22 February 2021

Bone cancer survivor to join billionaire on SpaceX flight

22 February 2021

A bone cancer survivor will join a billionaire on SpaceX’s first private spaceflight this autumn.

St Jude Children’s Research Hospital announced that Hayley Arceneaux will serve as its ambassador in space.

She said that after beating cancer as a child, rocketing into orbit should be a piece of cosmic cake.

She will launch alongside tech entrepreneur Jared Isaacman and two yet-to-be-chosen contest winners. Mr Isaacman hopes to use his mission to raise 200 million dollars (£142 million) for St Jude, half of that his own money.

Twenty-nine-year-old Ms Arceneaux, a physician assistant, will become the youngest American in space – beating Nasa record-holder Sally Ride by more than two years — when she blasts off.

It’s going to mean so much to these kids to see a survivor in space

She will also be the first to launch with a prosthesis. When she was 10, she had surgery at St Jude to replace her knee and get a titanium rod in her left thigh bone. She still limps and suffers occasional leg pain, but has been cleared for flight by SpaceX She will serve as the crew’s medical officer.

“My battle with cancer really prepared me for space travel,” she said. “It made me tough, and then also I think it really taught me to expect the unexpected and go along for the ride.”

She wants to show her young patients and other cancer survivors that “the sky is not even the limit anymore”.

“It’s going to mean so much to these kids to see a survivor in space,” she said.

Mr Isaacman announced his space mission on February 1. As the flight’s self-appointed commander, he offered one of the four SpaceX Dragon capsule seats to St Jude.

Without alerting the staff, St Jude chose Ms Arceneaux from among the “scores” of hospital and fundraising employees who had once been patients and could represent the next generation, said Rick Shadyac, president of St Jude’s fundraising organisation.

Hayley Arceneaux stands near a SpaceX rocket

Ms Arceneaux was at home in Memphis, Tennessee, when she got the “out of the blue” call in January asking if she would represent St Jude in space.

Her immediate response: “Yes! Yes! Please!” But first she wanted to run it past her mother in St Francisville, Louisiana. Her father died of kidney cancer in 2018.

Next she reached out to her brother and sister-in-law, both of them aerospace engineers in Huntsville, Alabama, who “reassured me how safe space travel is”.

A lifelong space fan who embraces adventure, Ms Arceneaux insists those who know her will not be surprised. She has plunged on a bungee swing in New Zealand and ridden camels in Morocco. And she loves rollercoasters.

Mr Isaacman, who flies fighter jets for a hobby, considers her a perfect fit.

“It’s not all supposed to be about getting people excited to be astronauts someday, which is certainly cool,” Mr Isaacman, 38, said last week. “It’s also supposed to be about an inspiring message of what we can accomplish here on Earth.”

He has two more crew members to select, and he plans to reveal them in March.

Lift-off is targeted around October at Nasa’s Kennedy Space Centre.

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