Man forced to give up seat on SpaceX flight because he was overweight

Kyle Hippchen, a Florida-based airline captain, poses for a photo in front of a SpaceX Dragon capsule at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex
Kyle Hippchen, a Florida-based airline captain, poses for a photo in front of a SpaceX Dragon capsule at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex (Credits: AP)

A Florida man was forced to give up a seat on a SpaceX rocket because he exceeded the company’s weight limit.

Kyle Hippchen, 43, won a seat on SpaceX’s Inspiration4 tourist flight last year after spending $600 (£450) on a raffle entries.

Following the delight from winning a chance to visit the stars, he was brought down to Earth by a single realisation.

Hippchen, himself a pilot, was too overweight to take his place on the crew.

At 5ft10 and 330lbs (150kgs), he exceeded SpaceX’s 250lb (113kg) single passenger weight limit.

Forced to give up his seat, Mr Hippchen, passed his winning ticket on to his college roommate Chris Sembroski, 42.

Mr Sembroski, a data engineer Washington, took the flight in September 2021 while Hippchen watched from a VIP balcony.

This photo provided by Kyle Hippchen shows him, right, with Chris Sembroski near launch complex 39A in Cape Canaveral, Fla., on April 21, 2021. Hippchen says Sembroski is the one person ???who lives and breathes??? space stuff like he does. (Courtesy Kyle Hippchen via AP)
Kyle Hippchen (R) gave up his seat on a SpaceX rocket trip to Chris Sembroski (L) last year. (Credits: AP)

The crew spent three days orbiting Earth at an unusually high altitude of 357 miles – 100 miles higher than the International Space Station.

Missing out on the flight is still a bitter pill to swallow for Mr Hippchen.

‘It hurts too much,’ he said. ‘I’m insanely disappointed. But it is what it is.’

The pilot shared his story on a his first visit to Nasa’s Kennedy Space Centre. He explained that probably fewer than fifty people knew he was the real winner of the contest.

‘It was their show, and I didn’t want to be distracting too much from what they were doing,’ he said.

Kyle Hippchen poses for a photo at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Cape Canaveral, Florida (Credits: AP)
Kyle Hippchen poses for a photo at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Cape Canaveral, Florida (Credits: AP)

Hippchen and Sembroski were college roommates while attending Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in the late 1990s

Both entered the SpaceX raffle in February 2021 to be in with a chance of winning the prize. But while Mr Hippchen spent $600 on the chance to ride into space, Sembroski only paid $50 on tickets.

There were 72,000 entries for the crew, and Hippchen said he started to receive email enquiries about himself the next month. That’s when he read the small print detailing the fact the winner had to be under 6ft6 and 250 pounds or less.

As an aerospace engineer and pilot, Hippchen says he knew the weight limit was a safety issue involving the seats, and could not be exceeded.

‘I was trying to figure how I could drop 80 pounds in six months, which, I mean, it’s possible, but it’s not the most healthy thing in the world to do,’ he said.

FILE - In this photo made available by SpaceX, from left, Chris Sembroski, Sian Proctor, Jared Isaacman and Hayley Arceneaux sit in the Dragon capsule at Cape Canaveral in Florida on Sunday, Sept. 12, 2021, during a dress rehearsal for the upcoming launch. Sembroski offered to take personal items into space for the original winner, Kyle Hippchen. Hippchen gathered his high school and college rings, airline captain epaulettes, a great-uncle???s Purple Heart, and odds and ends from his best friends from high school, warning, ???Don???t ask any details.??? (SpaceX via AP)
Chris Sembroski (circled), Sian Proctor, Jared Isaacman and Hayley Arceneaux sit in the Dragon capsule at Cape Canaveral in Florida on Sunday, September 12, 2021, during a dress rehearsal for the launch. (Credits: AP)

Instead, he was allowed to choose a replacement and he chose to gift it to his friend.

‘Kyle’s willingness to gift his seat to Chris was an incredible act of generosity,’ said Jared Isaacman, the billionaire who commanded the Inspiration4 mission.

While up in space, the capsule they were aboard orbited the Earth once every 90 minutes at a speed of more than 17,000mph.

Inspiration4 crew seen on their first day in space
A member of the Inspiration4 crew seen on their first day in space (Reuters)

It came as private space tourism took off in a big way last year. In the summer billionaire Virgin Group boss Richard Branson successfully flew into space aboard Virgin Galactic.

Amazon CEO, and the world’s second richest man, Jeff Bezos followed one week later with an 11-minute journey to space on Blue Origin rocket.


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