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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.
Lights, camera, liftoff!
This week, a documentary series for which the crew and I have been filmed debuts on Netflix. Called Countdown: Inspiration4 Mission to Space, the series follows us through the journey of this incredible experience, from our first meetings to trips to SpaceX, and, of course, all the wild and adventure-filled training.
At first I had to get used to having a film crew around. Right before I met Jared, they mic'd me up and it completely added another layer of intimidation to the experience of meeting the person taking me into space. But I got used to it and I'm grateful for the gift of all this footage from the most thrilling, fun and exciting year of my life.
The film crew was at the small Super Bowl party I threw where I got to tell some of my friends I was going into space (and document their shocked reactions!). More recently, they also attended the "liftoff party" in Louisiana where I got to celebrate my upcoming trip with some of my closest friends. They've gotten to know each of the Inspiration4 crew members on deeper levels by visiting our families, joking around with our friends and playing with our dogs. Plus, the documentary crew is a fun, down-to-earth group that made the experience of being filmed easy and enjoyable. I especially appreciate that proceeds from the documentary series will go to St. Jude. That makes it all even more special.
JOHN KRAUS/netflix The Inspiration4 crew: Jared Isaacman, Hayley Arceneaux, Dr. Sian Proctor and Christopher Sembroski
It's not the first time I've been followed around by a camera crew. When I was a patient at St. Jude, I was chosen to have my story shared with others, and a film crew trailed me through the intense year of treatment. Some of that footage is in this documentary, and watching it —some for the first time — was both heartwarming and emotional. There is one scene in particular, one I've seen before at least several dozen times over my life, and it still makes me cry. It's the moment at the very end of my journey when my doctor tells me that my scans are clear, I'm cancer free. Pictures only go so far but seeing this footage and reliving the moment is on another level. It's a gift for me to have these memories captured, and I especially hope it will benefit others.
I thought so much about kids who might watch this series. When I was being filmed, I often wondered what kids watching would take away from it, from seeing me through the process of prepping for space. Climbing Mt. Rainer was especially challenging, and I worried what I would look like because of the sheer difficulty navigating snow and rough terrain. But then I thought that kids would see that I was pushing through some truly hard experiences and trying my best. My dream for that moment and the whole series is that a sense of perseverance, hope and overcoming difficulty will shine through.
New episodes of Countdown: Inspiration4 Mission To Space premiere Sept. 13 on Netflix. 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.