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Courtesy John Kraus and Inspiration4
Hayley Arceneaux is heading to space — and along the way, she's taking PEOPLE readers inside her out-of-this-world experience by sharing her personal diary entries. Though the 29-year-old has a career as a physician assistant at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, where she beat cancer at the age of 10, Arceneaux is adding astronaut to her resume by training for the first all-civilian mission into outer space alongside billionaire Jared Isaacman (the Shift4 Payments CEO who is sponsoring the SpaceX flight), Christopher Sembroski and Dr. Sian Proctor. Together they are striving to "inspire support for the lifesaving work of St. Jude," the hospital says of its $200 million fundraising goal. Before the Inspiration4 crew blasts off to space for a three-day mission this fall, check people.com for more entries from Arceneaux's diary.
Something I'm incredibly excited about our Inspiration4 mission is my assigned crew role. A few weeks after I found out I was going to space, I was approached about being the Medical Officer. I've been interested in a career in medicine since I was 10, when I was treated by such an incredible medical team at St. Jude. Almost 20 years later, I am in my dream job as a physician assistant at St. Jude. I never imagined I'd add space medicine to my resume, but here we are.
Space medicine is similar to wilderness medicine in that if anything goes wrong, resources are extremely limited. In space there are not many diagnostic or imaging capabilities, and the amount of medications we are bringing on board is also limited. SpaceX is training me to maximize the resources on the Dragon capsule, and luckily we do have six decades of data on human physiology in space as well as the most common issues to occur. I am dedicated to studying it all.
Much of the studying and simulations I've been doing are focused on how to tackle the events most likely to occur and addressing them with the resources we'll have on board. Even though I'm unable to practice how to do basic procedures (like close a wound or give an intramuscular injection) in zero gravity, part of my training has also taught me how to manage supplies that may be floating around me. I'm a little biased, but I think our medical training days at SpaceX were some of the most fun days of training. An added bonus of being the Medical Officer is the super cool SpaceX scrubs that come with the role.
John Kraus/ Inspiration4 Hayley Arceneaux (center left) undergoing zero-gravity training with her Inspiration4 crew (l-r): Chris Sembroski, Jared Isaacman and Dr. Sian Proctor
Some of the research we are doing in space is also medical in nature. The crew will be drawing blood and swabbing several sites on our bodies daily for evaluation of our microflora and how it changes over three days in space. These samples will be combined with pre- and post- flight samples to form the basis of a long-term biobank for all future missions. Nothing like this has existed before and I'm glad to be part of its inception.
We will also be doing cognitive tests as some astronauts have previously reported feeling "space fog" (a cognitive slowness) in orbit. Other research includes utilizing an ultrasound the size of a stethoscope to evaluate bodily fluid shifts due to the effect of zero gravity.
Inspiration4 is going higher into space than anyone has gone in about 15 years, which means we will be exposed to a slightly higher amount of space radiation. Information gained from this radiation exposure will be used for future missions. Valuable data will also be saved from our extensive pre- and post- flight medical evaluations and be shared with outside researchers as part of a longitudinal database open to science. If there are any health concerns derived from this short duration space mission, we can begin solving those problems now for future fliers.
Courtesy SpaceX Dr. Sian Proctor and Hayley Arceneaux
I feel a real sense of preparedness in this role thanks not only to my work as a physician assistant at St. Jude, but also because of the three-and-a-half years I spent previously in the emergency department of a city hospital. At St. Jude when I am with my patients, I trust my training to give them the best medical care I can. It's the same with the mission. It's all about trusting your training, and all of us have crucial roles to play that we are training for with rigor and determination. I feel completely confident in our preparedness and my abilities as a medical officer.
To learn more about St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, the Inspiration4 mission and ways you can support and participate, visit stjude.org/inspiration4 and listen to the new podcast St. Jude Mission of a Lifetime. Fans can also follow Hayley's personal journey into space on Instagram and Twitter.