June 23, 2021

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Do You Want to Travel in Space?

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Students in U.S. high schools can get free digital access to The New York Times until Sept. 1, 2021.

Have you ever dreamed of becoming an astronaut — or traveling to outer space? What’s so appealing about leaving Earth?

How realistic are such aspirations?

One “ordinary citizen” was recently chosen to be a passenger aboard the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. Kenneth Chang writes about Hayley Arceneaux, a 29-year-old cancer survivor who recently learned that she had been chosen to join a crewed mission to orbit the Earth, in “She Beat Cancer at 10. Now She’s Set to Be the Youngest American in Space.” Here’s an excerpt:

Ms. Arceneaux, a physician assistant at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, will be one of four people on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifting off from Florida. Scheduled to launch late this year, it is to be the first crewed mission to circle Earth in which no one on board is a professional astronaut.

“I did ask, ‘Am I going to get a passport stamp for going to space?’” Ms. Arceneaux said. “But I don’t think I’m going to. So I’m just going to draw a star and the moon in one of my passports.”

This adventure is spearheaded by Jared Isaacman, a 38-year-old billionaire who announced in January that he had bought the rocket launch from SpaceX, the space company started by Elon Musk. Mr. Isaacman said at the time that he wanted the mission to be more than a jaunt for the superwealthy, and that he had given two of the four available seats to St. Jude.

The article goes on to explain the significance of this space journey:

Ms. Arceneaux could become the youngest American ever to travel to orbit. She will also be the first person with a prosthetic body part to go to space. She was a patient at St. Jude nearly 20 years ago, and as part of her treatment for bone cancer, metal rods replaced parts of the bones in her left leg.

In the past, that would have kept her firmly on the ground, unable to meet NASA’s stringent medical standards for astronauts. But the advent of privately financed space travel has opened the final frontier to some people who were previously excluded.

Dr. Michael D. Neel, the orthopedic surgeon who installed Ms. Arceneaux’s prosthesis, says that although having artificial leg bones means that she can’t play contact sports on Earth, they should not limit her on this SpaceX trek.

“It shows us that the sky is not the limit,” Dr. Neel said. “It’s the sky and beyond. I think that’s the real point of all this, that she has very little limitations as far as what you can do. Unless you’re going to play football up there.”

Students, read the entire article, then tell us:

  • Have you ever dreamed of becoming an astronaut or working for NASA? Are you fascinated by outer space or space travel? Why do you think so many of us are captivated by space and its mysteries?

  • If you had an opportunity to go anywhere in space, where would you visit? The moon? Mars? Another planet? Would you want to venture beyond our solar system? Why?

  • If you could be part of the SpaceX Falcon 9 flight, what would thrill you the most about the ride? Making history? Experiencing weightlessness? Viewing Earth from orbit? Something else?

  • In the article, Ms. Arceneaux said that she wanted to give hope to those battling serious illness: “They’ll be able to see a cancer survivor in space, especially one that has gone through the same thing that they have. It’s going to help them visualize their future.” Are you inspired by Ms. Arceneaux? Have you been through hardships that have inspired others?

  • If you don’t want to journey to outer space, where would you prefer to go instead?


About Student Opinion

Find all of our Student Opinion questions in this column.
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Learn more about how to use our free daily writing prompts for remote learning.

Students 13 and older in the United States and the United Kingdom, and 16 and older elsewhere, are invited to comment. All comments are moderated by the Learning Network staff, but please keep in mind that once your comment is accepted, it will be made public.

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