. Photo: St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Inspiration4

Later this year, Hayley Arceneaux — a childhood cancer survivor and physician assistant at St. Jude — is expected to launch to orbit for the first all-civilian mission to space.

Why it matters: Arceneaux represents a new kind of astronaut, one who didn't train for years to live in space but instead is making the most of the opportunities afforded by the budding private spaceflight industry.

Catch up quick: The mission — named Inspiration4 — is being put together by businessman Jared Isaacman, in part, as a way to raise money for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.

  • Arceneaux and Isaacman along with two other yet-to-be-chosen crew members are expected to launch to space using a SpaceX capsule and rocket in the fourth quarter of the year.
  • One passenger will be chosen via raffle, and the fourth will be the winner of a competition for entrepreneurs using Isaacman's Shift4 Payments platform.

Details: While Arceneaux didn't focus her life's work toward going to space, she has always been adventurous, according to her mom, Colleen Arceneaux.

  • Since her treatment as a kid at St. Jude, "she's always had a sense of live life now because there are no promises of the future," Colleen said.
  • Arceneaux is planning to speak with kids at St. Jude while she's in space and hopes to share her journey with them.
  • "You're so focused on your appointments that day, the medicines that you have to take that day, that sometimes it can be hard to look at the future, but I think it's really important," Arceneaux told me. "And I think it's going to be so meaningful for these kids."
    • "I think she's going to do a great job inspiring people for things that may have absolutely nothing to do with space and rockets but just overcoming adversity in life," Isaacman told me.

1 fun thing: Isaacman shared a list of space-themed movies and TV shows for Arceneaux to watch before heading to space, including Disney Plus' "The Right Stuff" and "Battlestar Galactica."

  • For her part, Colleen Arceneaux has been watching media suggested by her son — an aerospace engineer — including a documentary about astronaut Scott Kelly's year in space.

Go deeper: The story behind the first all-civilian space flight (Axios Re:Cap podcast)

Go deeper