Wild Ride (Adapted for Young Readers)

My Journey from Cancer Kid to Astronaut

About the Book

A young reader’s adaptation of the story of the youngest American to ever orbit the Earth—cancer survivor Hayley Arceneaux—who shows us all that when we face our fears with hope and faith, the extraordinary is possible

“Hayley will capture your heart as she proves that even the wildest dreams can come true. Young minds will leave awestruck and eager to chase their own wild ride.”—Emily Calandrelli, host of Netflix’s Emily’s Wonder Lab

“It may be hard to believe while I’m gravity-bound on my bedroom floor, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned in my time on Earth, it’s that as long as you keep saying yes, everything is possible,” says Arceneaux.

In this adaptation of her heartfelt memoir, especially inspiring for middle-grade readers, Arceneaux shares the details of her wild ride with never-before-told stories written especially for kids coming to this edition. Arceneaux not only tells readers what it was like to go to space—from training in a fighter jet to lifting off in a Dragon capsule—but she also offers stories from her childhood: things that she faced at the hospital when going through cancer treatment, what she had to overcome when she went back to school, and the courage it took to dream big dreams for her teenage and adult years.

For students navigating a time of uncertainty, and for the adults and educators who seek to offer them hope, Arceneaux’s uplifting story is one that will inspire kids for years to come. She offers wisdom and courage to anyone fighting against the odds, and shows us that dreaming is always possible.
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Praise for Wild Ride (Adapted for Young Readers)

Wild Ride is a well-told tale that illustrates Hayley’s relentlessly positive attitude toward life and adventure despite all the obstacles. Hayley will capture your heart as she proves that even the wildest dreams can come true. Young minds will leave awestruck and eager to chase their own wild ride.”—Emily Calandrelli, author, aerospace engineer, and host of Netflix’s Emily’s Wonder Lab

Wild Ride is just that! A front-row seat to Hayley’s life and an outer space trip all mixed into one! My daughter, Sienna, and I read this together and we loved it. This book is perfect for anyone interested in the joys and hardships of an adventure bigger than life.” —Nick&Sienna, TikTok daddy-daughter duo

“[Arceneaux’s] accounts of astronaut training, including spinning in a centrifuge and climbing Mount Rainier, are eye-opening. Her time in space is alternately joyful and sobering as she twirls in the spacecraft sans gravity, contemplates Earth’s beauty, and honors friends and family who died of cancer, including her father. . . . Engaging . . . stirring.”—Kirkus Reviews
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Wild Ride (Adapted for Young Readers)

Chapter 1

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?”

“Three days.”

“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.

About the Author

Hayley Arceneaux
Hayley Arceneaux is the author of Wild Ride and a St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital physician assistant, a career she committed to at age ten, after surviving pediatric bone cancer. At age twenty-nine, she joined Inspiration4, the first all civilian orbital space mission, which launched on September 15, 2021, and successfully water-landed three days later, making her the youngest American to orbit the earth, the first pediatric cancer survivor in space, and the first astronaut with a prosthetic body part. More by Hayley Arceneaux
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