The mission of a lifetime

When Inspiration4 lifts off next week for the first all-civilian mission to orbit, it will carry with it the hopes and dreams of kids around the world.

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I vividly remember the Apollo 11 moon landing in 1969. For a world gathered around television sets rapt with attention, Neil Armstrong’s walk on the lunar surface was the mission of a lifetime. It united us in a dream realized and proved human innovation and perseverance had no limits.

I was 12 years old, and the event captured my imagination, as I’m sure it did kids around the world. It promised us anything was possible.

Two generations later and we’ll gather as a community around computers and smartphones next week to watch as Inspiration4, the first all-civilian mission to orbit, launches from Kennedy Space Center. The four-person crew on board will represent the pillars of Leadership, Generosity, Prosperity and, in the Hope seat: Hayley Arceneaux.

By now, everyone knows Hayley’s story — she was diagnosed at 10 with osteosarcoma and found lifesaving treatment at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. She became a physician assistant at St. Jude and next week will be the youngest American to visit space, and the first with a prosthesis.

At liftoff, the crew will lift up the spirit of thousands of kids in treatment today. Hayley said, “I'm getting to represent all these kids. Other survivors, kids going through the trenches going through treatment, and then, the kids that aren't with us. I'm representing all these kids, and it's a huge honor.”

We’re so grateful to Jared Isaacman, the businessman, philanthropist and humanitarian sitting in the Leadership seat, for taking St. Jude along for the ride. He didn’t have to. He knew, though, this adventure had to be larger than just himself. Larger than his three crewmates. Jared knew what he’s doing for space exploration — making it accessible, diverse, inclusive and philanthropic — will resonate here on earth.

Seven years before Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, Danny Thomas opened the doors of St. Jude to the world, making healthcare for some of the sickest kids in the world accessible, inclusive and free — while proving human innovation and compassion have no limits. My parents were some of the first supporters Danny asked to join him on that journey. For them, as for myself and thousands of others, it would be the mission of a lifetime.

Over the past 60 years, the overall survival rate for childhood cancer has risen from less than 20 percent to more than 80 percent today. Thanks in part to treatments developed at St. Jude, four out of five kids will survive their cancer.

Kids like Hayley, who is acutely aware she’ll be representing the more than 400,000 kids worldwide who get cancer every year. She’s going to space for them — proof that childhood cancer won’t define who they become or what they might do tomorrow.

Just imagine what the 12-year-olds of today will think when they see four people’s destinies changed by this mission. Consider that 10-year-old in treatment for cancer today seeing that her disease won’t hold her back, that her dreams truly could touch the stars. For those kids, and kids everywhere, Inspiration4 will be the mission of a lifetime.

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