Reviewed by: Casey Suire
Title: Wild Ride: A Memoir of I.V. Drips and Rocket Ships
Author: Hayley Arceneaux
NSS Amazon link for this book
Publisher: Convergent Books
Date: September, 2022
Retail price: $26.00/$12.99
Over the last six decades, spaceflight has produced many heroes. Names such as John Glenn, Neil Armstrong, and Sally Ride have become legendary. In Wild Ride, the latest space hero, Hayley Arceneaux, tells her extraordinary story.
Hayley served as the medical officer of Inspiration4, the first all-civilian spaceflight. Her journey to this historic mission was unique and challenging. Born in Louisiana, Hayley initially had a normal childhood. At age 10, however, she was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a type of bone cancer. Several early chapters describe her treatment at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. In the process, she received an internal leg prosthesis.
Fast forward to early 2021, and Hayley is working as a physician assistant at the same hospital that saved her life. During a phone meeting at St. Jude, she learns of Jared Isaacman, a billionaire who had purchased a flight on a SpaceX rocket. The mission would be crewed by non-professional astronauts and serve as a fundraiser for St. Jude. She is offered and accepts a seat on the mission as a St. Jude ambassador. In addition to Jared and Hayley, Sian Proctor and Chris Sembroski join the crew of Inspiration4, which took place in September 2021 aboard the spacecraft Resilience. The three-day mission was a complete success, and exceeded its $200 million fundraising goal for St. Jude. Weeks later, the crew was awarded their astronaut wings.
Given the popularity of Inspiration4, it isn’t really surprising that Hayley has written a memoir about her life. After all, there was a 4-part Netflix documentary about the mission. The crew was also on the cover of Time magazine. A book was the next logical step. Who knows, perhaps a movie version of Wild Ride will be next? It certainly seems like a good idea.
A major strength of Wild Ride is that it is an overwhelmingly positive story, something that is becoming increasingly difficult to find nowadays. Inspiration4 was one of the most intriguing and memorable space missions in recent memory. Four likable civilians flying in space in an effort to raise money for St. Jude patients will restore your faith in humanity. Hayley’s own personality also makes the book very readable. She is often very humorous and sassy when describing various events in her life. Not even cancer could stop her from having fun. While at St. Jude, she would perform a dance act with another patient called “The Hayley and Hannah Show.”
The last few chapters of the book are devoted to Hayley’s space trip. While it is impossible not to use spaceflight terminology when describing the Inspiration4 mission, the book doesn’t get too excessive with technical details. Wild Ride is, after all, a memoir and not an engineering textbook. Nevertheless, the book still has some interesting things to say about human spaceflight. For instance, Hayley admits that she experienced the overview effect during the mission. Like numerous other astronauts, Hayley was moved by Earth’s beauty, and she expressed a desire to help protect the planet. While in orbit, she also spoke with St. Jude cancer patients. According to the book, this special event almost didn’t occur, and she had to fight in order to make it happen.
An important factor in the book is the role of family and friends. Hayley spends a lot of time talking about her parents and brother. In an ironic twist, her brother is actually an aerospace engineer. When Hayley was selected for the mission, she actually asked if she was going to visit the Moon. This resulted in her brother humorously criticizing her for such a silly question, as nobody has been to the Moon in decades. She admits she now knows a lot more about space. Hayley also has very strong friendships with the St. Jude staff, other cancer patients, the SpaceX team, and her own crewmates. In particular, her relationship with both Jared Isaacman and Sian Proctor is similar to that of siblings. There are very few examples of Hayley having problems with someone. Almost everyone in her inner circle is a genuinely good person. The only real villain in Wild Ride is childhood cancer.
One important takeaway from the book is how rapidly life can change. It was on a Monday afternoon that something was noticeably wrong with Hayley’s leg. By the end of the week, her family was traveling to St. Jude for the first time. Likewise, life can also get wonderful very quickly. Hayley only started working at St. Jude in April 2020, slightly under two and a half years before the publication of Wild Ride. It is quite fascinating that someone can finally get their dream job, travel to outer space, and write their memoir in such a short amount of time. Her life certainly is a wild ride.
Months after Inspiration4 ended, Hayley accepted a position with the SpaceX medical team. She acknowledges that this new role will not take too much of her time, and her main focus will still be her young patients at St. Jude. Given her high-profile space mission, it will be interesting to see what Hayley does in the next few years. What additional contributions will she make to others, both on Earth and in space?
Reading about Hayley’s transformation from cancer girl to astronaut is very powerful. Her life is a reminder that even in troubling times, there are still great people out there doing exceptional things. It is impossible not to like Wild Ride. A spectacular memoir.
© 2022 Casey Suire
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