Not only is Hayley Arceneaux, 29, of Baton Rouge, the youngest American in space, the first Cajun in space and the first person in space with a prosthesis.
She is also a Southeastern Louisiana University graduate.
Arceneaux is one of three civilians flying with billionaire Jared Isaacman on SpaceX's first private spaceflight Inspiration4. They launched into space Tuesday and plan to splash down this weekend.
Raised in St. Francisville, she graduated from St. Joseph's Academy in Baton Rouge and obtained an undergraduate degree in Spanish from Southeastern in 2014. She obtained a physician assistant degree in 2016 from LSU Health in Shreveport.
She works as a physician assistant at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital employee, where she was treated for bone cancer at age 10.
Her treatment and care included around a dozen rounds of chemotherapy, a limb-preservation surgery with knee replacement and placement of a titanium rod in her left thigh bone as well as physical therapy.
The experience inspired her to want to work with other cancer patients at St. Jude.
“My battle with cancer really prepared me for space travel,” Arceneaux said in an interview with The Associated Press. “It made me tough, and then also I think it really taught me to expect the unexpected and go along for the ride.”
She wants to show her young patients and other cancer survivors that “the sky is not even the limit anymore.”
“It’s going to mean so much to these kids to see a survivor in space,” she said.
Isaacman announced his space mission Feb. 1, pledging to raise $200 million for St. Jude, half of that his own contribution. As the flight’s self-appointed commander, he offered one of the four SpaceX Dragon capsule seats to St. Jude.
Without alerting the staff, St. Jude chose Arceneaux from among the “scores” of hospital and fundraising employees who had once been patients and could represent the next generation, said Rick Shadyac, president of St. Jude’s fundraising organization.
Arceneaux is serving as the Inspiration4's medical officer.