ORLANDO, Fla., Feb. 24 (UPI) — A physician assistant at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital will join the first all-private space mission in a fundraising effort for the Memphis-based charitable facility.
The mission, called Inspiration4, is scheduled for launch aboard a Falcon 9 rocket from Florida as early as October for four private citizens. They plan to orbit the Earth for several days aboard a Crew Dragon capsule built by Elon Musk’s SpaceX.
Hayley Arceneaux, 29, survived bone cancer through treatment at the hospital as a 10-year-old. She’s thrilled to fulfill a lifelong dream to see space and to share the experience with others, she said Monday.
“Cancer made me who I am today,” Arceneaux said. “I have such a joy and zest for life, wanting to experience all that I can. I also enjoy showing people that you no longer have to be physically perfect to go to space, and I hope this inspires others.”
The Inspiration4 space mission is the brainchild of billionaire businessman Jared Isaacman, founder of Allentown, Pa.-based payment processing company Shift4 Payments.
He’s paid for the entire flight and pledged a $ 100 million donation to St. Jude’s, while mounting a fundraising effort to raise an additional $ 100 million — partly by challenging others to donate to be considered as another passenger on the trip.
Isaacman, a trained jet pilot, will be the pilot for the space mission — making him the first-ever private citizen to command such a mission.
Houston-based space company Axiom plans a separate, all-private spaceflight in January to take three paying customers to the space station on a mission commanded by a former NASA astronaut.
Arceneaux said she was suspicious and shocked when leadership at the hospital asked her during a conference call in January if she wanted to fly to space.
She told her mother and siblings about the proposal before she formally accepted. She said she has confidence in Isaacman and in SpaceX.
Arceneaux said remembers her days in treatment, when she couldn’t look forward to much except her schedule of doctor visits for the day. She believes the spaceflight may show some cancer patients they can still hope for great accomplishments.
“What I really aspire to, with this opportunity, is to give these kids hope that they can look toward their future,” she said.
SpaceX’s Crew Dragon has flown people twice to the International Space Station, starting with a historic mission in May. The Inspiration4 mission has no destination except to circle the globe and experience weightlessness, views and life in space.
Science experiments also will be part of the agenda during the Inspiration4 flight, but those haven’t been identified.
“SpaceX has a training plan and they’re going to get ready for any possible situation. I’m going to get some additional training as the medical officer,” Arceneaux said. “Jared has some ideas about how we’re going to really bond as a crew, including camping together before the mission.”
The fundraising effort only has raised $ 10 million on top of Isaacman’s contribution so far, he said, but he believes additional corporations join the effort soon.
“I think we all have an obligation to maximize the time we have here on Earth … to leave the world a better place,” Isaacman said. “So whenever I try and set out to achieve something, that’s usually raising funds and awareness.”
His company has had a 20-year relationship with St. Jude’s, he said.
He said he’s well aware that he’s been very fortunate in life, and he knows many people have a difficult life today, especially during the coronavirus pandemic.
“Some of those children aren’t going to grow up and be able to experience anything. There is no more worthwhile organization to benefit,” Isaacman said.
As a cancer survivor, Arceneaux is the perfect crew member, Isaacman said. Two additional crew will be named this spring. Two additional seats haven’t been filled yet. One will be another financial benefactor for the mission and the other will be an entrepreneur who uses his company’s payment processing platform.