Inspiration4's Hayley Arceneaux will be youngest American to reach space and 1st spaceflyer with a prosthesis

This week, a crew of four spaceflyers will launch as part of the first all-civilian mission to Earth orbit. But this isn't the only major "first" for Inspiration4

Onboard Inspiration4, which is set to launch no earlier than 8:02 p.m. EDT Wednesday, Sept. 15 (00022 GMT Thursday, Sept. 16) from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, will be four civilians ready to make history. Among them is Hayley Arceneaux, a physician assistant at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, for which the flight will be raising awareness and funds. She'll add two historic "firsts" of her own to the mission. 

With this flight, the 29-year-old Arceneaux will set two records: she will be both the youngest American to fly to space and the first person to ever fly to space with a prosthesis. 

Arceneaux will fly alongside commander Jared Isaacman, a tech billionaire who chartered the flight aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft; Sian Proctor, a space artist, geoscientist and science communicator; and Chris Sembroski, an Air Force veteran and data engineer. 

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Hayley Arceneaux, a physician assistant, will fly to space with Inspiration4. (Image credit: Inspiration4/John Kraushttps)

When Arceneaux realized that she'll be the youngest American spaceflyer,  "I was just overwhelmed with how honored I felt, I was mind-blown," she said. "I just can't believe that it's happening to me."

Arceneaux works for St. Jude as a physician assistant, but she has actually been involved with the research hospital, which treats and researches pediatric cancers and other diseases, since she was a kid. 

As a young child, Arceneaux was diagnosed with bone cancer after noticing some pain in her leg. Arceneaux and her family recounted the diagnosis in the real-time docu-series currently airing on Netflix about the mission, called "Countdown: Inspiration4 Mission to Space."

"We actually went to NASA just a few months before I was diagnosed with cancer," she told in an interview. "I got to see where the astronauts trained, and I think every kid looks at that and wants to be an astronaut."

She went on to say that cancer made her doubt these childhood space dreams. "I have a metal rod in my leg from when they saved my leg, and so I never thought I'd be an astronaut," she said. Despite this, for the past six months, Arceneaux has been acing her astronaut training ahead of the mission. This has included a hike up Mount Rainier, centrifuge training, water survival training, fighter jet flights (which included some serious g-forces), training in a hyperbaric chamber and so much more. 

That metal rod will make Arceneaux the first spaceflyer with a prosthesis. And, especially seeing as she works today with children fighting cancer as she fought so many years ago, the significance of this step forward in human spaceflight is not lost on her. 

"I just feel so honored to be paving the way," she said. "I'm so excited to think of the people that are going to come after me. And I think space travel should be open to everyone. And this is a really big first step."

Inspiration4 aims to raise $200 million for St. Jude. And Arceneaux and her fellow crewmembers will bring the children being treated at the hospital into the mission, calling them from space. "It's going to be so fun for our kids to see somebody who is in their same shoes, getting to grow up and accomplish their dreams and then knowing that they can do the same."

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Chelsea Gohd
Senior Writer

Chelsea “Foxanne” Gohd joined in 2018 and is now a Senior Writer, writing about everything from climate change to planetary science and human spaceflight in both articles and on-camera in videos. With a degree in Public Health and biological sciences, Chelsea has written and worked for institutions including the American Museum of Natural History, Scientific American, Discover Magazine Blog, Astronomy Magazine and Live Science. When not writing, editing or filming something space-y, Chelsea "Foxanne" Gohd is writing music and performing as Foxanne, even launching a song to space in 2021 with Inspiration4. You can follow her on Twitter @chelsea_gohd and @foxannemusic.