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AP exclusive with the man who won a trip into space, gave it away

This photo provided by Kyle Hippchen, right, and Chris Sembroski stand near launch complex 39A in Cape Canaveral, Fla., in an April 21, 2021 photo provided by Hippchen. Hippchen won a coveted seat aboard last September’s SpaceX flight, but gave the seat to his friend Sembroski, whom he described as the one person “who lives and breathes” space stuff like he does. (Courtesy Kyle Hippchen via AP)

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AP aerospace writer Marcia Dunn, video journalist Cody Jackson and photographer John Raoux demonstrated the value of beat coverage and persistence, providing an all-formats, exclusive interview with the man who gave away a trip into space to a friend.

Dunn had covered the September SpaceX launch and return of the four space tourists, but there was a lingering mystery about the identity and motives of the person who won a coveted sseat on the flight but gave it away. Dunn pursued the anonymous winner through online research and landed on a likely name. She reached out to the passenger she interviewed previously, data engineer Chris Sembroski, who said he wasn’t the winner. Undeterred, Dunn requested an interview with the real winner.

Four months after the flight she landed the interview with Kyle Hippchen shared his story during a visit to the Kennedy Space Center visitor’s complex with the AP team. The airline pilot said he missed his chance to orbit Earth because he exceeded the weight limit and instead chose former roommate and fellow space geek Sembroski to take his place.

The story was widely used on hundreds of online news sites including NBC News,ABC News,CBC,MSN,USA Today,Bloomberg and Tampa Bay Times. The Orlando Sentinel ran the story on its front page and Newsweek credited the AP. The video was used by multiple channels including Univision, ABC in Sydney and WNBC in New York.

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