He won a trip to space. Then he gave it to a friend



He told his family and a few friends. He suggested it to a few colleagues. So virtually no one knew that the airline’s pilot could – should have – been on the plane when SpaceX put its first tourists into orbit last year.

Meet Kyle Hippchen, the real winner of a one-of-a-kind sweepstakes, who gave up his chair to his college roommate.

Though Hippchen’s secret was eventually revealed, it couldn’t be easier knowing that he missed his chance to orbit the Earth because of the weight limit. He has yet to watch the Netflix series on a three-day flight purchased for himself and three guests by a tech entrepreneur last September.

“It hurts,” he said. “I am extremely disappointed. But that’s what it is.”

Hippchen, 43, a Florida-based captain for Delta’s Endeavor Air regional carrier, recently shared his story with the Associated Press during his first visit to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center since taking off. Missing missile.

He opened up about his great opportunity, his dream come true, his disappointment when he realized he had surpassed SpaceX’s 250-pound (113kg) weight limit and his offer. with someone he knows will appreciate the flight as much as he does himself. Four months later, he reckons perhaps fewer than 50 people know he’s the real winner.

“It was their show, and I didn’t want to get too distracted by what they were doing,” said Hippchen, who watched the premiere from the VIP balcony.

His position belongs to Chris Sembroski, 42, a data engineer in Everett, Washington. The couple shared a room together starting in the late 1990s while attending Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. They will stack up in cars with other space students and drive south for an hour to launch NASA’s space shuttle. They are also part of a space advocacy group, traveling to Washington to promote commercial space travel.

Despite living on opposite shores, Hippchen and Sembroski continued to exchange space news and defend the cause. No one could resist when Shift4 Payments founder and CEO Jared Isaacman swam for a seat on the flight he bought from Elon Musk’s SpaceX. The beneficiary is the St. Jude.

Hippchen won $600 worth of entries. Sembroski, about to start a new job at Lockheed Martin, put down $50. With 72,000 entries in the random draw last February, neither of them thought he would win and didn’t bother to tell the other.

By early March, Hippchen began receiving vague emails seeking detailed information about himself. That’s when he read the contest’s small text: Winner must be under 6 feet-6 and 250 pounds (2 meters and 113 kg).

Hippchen is 5 feet-10 and 330 pounds (1.8 meters and 150 kilograms) tall.

He told the organizers he would withdraw, counting out he was just one of many finalists. In the ensuing series of emails and calls, Hippchen was stunned to learn he had won.

With a planned September launch, timing is tight. Still new to airliners, SpaceX needs to start measuring its first individual passengers for their custom-fitted flight suits and capsule seats. As an aeronautical engineer and pilot, Hippchen knows the weight limit is a seat-related safety issue and cannot be exceeded.

“I’m trying to find a way to lose 80 pounds in six months, I mean completely possible, but it’s not the healthiest thing in the world to do,” says Hippchen.

Isaacman, the spaceship’s sponsor, allowed Hippchen to pick a top spot.

“Kyle’s willingness to give his seat to Chris is an amazing act of generosity,” he said in an email this week.

Isaacman introduced his passengers in late: a St. Jude, who beat cancer there as a child; a community college educator who was a winning business client of Shift4 Payments; and Sembroski.

Hippchen joined them in April to watch SpaceX launch astronauts to the International Space Station for NASA, the company’s last crewed flight before theirs.

In gratitude, Sembroski offered to bring personal items into space for Hippchen. He collects his high school and college rings, his airline captain’s certificates, his great uncle’s World War I Purple Heart, and odds and ends from people his best friend from high school, warns, “Don’t ask for any details.”

On the launch date of September 15, rumors surfaced. As friends and family gathered for takeoff, Hippchen said the conversation went something like this: “My name is Kyle. Are you The Kyle? Yeah, I’m The Kyle. ”

Before climbing into SpaceX’s Dragon capsule, Sembroski followed tradition and used the phone atop the launch tower to make his prescribed call. He called Hippchen and thanked him again.

“I am forever grateful,” said Sembroski.

And while Hippchen couldn’t see Earth from orbit, he did experience about 10 minutes of weightlessness. During Sembroski’s flight, he and the crew’s friends and family boarded a special zero-gravity plane.

“It was an explosion.”

Copyright 2022 Fort Myers Broadcasting Company. Copyright Registered. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without prior written consent. He won a trip to space. Then he gave it to a friend


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