SpaceX Flight Finally Raised $243 Million for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital

The charitable sector can hope that billionaire Jared Isaacman continues to look for new adventures.

Turning a payment processing company he started as a teenager into a multi-billion dollar company, Isaacman occasionally indulges his passion for aviation with high-profile flights. Each time, a prominent charity joins in – and the stakes keep growing.

In 2009, Isaacman set a speed record by flying around the world in a light aircraft, raising tens of thousands of dollars for Make-a-Wish.

Last September, he took both his flying and his philanthropy to a much higher level. Isaacman led the first all-civilian journey to space, accompanied by a physician assistant, a community university professor and a data engineer. Isaacman paid for and commanded the SpaceX flight, known as Inspiration4, and he even pledged to donate more than the cost of the flight to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
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Isaacman and his wife, Monica, personally donated $125 million to the hospital, and contributions from SpaceX founder Elon Musk ($55 million) and many others eventually brought the total donated to St. Jude to more than $243 million. .

Read more: Four civilian astronauts. Three days in orbit. A giant leap. Meet the Inspiration4 Crew

“You’re not fulfilling your purpose in life if you don’t maximize the various opportunities that come your way,” Isaacman says. “But it would be selfish to do that if you didn’t also try to make the world a better place.”

Isaacmans’ donation earned them 20th place on the Philanthropy 50, the Chronicle of Philanthropy’s 22nd annual ranking of America’s largest donors.

The payment processing company Isaacman started in his parents’ basement had 100 employees when he was just 19. That same company, now known as Shift4, made him a billionaire when it was listed on the New York Stock Exchange in June 2020. Isaacman also founded Draken International, which operates the largest fleet of privately owned former military tactical jet aircraft in the world. Last year, the Isaacmans signed the Giving Pledge, committing themselves to donating most of their wealth to charities during their lifetime.

Isaacman has always strived to give back. Even in his early twenties, he was a regular contributor to the Goodwill Rescue Mission in Newark, not far from where he grew up in Westfield, New Jersey.

Isaacman says his urge to help comes from seeing families and children “living out of ties” on a family vacation to Cancun when he was young.

“Sometimes it’s just an unlucky hand you get — I think that’s very, very unfair,” Isaacman says. “My first exposure was of people living in terrible conditions. But there are other examples of this, such as being misdiagnosed with cancer. So I want to support the treatment of that cancer, or if that’s not possible, give children a reminder through Make-a-Wish.”

Contributions to St. Jude are unlimited and support work in a new 625,000-square-foot research facility called the Inspiration4 Advanced Research Center. The funds will also go toward St. Jude’s six-year, $11.5 billion strategic plan to accelerate cancer research and treatment worldwide. Monica Isaacman’s family is originally from Chile, and according to Jared, she’s particularly interested in seeing St. Jude treatments in other parts of the world.

“In the United States, overall childhood cancer survival rates have risen from about 20% when St. Jude opened in 1962 to over 80% today,” said Richard Shadyac Jr., president of Alsac, the fundraising and awareness organization for St. Jew. “And yet those survival rates in many developing countries still remain around 20%.”

Isaacman made two other major donations in 2021. He donated $10 million to the National Naval Aviation Museum Foundation for an exhibit honoring Dale Snodgrass, a celebrated former F-14 fighter pilot and close friend of Isaacman’s who died in a plane crash in Idaho last summer.

He gave another $10 million to the US Space and Rocket Center Education Foundation, in Huntsville, Ala., which supports the educational program known as “Space Camp.” Since its inception in 1982, more than 1 million children and adults have graduated from a Space Camp program, including Jared Isaacman.

Isaacman first came to visit as a 12-year-old to participate in a program focusing on simulated jet fighter pilot training. The center was hit hard by the pandemic, and donations from University of Alabama football coach Nick Saban and Blue Origin, billionaire Jeff Bezos’ aerospace company, helped keep it afloat. With Isaacman’s gift, a new training center can be paid for for simulated flights.

He and the rest of the Inspiration4 crew visited Space Camp this summer, and Isaacman spoke to children who were going through the same type of program he had experienced. “He told our students that he had been like them, a young person with a dream made reality through hard work and a vision,” said Kimberly Robinson, the center’s CEO.

Isaacman said he plans to stay focused on his philanthropy and that St. Jude and Space Camp will remain priorities going forward. Space Camp and its associated space and rocket center expose students to critical STEM topics such as robotics, artificial intelligence, and cybersecurity, Isaacman says.

“If you can have 100,000 kids a year there and drastically increase their footprint,” he says, “it just makes us a better, stronger nation.”

This article was provided to The Associated Press by the Chronicle of Philanthropy. Ben Gose has been writing for the Chronicle since 2002 and has created profiles of several major philanthropists. The AP and the Chronicle receive support from the Lilly Endowment for its coverage of philanthropy and nonprofit organizations. The AP and the Chronicle are solely responsible for all content. For all of AP’s philanthropic coverage, visit https://apnews.com/hub/philanthropy.

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