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Meet the man who gave up space flight he won, for a friend due to weight restriction

Meet Kyle Hippchen, the true winner of a one-of-a-kind sweepstakes who handed up his seat for a trip to the space to his college buddy.

He informed his family and a few close pals. He hinted to a couple of colleagues. So few people were aware that the airline pilot could have — and should have — been aboard when SpaceX sent its first tourists into orbit last year.

Though Hippchen’s secret is eventually revealed, it doesn’t make it any better to know that he lost out on orbiting Earth because he surpassed the weight restriction. He has yet to view the Netflix series that was acquired by a software entrepreneur for himself and three companions on a three-day flight in September.

“It hurts way too much,” he explained. “I’m quite disappointed. “However, it is what it is.”

Hippchen, a captain with Delta’s regional carrier Endeavor Air based in Florida, recently related his storey with The Associated Press during his first visit to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center since his lost rocket ride.

He talked about his unexpected, dream-come-true windfall, the disappointment he felt when he found he had exceeded SpaceX’s weight constraints of 250 pounds (113 kilogrammes), and his offer to the one person he knew would treasure the voyage as much as he did. Four months later, he estimates that fewer than 50 people are aware that he was the true winner.

“I didn’t want to be too distracting from what they were doing,” Hippchen, who was watching the launch from a VIP balcony, explained.

Chris Sembroski, 42, a data engineer from Everett, Washington, took his place. They roomed together at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University beginning in the late 1990s. They’d pack into vehicles with other student space nerds and go an hour south to see NASA’s shuttles launch. They were also members of a space advocacy organisation that travelled to Washington to promote commercial space travel.

Despite the fact that they lived on opposite coasts, Hippchen and Sembroski continued to exchange space news and advocate for the cause. Hippchen purchased $600 worth of entries. Sembroski, who was ready to start a new position at Lockheed Martin, paid $50. With 72,000 entries in the random lottery last February, neither of them expected him to win and didn’t bother informing the other.

By early March, Hippchen was receiving cryptic emails requesting information about himself. That’s when he noticed the fine print: the winner had to be under 6-foot-6 and 250 pounds (2 metres and 113 kilograms).

Hippchen weighed 330 pounds and was 5 feet 10 inches tall (1.8 metres and 150 kilograms).

With a September launch date set, time was of the essence. SpaceX, which was still in its early stages of flying people, needed to begin measuring its first private passengers for their custom-fitted flight suits and capsule seats. As an aeronautical engineer and pilot, Hippchen understood that exceeding the weight restriction posed a safety risk to the seats and could not be tolerated.

He informed organisers that he was withdrawing since he believed he was merely one of many finalists. Hippchen was taken aback when he learned he’d won in the whirlwind of emails and phone calls that followed.


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