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.
What in the world am I going to bring with me to space? That's the question that's been on my mind ever since I got the invitation to go on the Inspiration4 mission.
Each crew member is allowed to bring a carry-on filled with pretty much whatever mementos or practical items we want as long as they're not flammable. My friends laughed at me when I started packing months in advance because I'm a notorious night-before-the-trip packer.
From the get-go I knew I wanted to take my phone to take pictures of Earth from space and of my crew members as we navigate life in zero gravity. I'm sure that simple things like eating a meal in space will make for fun pictures. I'm also a big to-do list person and my phone has all my lists, including tricks I'd like to do in zero gravity and the moments I'd like to capture in space.
I also wanted to bring back gifts for my future kids. This was challenging for me as I have no idea what they'll be like. I decided on some plush toy astronauts and the book Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown — very on-theme!
Hayley Arceneaux/Inspiration4 Hayley Arceneaux training on Mount Rainier
My dad Howard, who loved space, died of cancer three years ago. We were so close, and he was one of my biggest cheerleaders — especially during my cancer diagnosis and treatment at St. Jude. I've thought about him so much during this incredible experience and wish I could share it with him. I wanted to bring something special to space to honor him, but I could not come up with anything! Then one day, I came across a photo of him wearing his favorite St. Jude tie and I got chills. To say the tie is bold is putting it lightly, and I used to give him a hard time about wearing it. I would jokingly — but also not jokingly — tell him not to wear it, but he would insist on putting it on because he said people would inevitably ask him about it which would give him the chance to tell them about St. Jude. I found the tie, and I'm bringing it. I know he would get such a kick that it's going into space on this mission that's benefiting St. Jude. It's so perfect.
My family has written me heartfelt letters with "to open in space" written on the envelopes, and I'm going to be good and not read them until I'm in orbit. I'll be doing some writing too once I'm up there, and plan to journal all of my thoughts, emotions and sense of wonder as I go through the unique experience of living in space for three days.
RELATED VIDEO: Blast Off! Jeff Bezos Flies to Space Aboard Blue Origin Rocket: 'Best Day Ever'
Of course, I wanted to represent the hospital that saved my life and all kids who have fought cancer along with me. So I packed a St. Jude flag and a yellow ribbon symbolizing childhood cancer as well as photos of friends I've lost to cancer over the years. It's been a special journey contacting the families of the friends I've lost because these are people I've known and loved for years. Getting to share with them that I want to take a memory of their child to space has been really meaningful, and they are appreciative that their child hasn't been forgotten. It's also why I'm working so hard to fundraise through Inspiration4 and St. Jude. I hope the money raised through our mission is going to get us closer and closer to a cure for all childhood cancers. I'm grateful to be part of a mission benefiting a cause so close to my heart, and knowing there will be so much good coming out of our three days in space.
To learn more about St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, the Inspiration4 mission and ways you can support and participate, visit stjude.org/inspiration4. Fans can also follow Hayley's personal journey into space on Twitter.