Billionaire Jared Isaacman Made a Video for His Kids in Case SpaceX Mission Didn't Go as Planned

Before celebrating their history-making mission, the Inspiration4 crew's family and friends faced the realities of space travel

jared isaacman
Jared Isaacman. Photo: PATRICK T. FALLON/Getty Images

NASA has called the SpaceX Dragon "probably the safest vehicle astronauts have ever launched on," but space flight continues to carry risks. That's why billionaire Jared Isaacman made some preparations before leaving the planet last week.

In Inspiration4's first interview after returning to Earth on Saturday, the 38-year-old mission commander tells PEOPLE his crew members all "got some of our personal affairs in order" before the launch on Wednesday, Sept. 15.

"I made some videos to my kids and everything," says Isaacman, who shares two daughters, ages 5 and 7, with wife Monica. "So, it was hard not to think about... For me, I recorded a good video and a bad video, and I was like, 'I really hope they just see the good video' — that's kind of what was going through my mind."

Fortunately, the girls watched the "good video," in which Jared told his daughters he was in orbit and thanked them for the support.

The Shift4 Payments CEO — who started his company in 1999 at the age of 16 — has known Monica since they were teenagers growing up in New Jersey.

"I think it's hard," she tells PEOPLE of having a spouse fly to space. "You want to be supportive, but you're going to have your own feelings too. You just do the best that you can at taking it one day at a time and just pushing through it."

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Jared Isaacman and wife Monica with their children after his return to Earth. Jared Isaacman/Instagram

But Monica wasn't surprised that Jared found a way to make his lifelong dream come true.

"Jared has always shown signs of liking space and aviation," she says of her husband, an accomplished pilot. "So I think I kind of had a feeling that he would do this one day. I just didn't expect it to be this quick."

It's been less than a year since Jared was on a call with SpaceX about something completely unrelated and learned that he might have a shot at flying to space. Weeks later he purchased four seats for an undisclosed sum and designed the world's first all-civilian crewed space mission, Inspiration4.

For more on Inspiration4's history-making mission benefitting St. Jude, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday, or subscribe here.

The philanthropist knew he wanted the trek to do some good back home, so he set a $200 million fundraising goal for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, an organization he has long supported, and donated the first $100 million himself.

Then he donated the three remaining seats: two to St. Jude, who chose pediatric cancer survivor and St. Jude physician assistant Hayley Arceneaux, 29, and raffled off the other, which went to data engineer Chris Sembroski, 42; and one to a Shift4 Payments contest winner, Dr. Sian Proctor, a 51-year-old science educator and artist who was once a NASA astronaut finalist.

Together they trained for six months to go higher into space than anyone's gone since the Hubble Space Telescope missions more than a decade ago.

"It all gets wrapped up into that inspiration game," Jared says of his goal. "If we're going to do that, we had to get a little bit outside our comfort zone, which is where we've been the last 20 years [of space travel]."

Jared Isaacman, Hayley Arceneaux, Sian Proctor and Chris Sembroski Inspiration4 crew
The Inspiration4 crew (L-R): Jared Isaacman, Dr. Sian Proctor, Hayley Arceneaux and Chris Sembroski. JOHN KRAUS/© 2021 Inspiration4 2021/Netflix/AFP via Getty

When launch day finally arrived, the group's family and friends gathered at Kennedy Space Center to watch them blast out of this world.

"Hayley's proven that the sky's not the limit," says Dr. Mike Neel, the orthopedic surgeon who treated Arceneaux when she was a child patient at St. Jude.

With the flight, Arceneaux has become the youngest American, the first pediatric cancer survivor and the first person with a prosthesis to orbit Earth, making her childhood surgeon proud.

"You really can do anything and don't let your cancer and your diagnosis hold you back," he says at the St. Jude launch event. "Dream to do whatever you want to do just like Haley did."

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The Inspiration4 crew in the Dragon's cupola. Inspiration4

Penny Tramontozzi, the former St. Jude front desk clerk who welcomed Hayley to the Memphis, Tennessee hospital nearly 20 years ago, also attended the launch to show her support for the "remarkable young lady" with whom she's becoming friends. Miss Penny, as the community fondly calls her, recalls a "teachable moment" from Arceneaux's brave battle against cancer: "She said, 'You know what? When I'm cancer-free, I'm going to figure out what it would have cost my mom and dad if they had to pay for my treatment, pay for our lodging, our food and our transportation. And I'm going to raise three times as much for St. Jude.' "

She's done better than that — so far, the Inspiration4 crew has raised over $220 million for St. Jude, which never gives families a bill for treatment and everything in between.

Steven Rodriguez, a nurse practitioner who has been caring for Arceneaux's patients since she began astronaut training, has witnessed her impact. The kids at St. Jude "talk about her space mission all the time — it gives them hope," Rodriguez says. "They're going through the worst thing they've ever been through, and they see somebody who has been there, gotten through it and is now going to space. They see it as a groundbreaking achievement for everybody, not just her."

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The Inspiration4 crew talks to St. Jude patients during their SpaceX mission. Inspiration4

Making history alongside Arceneaux is Dr. Proctor, the first Black woman to serve as a space mission pilot.

"She's just a rockstar human being," says Proctor's colleague Maraia Tanner, the CEO of Star Harbor Space Academy in Colorado, as her eyes well up with tears. "She is absolutely authentic, through and through. I don't think she has a mean bone in her body and she's a very beloved member of our team."

Three days after the launch, the crew's Dragon capsule splashed down as planned off Florida's coast.

"I was holding my breath until all the parachutes deployed," Arceneaux's mom Colleen says in this week's issue of PEOPLE. "I couldn't believe she looked so good — she's smiling, she's waving."

The crew danced their way out of the capsule despite the possibility that they could have needed assistance after three days in zero gravity.

"It was amazing," Monica. "It's just a moment of finally being able to relax and feel some relief."

Their oldest daughter "ran up to him right away, screaming, 'Daddy' … Kids are kids and they're happy, but I think it was one of those moments where finally seeing him back, she was so excited," Monica says.

Jared calls the reunion "pretty powerful."

"To go through and complete the mission and then see them again," he says, "there's a relief and a flood of kind of joy that kicks in."

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Inspiration4 splashdown. Inspiration4

For Proctor, that joy resulted in more than a hug: "My brother literally lifted me off the ground," she says with a smile.

Colleen, meanwhile, tried not to overwhelm her daughter Hayley.

"I was looking forward to that big hug," Colleen says of the moment she saw her daughter back on Earth. "She had written me a letter that they gave to me after she was in space. In the letter she said, 'I'm going to be looking forward to the first hug you give me, but don't crush me, mom.' I was concentrating on not squeezing too hard."

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