SpaceX Flight Ultimately Raised $243M For St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital
It is a good thing for charities to have Jared Isaacman, a billionaire who continues his search for new adventures.
Isaacman was a teenager when he transformed a payments-processing company into a multibillion-dollar business. Isaacman still enjoys taking off on head-turning flight adventures. Each time, a prominent charity has joined the ride — and the stakes keep getting bigger.
Isaacman established a world record in 2009 for light-aircraft flying. This helped to raise thousands of dollars for Make-a-Wish.
He took his flying skills and his charitable giving to the next level last September. Isaacman, along with a doctor assistant, professor from a community college, and an engineer, led the first civil space flight. Isaacman paid for and commanded the SpaceX flight, known as Inspiration4, and he vowed to donate even more than the cost of the flight to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
Isaacman and Monica were the first to donate $125 million. SpaceX founder Elon Musk ($55 million), and others contributed to bring St. Jude’s total to over $243 million.
Learn More Four Civilian Astronauts. Three days in orbit. One Giant Leap. Meet the Inspiration4 Crew
“You’re not fulfilling your purpose in life if you’re not maximizing the various opportunities that come your way,” Isaacman says. “But it would be selfish to do that if you were not also trying to make the world a better place.”
The Isaacmans’ giving earned them the No. 20 spot on the Philanthropy 50, the Chronicle of Philanthropy’s 22nd annual ranking of America’s biggest donors.
The payments-processing business Isaacman started in his parents’ basement had 100 employees when he was just 19. This same company is now Shift4. It made Isaacman billionaire after it was listed at the New York Stock Exchange on June 2020. Draken International was also established by Isaacman, who owns the largest private fleet of ex-military tactical jet aircraft. The Isaacmans made a commitment to donate the entirety of their wealth in their lives to charity last year by signing the Giving Pledge.
Isaacman’s dream has been to help others. He was making frequent contributions to Goodwill Rescue Mission (Newark), even as a young adult. It is located near where Isaacman grew up, Westfield, New Jersey.
Isaacman says his urge to help stems from seeing families and children “living out of tires” during a family vacation to Cancun when he was young.
“Sometimes it’s just an unfortunate hand that you get dealt — I find that very, very unfair,” Isaacman says. “My initial exposure was of people living in horrible circumstances. But there are other examples of that — such as getting a bad cancer diagnosis. So I want to support the treatment of that cancer, or, if that’s not possible, give children a memory through Make-a-Wish.”
St. Jude’s contributions are not restricted and will be used to support the construction of a 625,000 square-foot new research center, called the Inspiration4 Advanced Resource 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 she’s especially interested, according to Jared, in seeing St. Jude treatments get to other parts of the world.
“In the United States, overall survival rates for pediatric cancer have increased from around 20% when St. Jude opened in 1962 to more than 80% today,” says Richard Shadyac Jr., president of Alsac, the fundraising and awareness organization for St. Jude. “And yet, in many developing countries, those survival rates still remain around 20%.”
Isaacman gave two additional large donations to the National Naval Aviation Museum Foundation in 2021. He gave $10 million to the National Naval Aviation Museum Foundation for a display 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 U.S. Space and Rocket Center Education Foundation, in Huntsville, Ala., which supports the educational program known as “Space Camp.” More than 1 million children and adults have graduated from a Space Camp program since its inception in 1982 — including Jared Isaacman.
Isaacman visited the center as a 12-year old to take part in training for fighter-jet pilots. Blue Origin and Nick Saban, an Alabama football coach, donated to the Center after the devastating effects of the pandemic. Isaacman’s gift will help pay for a new training center to provide simulated flights.
Isaacman, along with the Inspiration4 crew, visited Space Camp this year. He spoke to the kids who are going through the exact same program as him. “He told our students that he had been just like them, a young person with a dream that became a reality through hard work and a vision,” says Kimberly Robinson, the center’s CEO.
Isaacman stated that he will continue to be focused on his philanthropy and St. Jude and Space Camp are still top priorities. Isaacman says Space Camp, along with the rocket center, exposes students to critical STEM topics such as robotics and artificial intelligence.
“If you can get 100,000 kids per year through there and dramatically expand their footprint,” he says, “it’s just going to make us a better, stronger nation.”
The Chronicle of Philanthropy provided this article to The Associated Press. Ben Gose, who has been writing for the Chronicle since 2002 has also done profile work on several prominent philanthropists. For coverage on philanthropy, the Chronicle and the AP receive funding from the Lilly Endowment. Content is entirely the responsibility of both Chronicle and AP. For all of AP’s philanthropy coverage, visit https://apnews.com/hub/philanthropy.