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SpaceX's Inspiration4 civilian crew hopes mission will inspire world

The crew of the all-private, philanthropic Inspiration4 mission stands on the former space shuttle landing strip at Kennedy Space Center in Florida after arrival Thursday for launch on Wednesday. Photo courtesy of Inspiration4
The crew of the all-private, philanthropic Inspiration4 mission stands on the former space shuttle landing strip at Kennedy Space Center in Florida after arrival Thursday for launch on Wednesday. Photo courtesy of Inspiration4

ORLANDO, Fla., Sept. 14 (UPI) -- When the first all-private orbital space mission is launched this week, it will be powered by philanthropist and ambitious businessman Jared Isaacman's vision of making the world a better place.

Isaacman, also a pilot and the mission commander, told UPI when he began assembling his civilian crew in February that he has a long history of tying flights and adventures to fundraising efforts for a worthy cause.

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In the past, it's often been the Make-A-Wish Foundation for children with a critical illness.

The upcoming space mission is a fundraiser for Memphis-based St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, which focuses on childhood cancer.

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"I do think that we have an obligation to maximize the time we have here on Earth, and I also think we have an obligation to leave the world a better place," Isaacman said in an interview.

"So whenever I try and set out to achieve a new adventure, I try to make it about something greater -- that's usually raising funds and awareness."

Here are the stories of the people chosen for the flight.

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Jared Isaacman

Isaacman dropped out of high school at age 16 in 1999 and started a payments processing company from the basement of his family's house in New Jersey, according to his company's website. The Pennsylvania-based company now is called Shift4 Payments, and it has more than 1,200 employees.

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Isaacman said he has been fascinated with America's space program since childhood, and he became jet pilot-rated to fly commercial and military aircraft, according to the Inspiration4 website.

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He holds several world records including two speed-around-the-world flights in 2008 and 2009 that raised money and awareness for Make-a-Wish.

"My company has had a 20-year relationship with St. Jude Children's Research Hospital and my thought process is, I know I'm very lucky in life and that things have gone my way," Isaacman said.

"There's just a lot of other families ... who have been dealt a really horrible hand in life, going through really difficult times," he said, adding that he feels an obligation to help where he can.

Isaacman has flown in more than 100 airshows as part of the Black Diamond Jet Team, dedicating every performance to charitable causes, according to the mission website.

In 2011, he founded the world's largest private jet fighter company, Florida-based Draken International, to train pilots for the U.S. Armed Forces.

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Isaacman created the Inspiration4 mission to fulfill four ideals: hope, generosity, prosperity and leadership. He assumed the leadership role, pledging $100 million to St. Jude.

Hayley Arceneaux

The designation of St. Jude as the charitable beneficiary led to the selection of Hayley Arceneaux, 29, a childhood cancer survivor and a physician assistant at the Tennessee hospital, to represent the hope role for the mission.

"Cancer made me who I am today," Arceneaux told UPI. "I have such a joy and zest for life, wanting to experience all that I can. I also enjoy showing people that you no longer have to be physically perfect to go to space, and I hope this inspires others."

Doctors diagnosed Arceneaux with bone cancer in her knee at age 10. After treatment at St. Jude, she recovered and went on to become a medical professional. She plans to contact St. Jude patients from space during the mission.

"When I was offered this opportunity ... immediately, I said yes. There was no doubt in my mind. It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and a huge honor for me to be able to represent cancer survivors in this way," she said.

Isaacman initiated two contests for the remaining two seats on the four-person orbital flight, dedicating them to the concepts of prosperity and generosity. The first would be awarded to an entrepreneur who started a new account on his website, Shift4 Payments. The second would be given to a significant fundraiser for St. Jude.

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Sian Proctor

The Inspiration4 mission awarded the prosperity seat to Sian Proctor, 51, a geoscientist, explorer, science communicator, artist and former NASA astronaut candidate.

She nearly became an astronaut in 2009, noting in her online biography that she was on NASA's final "Yes/No" call list after a lengthy application and interview process.

The "no'' call came from astronaut Sunita Williams. But that didn't stop Proctor from pursuing her dream of going to space.

Born in Guam while her father was working at the NASA tracking station during the Apollo missions half a century ago, Proctor has carried on his dedication and interest in space, according to the Inspiration4 mission organization.

"She believes that when we solve for space, we also solve issues on Earth," Proctor's biography says.

Proctor has participated in four astronaut simulations and delivered a TEDx talk called Eat Like a Martian, among other accomplishments. She intends to write poetry while in space.

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"I am thrilled to be part of the historic Inspiration4 crew and to represent the prosperity seat. Going to space has always been a dream of mine and being able to inspire the world through art and poetry makes it even more special for me," she wrote.

Chris Sembroski

The final seat represents generosity and will be occupied by Chris Sembroski, 42, a Lockheed Martin employee in the Seattle area.

Sembroski grew up with a natural curiosity about outer space, according to the Inspiration4 organization. He studied aeronautics at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida. He gained his seat on the mission after an undisclosed winner, who had donated to St. Jude, gave the seat to him for undisclosed reasons.

He also has put some muscle behind the fundraising efforts, raising more than $5,000 for the Inspiration4 Miler event, a virtual run-walk-cycle race that seeks to raise $40,000 by the end of October for St. Jude.

"Let's get generous people!" Sembroski wrote on his personal fundraising page for the event. "When we all do our part, great things are achieved together. St. Jude has saved millions of lives either directly through treatment, or through the research they've shared with the world."

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Inspiration4 will orbit the Earth for days at well over 265 miles high, above the orbit of the International Space Station. Liftoff on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket is planned no earlier than 8 p.m. EDT Wednesday from Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Since the rocket only needs to put the capsule in orbit, with no docking attempt at the International Space Station, its launch time is flexible -- but subject to delays due to potential stormy weather in Florida and along its initial flight path over the Atlantic Ocean.

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Support teams work around the SpaceX Crew Dragon Resilience spacecraft shortly after it landed with NASA astronauts Mike Hopkins, Shannon Walker and Victor Glover and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Soichi Noguchi aboard in the Gulf of Mexico off Panama City, Fla., on Sunday. Photo by Bill Ingalls/NASA | License Photo

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