SpaceX Inspiration4 mission crew talks to St. Jude patients from space (video)

In between playfully snacking on M&Ms, the all-civilian Inspiration4 crew took a break from their science-heavy mission to chat with kid patients from a Memphis children's hospital.

The three-day Earth-orbiting mission, which launched Wednesday (Sept. 15), aims to raise $200 million and a lot of publicity for St. Jude's Children's Hospital, which is where the adorable press conference came in.

Among the four crew members on the private SpaceX mission is former hospital cancer patient Haley Arceneaux, 29, who is the first astronaut to fly with a prosthetic. Arceneaux is now a physician assistant for St. Jude. She floated upside-down for most of the brief press conference, available on YouTube

"I just want you all to know that we're doing this for you," Arceneaux said. "We are thinking about you so much, I wanted to tell you that I was a little girl going through cancer treatment, just like a lot of you. If I can do this, you can do this, and I'm so proud of each and every one of you."

Video: Inspiration4 crew talks to St. Jude patients from space
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SpaceX's Inspiration4 private all-civilian orbital mission

The four private astronauts of SpaceX's Inspiration4 mission smile in space in this still image from Sept. 16, 2021. From left they are: Jared Isaacman, commander; Hayley Arceneaux, medical officer; Chris Sembroski, mission specialist; Sian Proctor, pilot.

The four private astronauts of SpaceX's Inspiration4 mission smile in space in this still image from Sept. 16, 2021. From left they are: Jared Isaacman, commander; Hayley Arceneaux, medical officer; Chris Sembroski, mission specialist; Sian Proctor, pilot.  (Image credit: Inspiration4)

Crew commander and billionaire Jared Isaacman, 38, paid a reported $200 million for the opportunity to fly the crew higher in Earth orbit than anyone else has flown since the Apollo era. Answering a question from a patient, Tyler, about why the mission is taking place, Isaacman said he feels there is still a lot to do in space.

"There's an awful lot of it [space], and we know so little about it," he said. "There may be some really interesting answers to questions we've all been asking for a long time out there, so we have to do tha. But we also have to pay attention to some of the real responsibilities we have on Earth as well. That's why St. Jude Children's Research Hospital is such an important part of our mission."

Related: Inspiration4: SpaceX's historic private spaceflight in photos

The plume of fumes generated by the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying four civilian astronauts of the Inspiration4 mission on their historic orbital trip. (Image credit: John Kraus)

Sian Proctor, 51, is a long-time analog astronaut who is now in space for real, becoming the first Black female spacecraft pilot in orbit. A patient, Eva, asked her and the rest of the crew about the sleeping bags they were using in space.

"If you've ever been camping, we pretty much had those same kind of sleeping bags," she explained. "Last night was the first time we had our first sleep here in space. It was really cool because we were in our sleeping bags on top of our chairs, but we were floating on top of the chairs, and we had a seat belt around our sleeping bag, so we didn't fly away when we were sleeping."

Lockheed Martin employee and former Space Camp counselor Chris Sembroski held M&Ms for the rest of the crew and distributed them in between questions, which led to some fun moments as the astronauts jostled for position to grab the floating candies. Arceneaux even interrupted one of her questions for a moment to dive head-first for an M&M floating right by her upside-down head.

The crew appears to be making the best use possible of the small SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft during their mission and took a moment to show the patients the incredible view outside the domed window flying in place of a docking mechanism. (Inspiration4 will not dock with the International Space Station, which is what Crew Dragons have historically been used for.)

While the crew are not trained astronauts, Arceneaux paid tribute to the six months of work the quartet put into the mission to get to know each other, through experiences like water survival and a zero-gravity flight. Besides the crew experience, she noted, "it was a lot of learning, a lot of studying PowerPoints, going through materials and then we got to do some really cool hands-on stuff."

The crew also asked questions about why they don't fall in space, their favorite space food (Proctor planned to have pizza for the second night in a row) and if there are astronauts on the moon yet (Proctor said soon, referring to NASA's Artemis program.)

The crew is expected to splash down late Saturday (Sept. 18) or early Sunday (Sept. 19).

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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: