Hayley Arceneaux is making sure a memento that her late father once wore proudly will be with her when she makes history on a flight to space next month.
Arceneaux spoke in an exclusive on TODAY Wednesday about her preparation as part of first all-civilian mission to space aboard SpaceX’s spacecraft, including what items she will pack for the three-day journey orbiting the Earth.
The 29-year-old cancer survivor and physician assistant at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital plans to travel with a keepsake honoring her father, Harold Arceneaux, as well as St. Jude.
"I lost my dad to cancer just three years ago, and he had this really bold St. Jude tie that I would always say, 'Don't wear that, it is not the most fashionable,' but he would insist on wearing it because he said people would ask him about it, and then he could tell them about St. Jude," she told Savannah Guthrie and Hoda Kotb. "And so I'm bringing his tie to space."
Arceneaux was a patient at St. Jude when she was 10 years old and diagnosed with bone cancer. She thought her dream of one day becoming an astronaut was over when doctors removed part of the femur on her left leg at the time, but she has now found a way to realize that dream.
She will make history as the youngest American to ever travel to space and the first with a prosthesis as part of the Inspiration4 mission that is scheduled to launch on Sept. 15 from Florida's Kennedy Space Center.
The mission will be led by Jared Isaacman, the 38-year-old billionaire founder and CEO of Shift4 Payments, a Pennsylvania-based payment processing company. Isaacman, who is a civilian pilot, is paying SpaceX founder Elon Musk for the opportunity to send him and three other civilians into orbit.
The mission is doubling as a $200 million fundraising effort for St. Jude, with Arceneaux representing the hospital whose doctors helped save her life. She said on the 3rd hour of TODAY that she will also call the St. Jude patients from space.
"Kids are so visual, it will actually show them what their future can look like, somebody who's been in their same shoes, and so that's what I'm most excited about," she said.
She also is bringing some hops along to space that will be used to make "space beer," which will be auctioned off to raise money for St. Jude.
Her father's beloved tie is also not the only special item Arceneaux will be taking with her on the journey.
"I'm bringing some things that represent me, and I'm bringing pictures of friends I lost through the years to cancer because they're such an important part of why we're going on this mission raising money for St. Jude's," she said.
The reality of the upcoming flight started to set in last month when she tried on her space suit for the first time.
"It's so sleek, it's so cool, and I went and looked into the mirror and it was just the craziest thing that I felt like I'm an actual astronaut," she said on TODAY. "I'm going to space, this is happening."
She also is still working on how to maneuver in zero gravity.
"It was the weirdest sensation of not being attached to anything," she said. "I did run into a lot of walls and ceilings because it's harder than you would expect to navigate in zero gravity, but really cool training."
Arceneaux also is anticipating that she may find out what it's like to cry in orbit. Her mother has written her a series of letters that she is not allowed to open until she has reached space.
"I'm being really good, I'm not going to open them on Earth, but it's going to be really special," she said. "(My tears will) float. I'll let you know because I think that's going to be really powerful for me."