Wild Ride (Adapted for Young Readers)
How to Pack for Outer Space
September 1, 2021
Two weeks before launch Once upon a time, there was a girl who rode a Dragon to the stars . . .
It’s a quiet evening in Memphis, and I’m getting ready for the trip of a lifetime.
“Scarlett,” I say, “in two weeks, I’m going to space.”
My beautiful, fluffy, gray Aussiedoodle looks up at me with an expression of love and mild concern on her face. She’s not worried about me. She’s wondering who will watch her when I’m gone.
“The boys are going to take amazing care of you,” I tell my dog, knowing she’ll be safe and happy with our favorite neighbors.
Her expression relaxes, and I continue. She’s heard it all since the beginning of this wild year: the Dragon spacecraft, the Falcon 9 rocket, the fact that we’re going deeper into space than anyone has been in over twenty years.
I can’t wait. There’s nothing I love more than traveling to a place I’ve never been before.
Plus, I hear the views are incredible.
In case you’re wondering, no, this is not the beginning of a sci-fi fairy tale.
Forget science fiction. This is science fact, and the fact is that very soon I’ll be strapping into a spacecraft with my crew. Our mission: After launch, we’ll be 370 miles above the surface of Earth, orbiting for three days at 17,500 miles an hour before we splash back down in the Atlantic Ocean. For reference, the International Space Station hangs out 250 miles up.
Packing for an adventure is something I do pretty often. I’ve packed for trips to Spanish beaches (bathing suit, sunscreen, book, hat) and I’ve packed for camel-riding trips in the Sahara Desert in Morocco (long-sleeved shirt, tall boots, headscarf). Deciding what to bring to outer space is nothing like that.
Luckily, most of what I need will be supplied by the mission. Just a week after I was selected, I was fitted for a sharp white space suit by a woman who used to make superhero costumes for movies. That was nine months ago. Now launch is only days away. I’m no superhero and this isn’t a movie, but . . . let’s just say I can’t wait to wear that space suit.
I will never forget the day I got The Call.
It was January 5, 2021, nine months before I started packing for space, and I had a call with St. Jude.
St. Jude, more formally known as St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, is an amazing place for kids who have cancer. It’s where I work as a physician assistant, or as we call it, a PA. It’s the same place that treated me for bone cancer when I was a kid. Since then, I’ve done a lot of fundraising for them, traveling around and telling people about the hospital so that other kids can have the same kind of care I had.
It wasn’t unusual to have a call scheduled, but there was something about this call that felt different. I always trust my gut. In that moment, my gut was twisted up like a bowl of spaghetti. Something was coming. I could feel it.
I called in.
“Hayley, we want to talk to you about something really big,” they said.
They told me about a billionaire named Jared Isaacman who was leading the first all-civilian mission to space. By “all-civilian” they meant that no NASA or other professional astronauts would be on board. The best part was that it was going to be a fundraising mission for St. Jude.
What did this have to do with me, I started to wonder. I didn’t have to wonder for long.
“We’d love to send you.”
“Me?” I laughed. It was the only natural response. “Are you serious?”
They were. They were very serious. Four people would be going to space. Did I want to go?
In that moment I realized that I did. I really wanted to go.
“Will you consider it?”
After that, it was like talking about any other trip, except that I felt like I was in a dream. “Space, wow! For how long?”
“Let me talk to my family,” I said. “But my answer is yes.”
I got off the phone and looked down at my hands and saw they were shaking. My whole body was shaking.
I FaceTimed Mom.
“You are not going to believe this,” I said to her.
I wasn’t sure what she would say. My family has been through a lot with me. I had bone cancer when I was ten. I had three surgeries on my leg between the ages of ten and fifteen. There were points where I thought, Am I ever going to be off crutches? Am I ever going to be able to walk? My family went through all of that with me.
And now I was calling to say that . . .
“I just got invited to go to space.”
“It’s true,” I said.
Mom’s eyes were bright; she looked so excited for me.
“Mom, I can’t pass up this opportunity,” I continued.
“No, you can’t,” she said. “This is once in a lifetime.”
We looked at each other and she said, “Call Hayden.”
That’s what Mom always says. Any issue, her response is “Call your brother.” Hayden is the logical one in the family. He’s the one in our family who loves space—so much that he actually became a real-life rocket scientist.
Hayden answered his cellphone from his desk at work, where he is an aerospace engineer.
“It’s not an emergency,” I said quickly. My family has seen enough of those to share news and information in a way that doesn’t scare the other person to pieces.
“I have to talk to you right now. You need to go outside.”
I waited until he was ready and then said, “Hayden, I got invited to go to space.” I watched the shock come over his face while my mom, who was also on the FaceTime, smiled like crazy. I hadn’t asked enough questions on the call with St. Jude, I was realizing. “Do you think going to space is safe?” I asked him.
“Well, nothing is a hundred percent, but I think it’s safe,” he told me.
I emailed St. Jude that night to tell them YES I would go to space! I also asked more questions. “Are we going to any destinations, like the International Space Station? Are we going to the moon?”
When I told my brother about my questions, he rolled his eyes. “Hayley, that was so dumb. You asked if you were going to the moon?”
“Why is that dumb?”
“We haven’t been to the moon in decades.”
“How was I supposed to know that?”
Well, now I know: The moon is 238,900 miles away.
These days, I know a lot more than I did when I first got The Call. For instance, once we strap into our seats and launch, it will take less than ten minutes to get to space. Those ten minutes are going to be physically uncomfortable, with G-forces pressing us down into our seats. But that’s what I’ve been training for. As Jared, our commander, said early on, we needed to get comfortable with discomfort. And boy, did we.
Over the past nine months, I’ve been spun around and turned upside down, climbed a mountain, and even practiced swimming in a motorcycle helmet. None of it was easy. The hardest part was wishing I could share it with my dad. He passed away four years ago, and I still forget that I can’t just call him. It will be left-handed appreciation day, and he is left-handed, and I’m about to call him to say, “Happy left-hander’s day!” when I remember that he’s gone.
I wish I could tell him that I am going to space. He would have loved hearing it so much. I never got to tell him that I got the job at St. Jude, but he could have predicted that. That was in the stars for me. But space? He never would have guessed this. None of us could have guessed.
Instead, I packed something very special, just for him, one of our inside jokes: his tie. It was his favorite.
The tie is covered with drawings of faces of kids and flags. I mean, it’s ugly. It’s a very ugly tie. It’s also a St. Jude tie.
I would always say, “Dad, don’t wear that tie.”
And he would say, “No, I’m gonna wear it. Because then people will ask me about it, and I get to tell them about St. Jude.”
We had that conversation about a million times.
Now it’s the perfect thing to bring to space to honor him. It gives me goosebumps.
I know he’d be so proud of me, and that once we reach zero gravity, all of my hard work will be worth it. I’m going to take out Dad’s tie, float around in our capsule, eat M&M’s like Ms. Pac-Man, and have a long, long look at this planet, the place where I have lived my entire beautiful, mysterious, incredible life so far.