Limo driver turned rocket builder “Mad” Mike Hughes, who believes the Earth is more of a flat frisbee than a round planet, had a mechanical issue shortly after launching from his latest rocket yesterday. After rising roughly 5,000 feet into the air, parachutes failed on the rocket as it arched back towards Earth, crashing into the California desert at full speed, killing Hughes in the process. The Science Channel, which was there with cameras rolling for their “Homemade Astronaut” series, released a statement that said, “Michael ‘Mad Mike’ Hughes tragically passed away today during an attempt to launch his homemade rocket. Our thoughts & prayers go out to his family & friends during this difficult time. It was always his dream to do this launch & Science Channel was there to chronicle his journey.”
Hughes made up one of three teams that were working to get as close to space as possible. The Karman Line is an invisible line 62 miles above the Earth’s surface where scientists consider the end of the Earth’s atmosphere and the beginning of space. During previous rocket launch attempts, Hughes tried to inch his way closer to the Karman Line, but never got close. His 5,000 foot failed launch yesterday is far lower than commercial aircraft which typically flies at around 37,000 feet. Hughes had hoped if he flew high enough, he’d be able to prove the Earth was flat.
— Justin Chapman (@justindchapman) February 22, 2020
In 2018, Hughes celebrated after a successful launch in the Californian desert. After countless delays for a variety of reasons, the “flat-earther” launched himself into the sky atop a steam-powered rocket he built. The then-61 year old soared 1,875 feet into the sky before returning in a hard landing some 1,500 feet away. Hughes told an AP reporter at the launch site that “aside from a sore back”, he was doing fine after the launch.
“I’m tired of people saying I chickened out and didn’t build a rocket,” he told AP. “I’m tired of that stuff. I manned up and did it.”
After that launch, Hughes was looking forward to eating his dinner and seeing his cats. “I’ll feel it in the morning,” he said. “I won’t be able to get out of bed.”
Beyond this weekend’s fatal launch attempt, the rocket builder had a more ambitious project in mind to prove the Earth is flat. Hughes says he wants to build a “rockoon,” a rocket that is carried into the atmosphere by a gas-filled balloon, then separated from the balloon and lit. This rocket would take Hughes about 68 miles up, high enough he says to see with his own eyes whether the Earth is flat or round.
Hughes built his last rocket for $20,000, using scrap metal and a motor home he purchased on Craigslist to serve as a launch pad. Hughes’ previous steam powered launch vehicle involved heating roughly 70 gallons of water in a stainless steel tank. The steam powered device is a thermal rocket that uses water held in a pressure vessel at a high temperature, such that its saturated vapor pressure is significantly greater than ambient pressure. The water is allowed to escape as steam through a rocket nozzle to produce thrust. When the rocket reached an altitude of about 1,800 feet, Hughes deployed two large parachutes that brought him safely back to Earth.
Hughes is part of a movement of people that believe the Earth is flat and that science and data that says otherwise is part of a vast conspiracy. Flat Earthers believe the earth is a flat disk, with Antarctica acting an an ice wall on its edges. Many belong to the Flat Earth Society, which houses a Wiki of basic beliefs of members on its website. However, they write, “because there are different schools of Flat Earth thought, the Wiki should not necessarily be taken as the “official” view of the Society. The specific beliefs of our members are widely varied, as should be expected from such a group of free-thinkers!”
“I don’t believe in science,” said Hughes, whose main sponsor for the rocket is Research Flat Earth. “I know about aerodynamics and fluid dynamics and how things move through the air, about the certain size of rocket nozzles, and thrust. But that’s not science, that’s just a formula. There’s no difference between science and science fiction.”