© 2024
NPR News, Colorado Voices
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Cancer Survivor Hayley Arceneaux To Be The Youngest American To Visit Space


Some kids dream of being athletes or actors or astronauts. Well, when she was 11 years old, Hayley Arceneaux dreamed of working at the hospital that helped her beat childhood bone cancer. Here she is speaking at the Louisiana Young Heroes gala in 2003.


HAYLEY ARCENEAUX: Children want to see their dreams. I know I did, and I know I'm going to.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: And what are your dreams? What do you dream about?

ARCENEAUX: I want to be a nurse at St. Jude.

SHAPIRO: Nearly two decades later, she has become a physician's assistant at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. And as a bonus, she's also about to be an astronaut. Hayley Arceneaux was recently selected to join SpaceX's Inspiration4. It's the first all-civilian space mission, which is raising money for St. Jude. This would make her the youngest American to visit space and the first person with a prosthetic body part.

Hayley Arceneaux, welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

ARCENEAUX: Thank you so much for having me.

SHAPIRO: I hear you got the news in a phone call back in January while you were at home in Memphis asking you to represent St. Jude in space. Can you just tell us about that moment?

ARCENEAUX: Oh, the moment that changed my life. St. Jude said that they had something to talk to me about. And they called me, and they told me about this mission, which - at the time, it was a secret. So I hadn't even heard that St. Jude was going to space.

SHAPIRO: So this is, like, totally out of left field. Hey; do you want to go to space?

ARCENEAUX: A hundred percent. And then they were like, well, maybe you should think on it. Talk to your family. And I was like, OK, OK. And so I called my mom. And I remember I even told her, I think they asked me to go to space, but, like, what if I misunderstood them? And she was like, it sounds like they did ask you to go to space. And I was like, I think they did, but it's just so unbelievable.

SHAPIRO: Now, your cancer treatment when you were 10 involved getting prosthetic implants in your left leg. And in the past, having prosthetics would have restricted you from going to space. Does it seem significant to you that you're going to be the first person in space with a prosthesis?

ARCENEAUX: I absolutely love that this mission is changing what an astronaut looks like. You know, until now, you've had to be physically perfect, and I don't fall into that category. A big portion of my femur all the way down to my tibia is metal. And so I am so excited to have the first prosthetic body part in space just because of, like, what it's going to mean and what it's going to represent.

SHAPIRO: Now, at St. Jude's, you work with kids who have leukemia and lymphoma. What do they think of this?

ARCENEAUX: They are so excited. All the ones I've talked to have told me they now want to be astronauts. And I told them that they can. This mom and daughter stopped me, and they said, are you Hayley? And the mom - she just started crying and telling me that her daughter had had a really rough night the night before. And so I sat down with them, and, you know, I asked the girl what's kind of been going on. And she said that she was feeling really discouraged that she can't run or jump. And I told her, I can't run or jump either, but it's not stopping me from going to space. And I just really hope that this mission shows these kids what they're capable of.

SHAPIRO: The mission is going to send you into orbit for a few days. What are you going to do up there?

ARCENEAUX: So we are going to do some science experiments. Any research projects that they have brought up to us we've been extremely interested in because, I mean, space travel is science fundamentally. And we are on board to help them in any way. But what I'm most excited about is right now we're trying to figure out how we're going to video call with the St. Jude kids. Them getting to actually see what their future can look like - I think it's going to be really powerful for them, and it's going to be a lot of fun.

SHAPIRO: That's Hayley Arceneaux, who will travel to space in the fall on the Inspiration4 mission.

Congratulations, and thank you for talking with us.

ARCENEAUX: Well, thank you for having me. Thanks for spotlighting our mission.