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'Mad Mike' Hughes, daredevil who built a homemade steam rocket, dies in launch attempt

A view of "Mad Mike" Hughes' rocket, taken on Aug. 12, 2019.
A view of "Mad Mike" Hughes' rocket, taken on Aug. 12, 2019.
(Image: © Darren Shuster/Pop Culture PR)

Daredevil "Mad Mike" Hughes died Saturday (Feb. 22) during his latest attempt to launch into the sky on a homemade rocket powered by steam. 

Hughes, 64, was attempting to launch 5,000 feet (1,524 meters) into the air from a location near Barstow, California, in a rocket he built with partner Waldo Stakes. The Science Channel, which was filming the launch attempt as part of the future documentary series "Homemade Astronauts," confirmed Hughes' death to Space.com. 

"Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family during this difficult time," Science Channel representatives said in a statement. "It was always his dream to do this launch, and Science was there to chronicle his journey."

Related: 'Mad' Mike's Steam Rocket Grounded by Craigslist Water Heater

According to CNN, the San Bernadino County Sheriff's office responded to the fatal rocket crash off Highway 247 in Barstow. NBC News reported that the launch lifted off from private property in the Barstow area. 

The Sheriff's Office did not identify Hughes in a statement, saying only that authorities had pronounced a man dead at the scene of the rocket crash, CNN added. The Science Channel later confirmed Hughes' death. 

Hughes has repeatedly tried to launch homemade rockets and actually did launch an earlier rocket in 2018. During that flight, which reached a maximum height of 1,875 feet (572 m), Hughes suffered compressed vertebrae but still aimed to launch ever higher. 

Attempts to launch this current steam rocket in August 2019 were prevented by a faulty water heater.

In the past, Hughes said he believed the Earth was flat, with some publications stating his launches were aimed at seeing the Earth's curvature for himself. In August 2019, however, Hughes told Space.com that his flat-Earth belief was not his launch motivator. He was simply a daredevil, pushing the envelope of homemade rockets, Hughes said.

Hughes and Stakes made up one of three different teams working to build and launch their own rockets while being filmed for the Science Channel's "Homemade Astronauts" series. The teams were shooting to get as close as possible to the Karman line, a boundary about 62 miles (100 kilometers) above Earth. 

The Science Channel series is being produced by World of Wonder. It is currently in production and will premiere some time in 2020. 

Email Tariq Malik at tmalik@space.com or follow him @tariqjmalik. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook and Instagram.

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  • Lord Arnold
    Big dummy went & got himself killed. I feel bad for his family & friends. My condolences go out to them.
    I wonder how high he got & what went wrong however.
    Reply
  • Hari
    Will he be honored on the Space Mirror at KSC, Fla for dead U.S. astronauts :eek:
    Reply
  • Sam
    Newser said the parachute ripped off at launch. Sounds like it deployed early. I doubt not deployed it would rip off. Too many Gs maybe could do it. Mont not strong enough.
    Reply
  • Dave Haynie
    Sorry this happened, and condolences to the family. But a guy who doesn't believe in basic science launching himself in a rocket he built. Seriously, what could possibly go wrong? I was expecting this outcome with every launch.
    Reply
  • danR
    Curious end for a guy who was trying to 'prove' the Earth was flat.
    Now the Earth proves the flat-earther is flat.
    Reply
  • Hawkstein
    Lord Arnold said:
    Big dummy went & got himself killed. I feel bad for his family & friends. My condolences go out to them.
    I wonder how high he got & what went wrong however.

    Pretty obvious from the video, the 'chute deployed way too early after launching... there was no chute available for landing and therefore SPLAT. Sad but also a bit funny... like a Road Runner cartoon? Condolences to all his friends and family.
    Reply
  • LijeBaley
    This tragedy just confirms the fact that the so-called Science Channel is not about science. It's about pseudo science and stunts
    Reply
  • Anonymous010
    LijeBaley said:
    This tragedy just confirms the fact that the so-called Science Channel is not about science. It's about pseudo science and stunts

    Discovery Channel is more or less the same. They air "fake-u-mentaries" that are meant to look like real documentaries about things like the Loch Ness Monster or the extinct megalodon with completely fabricated information from fake experts. If you watch closely during the credits, you'll see the "for entertainment purposes only" disclaimer.

    They don't do this to intentionally mislead people (even though that is what happens), though. They do it for the ratings, which keeps the lights on. Everything costs too much to run these days.
    Reply
  • bijurico
    Well... he didn't prove the world was flat, but he did verify Newton's law of universal gravitation...
    Reply