Too fat to fly to space: 330lb man who won a trip to space on SpaceX’s first tourist flight had to give his ticket to a friend because he exceeded the 250lb weight limit

  • Kyle Hippchen won a raffle for a ticket to be part of SpaceX’s Inspiration4 crew
  • However, he discovered that at 330lbs, he exceeded SpaceX’s 250lbs weight limit
  • The 43-year-old from Florida donated his seat to his college roommate, Chris Sembroski, 42, who met the height and weight requirements
  • Hippchen said: ‘I’m insanely disappointed, but it is what it is’ 
  • He spent $600 on raffle tickets for the seat, while his college friend Sembroski spent $50 and ended up being the one who got the once-in-a-lifetime experience

Travelling into space is something that many people dream of, and it almost became a reality for one man – until he stepped on the scales. 

Airline pilot Kyle Hippchen, 43, from Florida, was delighted to win a raffle ticket to be part of the Inspiration4 crew on SpaceX’s first tourist flight last year. 

But at 5ft10 and 330lbs he exceeded SpaceX’s 250lb weight limit. 

So his seat went to his college roommate, Chris Sembroski, 42, a data engineer in Everett, Washington while Hippchen watched from a VIP balcony. 

The pain of missing out on the once-in-a-lifetime trip still hasn’t worn off for Hippchen, who hasn’t been able to bring himself to watch the Netflix series about the flight.  

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

Hippchen’s (right) seat went to his college roommate, Chris Sembroski (left), 42, a data engineer in Everett, Washington

Kyle Hippchen, 43, from Florida, was delighted when he won a raffle for a ticket on board SpaceX’s first tourist flight last year. However, the airline pilot was forced to donate his ticket to a friend, after discovering he exceeded SpaceX’s 250lbs (113kg) weight limit 

The Inspiration4 mission 

Dubbed Inspiration4, the mission was designed primarily to raise awareness and support for the pediatric cancer center, which successfully treated Arceneaux for bone cancer when she was a child. 

Although not the first time civilians have travelled to space, it is the first mission manned solely by civilians. 

The four-person team, under the command of Isaacman, launched aboard SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket. 

Dragon only orbited Earth for three days, completing one orbit every 90 minutes along a customized flight path travelling at more than 17,000 miles per hour.

Its progress was carefully monitored at every step by SpaceX mission control.

Hippchen – a Florida-based captain for Delta’s regional carrier Endeavor Air – recently shared his story during his first visit to NASA’s Kennedy Space Centre since his lost rocket ride.

He opened up about his out-of-the-blue, dream-come-true windfall, the letdown when he realized he topped SpaceX’s weight restrictions of 250 pounds and his offer to the one person he knew would treasure the flight as much as himself. 

Four months later, he figures probably fewer than 50 people know he was the actual winner.

‘It was their show, and I didn’t want to be distracting too much from what they were doing,’ said Hippchen, who watched the launch from a VIP balcony.

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

They’d pile into cars with other student space geeks and make the hourlong drive south for NASA’s shuttles launches. They also belonged to a space advocacy group, going to Washington to push commercial space travel.

Despite living on opposite coasts, Hippchen and Sembroski continued to swap space news. Neither could resist when Shift4 Payments founder and CEO Jared Isaacman raffled off a seat on the flight he purchased from SpaceX´s Elon Musk. The beneficiary was St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

Hippchen snapped up $600 worth of entries, while Sembroski, about to start a new job at Lockheed Martin, shelled out $50. 

With 72,000 entries in the random draw last February, neither figured he’d win and didn’t bother telling the other.

By early March, Hippchen started receiving vague emails seeking details about himself. That’s when he read the contest’s small print: The winner had to be under 6ft6 and 250 pounds.

While SpaceX doesn’t publicly reveal its astronaut requirements, NASA has four main criteria for its crew:

1. Be a U.S. citizen

2. Possess a master’s degree in a STEM field, including engineering, biological science, physical science, computer science or mathematics, from an accredited institution

3. Have at least two years of related professional experience obtained after degree completion or at least 1,000 hours pilot-in-command time on jet aircraft.

4. Be able to pass the NASA long-duration flight astronaut physical.  

Hippchen was 5ft10 and 330 pounds (1.8 meters and 150 kilograms).

He told organizers he was pulling out, figuring he was only one of many finalists. In the flurry of emails and calls that followed, Hippchen was stunned to learn he’d won.

With a September launch planned, the timeline was tight. Still new at flying people, SpaceX needed to start measuring its first private passengers for their custom-fitted flight suits and capsule seats. 

As an aerospace engineer and pilot, Hippchen 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,’ Hippchen said.

Instead, Isaacman, the spaceflight’s sponsor, allowed Hippchen to pick a stand-in.

‘Kyle’s willingness to gift his seat to Chris was an incredible act of generosity,’ Isaacman said.

Isaacman introduced his passengers at the end of March: a St. Jude physician assistant who beat cancer there as a child; a community college educator who was Shift4 Payments’ winning business client; and Sembroski.

From left, Chris Sembroski, 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

While Hippchen didn’t get to see Earth from orbit, he did get to experience about 10 minutes of weightlessness. During Sembroski’s flight, he joined friends and family of the crew on a special zero-gravity plane

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

In gratitude, Sembroski offered to take personal items into space for Hippchen. He gathered his high school and college rings, airline captain epaulets, a great-uncle´s World War I Purple Heart and odds and ends from his best friends from high school, warning, ‘Don’t ask any details.’

By launch day on Sept. 15, word had gotten around. As friends and families gathered for the liftoff, Hippchen said the conversation went like this: ‘My name’s 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 one allotted call. He called Hippchen and thanked him one more time.

‘I’m forever grateful,’ Sembroski said.

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

‘It was a blast.’

The launch of the Inspiration4 crew took place from Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Centre in Cape Canaveral, Florida on September 15

Meet the Inspiration4 crew 

Jared Isaacman, 38 

Jared Isaacman, 38 

Issacman grew up in New Jersey and started dabbling in computer technical support and repair when he was just 14 years old.

Two years later, he was offered a full time position and dropped out of high school to take the job – he later earned a GED.

In 2005, Issacman founded a retail payment processing company named United Bank Card, which was later renamed Harbortouch, a point-of-sale payment company based in Pennsylvania.

He was the founding CEO and retained that role in 2015 with the company having ‘been profitable for over a decade. 

By 2020, the company had been renamed Shift4 Payments, Isaacman became the CEO, and the company was processing $200 billion in payments annually. 

Issacman piloted the craft and serve as spacecraft commander.

Hayley Arceneaux, 29 

Hayley Arceneaux, 29 

Arceneaux, who is from Tennessee, was the first winner of a seat aboard the craft, who will become the youngest American in space and the first to make the journey with a prosthesis.

At the age of 10, Arceneaux was treated for bone cancer and had surgery at St. Jude to replace her knee and get a titanium rod in her left thigh bone. 

She wants to show her young patients and other cancer survivors that ‘the sky is not even the limit anymore.’

Sian Proctor, 51

Sian Proctor, 51 

Proctor was revealed as a winner this past March.

She is an entrepreneur, educator, trained pilot and active voice in the space exploration community.

She was selected as the top entrant of an independently judged online business competition that attracted approximately 200 entries and was conducted by the eCommerce platform Shift4Shop.

And an independent panel of judges chose her space art website dubbed Space2inspire. 

Proctor, who studied geology, applied three times to NASA’s astronaut corps, coming close in 2009, and took part in simulated Mars missions in Hawaii. 

Chris Sembroski, 41 

Chris Sembroski, 41 

The last seat was awarded to Sembroski, who donated and entered the lottery but was not picked in the random drawing earlier this month — his friend was.

His friend declined to fly for personal reasons and offered the spot to Sembroski, who worked as a Space Camp counsellor in college and volunteered for space advocacy groups.

‘Just finding out that I’m going to space was an incredible, strange, surreal event,’ he said in March.

Sembroski served as the Mission Specialist and will help manage payload, science experiments, communications to mission control and more.

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