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She Beat Cancer at 10. Now She’ll Join SpaceX’s First Private Trip to Orbit.

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Hayley Arceneaux, 29, had hoped this would be the year that she would complete her aim of visiting all seven continents before she turned 30.

She will not have time to do that, though.

She is going to space.

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.

One of them will go to a random winner in a sweepstakes contest to raise money for the hospital, which treats children at no charge and develops cures for childhood cancers and other diseases.

The other seat, Mr. Isaacman said, will be filled by a frontline health care worker at St. Jude, someone who symbolizes hope.

On Monday, St. Jude officials and Mr. Isaacman revealed that Ms. Arceneaux was the person they had chosen.

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.”

Ms. Arceneaux said she hoped to offer inspiration to patients at St. Jude.

“They’ll be able to see a cancer survivor in space, especially one that has gone through the same thing that they have,” she said. “It’s going to help them visualize their future.”

Richard C. Shadyac Jr., the president of ALSAC, the fund-raising organization for St. Jude, said of Ms. Arceneaux, “If anybody was emblematic of the notion of hope, it was Hayley.”

Ms. Arceneaux herself did not find out she would have a seat on the rocket until early January. Officials at the hospital had vaguely told her that there was an opportunity they wanted to talk to her about. She said she had thought that “maybe it would be a commercial or maybe giving a speech somewhere.”

Instead, it was an opportunity to be an astronaut.

“I even kind of laughed,” Ms. Arceneaux said. “I was like, “What? Yes. Yes, please, that would be amazing.” She then added, “Let me talk to my mom.”

Her mom did not object.

Ms. Arceneaux walked into St. Jude for the first time in 2002. She was 10. Not long before, she had earned her black belt in taekwondo, but she was complaining of pain in her leg. Her mother saw a bump protruding over the left knee. The pediatrician in the small town of St. Francisville, La., where they lived, not far from Baton Rouge, told them that it looked like a cancerous tumor.

“We all fell apart,” Ms. Arceneaux said. “I remember just being so scared because at age 10, everyone I had known with cancer had died.”

At St. Jude, doctors provided the good news that the cancer had not spread to other parts of her body. Ms. Arceneaux went through chemotherapy, an operation to install the prosthetic leg bones and long sessions of physical therapy.

Even at that young age, bald from chemotherapy, Ms. Arceneaux was helping at fund-raisers for St. Jude. The next year, Louisiana Public Broadcasting honored her with one of its Young Heroes awards.

“When I grow up, I want to be a nurse at St. Jude,” she said in a video shown at the ceremony in 2003. “I want to be a mentor to patients. When they come in, I’ll say, ‘I had that when I was little, and I’m doing good.’”

Last year, Ms. Arceneaux was hired by St. Jude. She works with children with leukemia and lymphoma, such as a teenage boy she talked with recently.

“I shared with him that I also lost my hair,” Ms. Arceneaux said. “I told him: ‘You can ask me anything. I’m a former patient. I’ll tell you the truth, anything you want to know.’ And he said, ‘Will you really tell me the truth?’ And I said yes.”

His burning question: “Are you the one going to space?”

Ms. Arceneaux had to dodge. “I said, ‘Well, we’ll see who gets announced.’” she said. “But I think he knew because then he and his dad were like “Yeah!” and high-fived.”

Ms. Arceneaux and Mr. Isaacman have visited SpaceX’s headquarters in California three times to meet with engineers and to start planning the trip. Unlike the missions that SpaceX flies for NASA, this one will not go to the International Space Station but will instead orbit Earth for three or four days before splashing down off the Florida coast.

“She’s got an adventurous spirit,” Mr. Isaacman said of Ms. Arceneaux. “And now she gets to travel to the stars, which is pretty cool.”

It will still be a few more weeks before they know who their companions will be.

The St. Jude sweepstakes, publicized in a television commercial that was broadcast during the Super Bowl two weeks ago, will run through the end of the month. It has so far raised about $9.5 million. That seems to fall far short of the $100 million Mr. Isaacman has himself committed to St. Jude, or the overall goal of $200 million. But Mr. Isaacman and Mr. Shadyac said that the fund-raising effort would go beyond the sweepstakes and that they were pleased with the progress.

“This is going to be a campaign that’s going to extend all the way until the launch,” Mr. Shadyac said.

The sweepstakes is structured in a way that effectively limits the size of donations. One entry is free. A minimum donation of $10 buys 100 entries, and each additional dollar donated buys 10 more entries, up to $1,000 for 10,000 entries.

There were some pricier options available that are now sold out. For example, Mr. Isaacman will give a donor who contributed $100,000 a ride in the Russian-built MiG-29 jet fighter that he owns. The donor will also get a trip to watch the launch at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. But that donor still has just 10,000 entries in the sweepstakes, the same as someone who donated $1,000.

Mr. Isaacman said this was a deliberate choice to prevent a wealthy person from trying to snap up the grand prize of a trip to space by buying millions of entries.

“Is it going to represent all of the people of Earth and not just rich white guys?” Mr. Isaacman said.

The fourth SpaceX seat will go to the winner of a contest sponsored by Mr. Isaacman’s company, Shift4, which sells credit-card-processing terminals and point-of-sale systems to restaurants and other businesses. The “Shark Tank”-like competition calls for entrepreneurs to design an online store using Shift4’s software and then post a video on Twitter describing their business.

As of last week, fewer than 100 people had submitted complete entries. “It means if you had made a Shift4 shop and entered it, you’ve got pretty amazing odds,” Mr. Isaacman said.



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Covid-19: How would an NHS vaccine passport app work?

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There is growing speculation that a certificate scheme could be built into the main NHS app.

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Facebook launches rap app

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Facebook unveils another experimental app, Atlassian acquires a data visualization startup and Newsela becomes a unicorn. This is your Daily Crunch for February 26, 2021.

The big story: Facebook launches rap app

The new BARS app was created by NPE Team (Facebook’s internal R&D group), allowing rappers to select from professionally created beats, and then create and share their own raps and videos. It includes autotune and will even suggest rhymes as you’re writing the lyrics.

This marks NPE Team’s second musical effort — the first was the music video app Collab. (It could also be seen as another attempt by Facebook to launch a TikTok competitor.) BARS is available in the iOS App Store in the U.S., with Facebook gradually admitting users off a waitlist.

The tech giants

Atlassian is acquiring Chartio to bring data visualization to the platform — Atlassian sees Chartio as a way to really take advantage of the data locked inside its products.

Yelp puts trust and safety in the spotlight — Yelp released its very first trust and safety report this week, with the goal of explaining the work that it does to crack down on fraudulent and otherwise inaccurate or unhelpful content.

Startups, funding and venture capital

Newsela, the replacement for textbooks, raises $100M and becomes a unicorn —  If Newsela is doing its job right, its third-party content can replace textbooks within a classroom altogether, while helping teachers provide fresh, personalized material.

Tim Hortons marks two years in China with Tencent investment — The Canadian coffee and doughnut giant has raised a new round of funding for its Chinese venture.

Sources: Lightspeed is close to hiring a new London-based partner to put down further roots in Europe — According to multiple sources, Paul Murphy is being hired away from Northzone.

Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch

In freemium marketing, product analytics are the difference between conversion and confusion — Considering that most freemium providers see fewer than 5% of free users move to paid plans, even a slight improvement in conversion can translate to significant revenue gains.

As BNPL startups raise, a look at Klarna, Affirm and Afterpay earnings — With buy-now-pay-later options, consumers turn a one-time purchase into a limited string of regular payments.

(Extra Crunch is our membership program, which helps founders and startup teams get ahead. You can sign up here.)

Everything else

Jamaica’s JamCOVID pulled offline after third security lapse exposed travelers’ data — JamCOVID was set up last year to help the government process travelers arriving on the island.

AT&T is turning DirecTV into a standalone company — AT&T says it will own 70% of the new company, while private equity firm TPG will own 30%.

How to ace the 1-hour, and ever-elusive, pitch presentation at TC Early Stage — Norwest’s Lisa Wu has a message for founders: Think like a VC during your pitch presentation.

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 3pm Pacific, you can subscribe here.

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FCC authorizes $50 subsidies for Internet service for low-income families

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The FCC under its acting Democratic chairwoman, Jessica Rosenworcel, raced to stand up the program after Congress authorized it as part of a sweeping $2 trillion coronavirus aid package lawmakers approved in December. It may take up to two months before Americans can take advantage of it; the government must still fine-tune its systems so that families can apply for, and providers can receive, the emergency benefits. That task is likely to be a tall one for Washington, which historically has struggled to deploy complicated technology under tight time constraints.

Once it is up and running, though, federal policymakers, Internet service providers, educators and consumer advocates anticipate it will provide an immense financial boost to Americans who need the help at a time of high unemployment and economic dislocation. The broad support for the measure has generated political momentum for crafting a more permanent replacement that would help Americans obtain and pay for broadband services once the $3.2 billion fund runs dry.

“This is a program that will help those at risk of digital disconnection,” Rosenworcel said in a statement, citing the fact some students have had to sit in parking lots just to obtain wireless Internet to do their homework. “In short, this program can make a meaningful difference in the lives of people across the country.”

The new broadband program highlights Washington’s new, urgent campaign to close the country’s gap between those who can access the Internet and those who cannot, laid bare by the coronavirus pandemic that forced families to work, learn and communicate primarily online. At least 18 million Americans still lack speedy, reliable Web connections, the FCC found in a report released last June. Government officials said the number probably is much higher.

The U.S. government spends about $9 billion annually to help fund the buildout of broadband infrastructure nationwide, subsidize low-income Americans’ phone bills and help schools equip their classrooms with speedy access to the Web. But the aid at times has been riddled by mismanagement and neglect, undermining Washington’s efforts to address long-standing digital inequalities that disproportionately affect low-income families, people of color and students.

The FCC’s new emergency broadband benefit is intended to provide at least a short-term boost for these Americans while expanding the number of families who are eligible for some federal support. More than 33 million may be able to obtain the monthly aid, according to Free Press, a public-interest advocacy group, which said the number probably will be higher. Those eligible include families whose income is no greater than 135 percent of the federal poverty guidelines and others who participate in programs such as reduced school lunches.

The discounts are limited to one per household. Some families also may be eligible for a one-time credit of $100 to help them purchase a device to access broadband service. They will have to apply to receive the aid, which will be paid directly to Internet providers that register with the U.S. government and obtain permission to participate. Companies are not required to accept the benefits under the program.

AT&T said Friday morning it intends to participate. CenturyLink, Charter, Comcast, Frontier, T-Mobile and Verizon did not immediately commit to accepting the emergency benefits, although many companies and their trade groups have said in recent days they support the FCC’s work and intend to review its new implementing rules. The FCC voted unanimously late Thursday to start the program.

“Closing the affordability gap is vital to ensuring everyone has a chance to get ahead and participate in society,” said Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), the Senate architect of the program. He said he hopes to either extend the benefit or revise other government programs to provide families with a more lasting digital safety net.

“Nearly every aspect of education, health care, work and communication require reliable broadband,” Wyden continued, “so it’s high time to stop treating it like a luxury.”

The entire benefit system may take weeks to set up, meaning families aren’t yet able to apply and may not start to see any aid until April, experts predict. But some public-interest groups — mindful of the federal government’s past missteps — have expressed fears in recent weeks that early hiccups could delay the emergency credits even further. They have aired particular concern with the technology the FCC plans to use to accept most applications and verify that Americans are eligible to receive the aid.

The technology in question is called the National Verifier, an online application tool that the government has used in the past to enroll people in another low-income subsidy program. The verification system is supposed to draw on state and federal data sources to help Americans determine easily whether they qualify to participate in Lifeline, which subsidizes millions of Americans’ monthly phone bills. But fewer than half of states as of last summer had actually integrated their data properly with the National Verifier, a government watchdog found in January. The digital deficiencies meant that people in these states are more likely to be declared ineligible for federal help even when they qualify for it, the report said.

The troubles with the National Verifier first surfaced during the Trump administration, when the Republican-led FCC under then-Chairman Ajit Pai sought to implement a series of massive cuts to the Lifeline program, a Washington Post investigation found. The shortcomings threaten to create fresh technological headaches in delivering new emergency broadband benefits, warned the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute, which asked the commission this month to double down on technical upgrades before payments begin.

“The emergency nature of this program will likely demand less-than-perfect procedures in the interest of getting relief to people as quickly as possible,” the OTI said, “but the Commission must adopt sound verification procedures.”

The new broadband benefits are expected to be available for only a few months, until the total $3.2 billion authorized by Congress runs out. But the unprecedented size of the fund — and the expected early demand for the dollars — has left Democratic policymakers and telecom giants in rare accord over the need for a more permanent expansion of the government’s digital safety net.

Without congressional action, millions of Americans in a matter of months may see increases in their bills — or find themselves owing monthly sums they cannot pay. The sudden drop-off could send some families right back into the digital darkness.

“There’s no sense in wasting a crisis,” John Stankey, the chief executive of AT&T, said at a company event Wednesday.

Stankey praised Congress for committing to the subsidy, which will benefit telecom giants’ efforts to retain customers behind on their bills or attract new ones. But he also acknowledged the program’s limitations: “It was more of a Band-Aid,” he said. “As a result of that, by definition, it will probably be inadequate because it is not intended to be an appropriation in perpetuity.”

Speaking at a news conference last week, Rosenworcel similarly stressed the government needed to seize the “opportunity for helping those people stay in that service, even after the program might end.”

“When the funds run out,” she said, “we’ll have to turn to Congress again.”

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