SpaceX’s First Private Crew Motivates Children With Cancer From Orbit

By The Associated Press
The Associated Press
The Associated Press
September 18, 2021 Updated: September 18, 2021

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla.—SpaceX’s first space tourists are taking in sweeping views of Earth that few have witnessed and motivating children with cancer.

The four passengers showed off their capsule in a live broadcast Friday. They’re flying exceedingly high in the automated capsule, even by NASA standards.

SpaceX got them into a 363-mile (585-kilometer) orbit following Wednesday night’s launch from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. That’s 100 miles (160 kilometers) higher than the International Space Station. It’s so high that they’re completing 15 orbits of Earth daily, compared with 16 for station astronauts.

Until this all-amateur crew, relatively few NASA astronauts had soared that high. The most recent were the shuttle astronauts who worked on the Hubble Space Telescope over multiple flights in the 1990s and 2000s.

To enhance the views, SpaceX outfitted the automated Dragon capsule with a custom, bubble-shaped dome. Photos of them looking out this large window were posted online after their first day in space, but otherwise little has been released publicly since liftoff.

The passengers—two contest winners, a hospital worker and their billionaire sponsor—will wrap up their flight Saturday night with a splashdown in the Atlantic off the Florida coast.

Hayley Arceneaux, a childhood cancer survivor, chatted Thursday with patients at the hospital that saved her life almost 20 years ago: St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. According to a tweet, the children wanted to know whether there are cows on the moon—like in the nursery rhyme. The video linkup was not broadcast live.

Now a physician assistant at St. Jude, Arceneaux took up an old photo of herself—bald from treatment for bone cancer at age 10. She said before the flight that she wanted the children to see her long hair floating in weightlessness, to give them hope.

At 29, Arceneaux is the youngest American in space.

Inspiration4 crew members
Inspiration4 crew members Jared Isaacman (L) and Hayley Arceneaux prepare to leave for their flight on the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon at launch Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, in Cape Canaveral, Fla., on Sept. 15, 2021. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Pennsylvania entrepreneur Jared Isaacman, 38, purchased the entire flight for an undisclosed amount. He’s seeking to raise $200 million for St. Jude through the flight he’s named Inspiration4, half of that coming from his own pocket.

The two other Dragon riders won their seats through a pair of contests sponsored by Isaacman: Chris Sembroski, 42, a data engineer, and Sian Proctor, 51, a community college educator.

All four share SpaceX founder Elon Musk’s quest to open space to everyone.

“Missions like Inspiration4 help advance spaceflight to enable ultimately anyone to go to orbit & beyond,” Musk wrote on Twitter Thursday after chatting with his orbiting pioneers.

SpaceX crew
Elon Musk, front center, poses with the all-amateur crew before departure to Launch Complex 39A for a launch into space, at Kennedy Space Center, in Cape Canaveral, Fla., on Sept. 15, 2021. (John Kraus/Inspiration4 via AP)