Childhood bone cancer survivor joins private Inspiration4 spaceflight on SpaceX rocket

A 29-year-old survivor of childhood bone cancer may become one of the youngest people to fly in space when she launches on a private trip aboard a SpaceX rocket.

Hayley Arceneaux, a physician assistant at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, will join the private Inspiration4 spaceflight led by billionaire Jared Isaacman, which will launch on a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule later this year. Arceneaux's selection as the "Hope" member of the crew was unveiled today on the Today Show on NBC.  

The invitation to join Isaacman's Inspiration4 crew came through St. Jude, Arceneaux's former treatment center.

"It came out of the blue," Arceneaux said of the invitation from St. Jude. "Basically, they asked if I wanted to go to space. Immediately, I said, 'Yes, yes! Put my name down.'"

Hayley Arceneaux, a 29-year-old survivor of childhood bone cancer, will join the private Inspiration4 SpaceX mission led by Jared Isaacman. (Image credit: Inspiration4) Collection: $26.99 at Magazines Direct Collection: $26.99 at Magazines Direct

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Arceneaux received her treatment in 2002 (when she was 10 years old) and will become the first person with a prosthetic body part to go to space, according to the New York Times, as she received metal rods to replace parts of bones in her left leg. 

Her flight represents a new opportunity to fly diverse populations into space, as NASA's normal astronaut requirements exclude people with such disabilities. Private flights such as this SpaceX one, however, may open the door to people who could not normally qualify for government flight opportunities.

The Inspiration4 flight will be commanded by Isaacman, a pilot and the billionaire founder of the payment processing company Shift4Payments. The mission is expected to launch this fall, SpaceX has said. 

Isaacman will donate the other three seats; Arceneaux is the first of those announced. A third seat will go to a contributor to St. Jude fundraising in a contest, and a fourth will come from the winner of an entrepreneur competition sponsored by Isaacman's Shift4Shop. 

You can find out how to enter both contests at the Inspiration4 website here.

Arceneaux continues to help patients today at the hospital as a physician's assistant. She said the positive attitude she cultivated during the difficult parts of treatment will probably help her face the challenges of spaceflight, too.

"I really hope to show [childhood cancer patients] that the sky is not even the limit," Arceneaux  said. "They can do anything. I never thought I'd be able to go to space. Really until this mission, you really had to be physically perfect. This mission is changing things. Getting to be a cancer survivor in space is such an incredible honor."

As things stand, Arceneaux will be the youngest American to fly in space — beating the first American woman in space, Sally Ride, by two years. (Ride was 31 when she first flew in 1983.) Soviet Union cosmonaut Gherman Titov holds the record for youngest space traveler, having flown a month shy of 26 years old when he launched aboard the Soviet spacecraft Vostok 2 in August 1961.

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: