'Mad' Flat-Earther to Launch Himself 5,000 Feet Up on a Homemade Steam Rocket Sunday

Update for Aug. 12: "Mad" Mike Hughes and his team are now targeting a launch for this upcoming Saturday (Aug. 17) after an issue with the steam-powered rocket's heater arose Aug. 12.

"Mad" Mike Hughes — a flat-Earther, rocket builder and daredevil who previously launched himself 1,875 feet (572 meters) into the air on a homemade rocket — will attempt to launch himself again to a much higher altitude this Sunday (Aug. 11). The attempt will be filmed by the Science Channel for the upcoming new series "Homemade Astronauts."

In March 2018, after a few failed attempts, Hughes successfully launched aboard his rocket and survived the trip, landing via parachute. The then-62-year-old Hughes walked away with some soreness and a compressed vertebra, he told Space.com. In the upcoming launch attempt, Hughes will aim for an even greater height:  5,000 feet (1,500 m). 

Hughes will lift off aboard a refurbished, improved version of the steam-powered rocket he launched last year. He told Space.com that he's using steam to propel his rocket because it is both inexpensive and relatively simple. "There's no fuel cost; it's water," he said. "Homemade Astronauts," which is set to premiere in 2020, showcases civilians who endeavor to build and launch rockets and equipment for spaceflight. 

Related: 8 Times Flat-Earthers Tried to Challenge Science (and Failed)

"Mad" Mike Hughes and fellow rocketeer Waldo Stakes are among the crowd preparing to watch Hughes launch in March, 2018. Hughes will launch again this upcoming Sunday, Aug. 11 and his rocketeering work will be featured on the Science Channel's upcoming series "Homemade Astronauts"  (Image credit: The Science Channel)

Hughes again will take off from a mobile platform — another unique aspect of this home-brewed launch setup. In 2018, he launched "from the back of a motor home that I bought off Craigslist," he said, adding that this time, he will launch "on the back of a semi that was given to me." Sunday's liftoff will take place thanks to funding from hud, a casual dating and hookup app (yes, really), according to a press release.  

In coverage of his 2018 launch, media outlets reported that Hughes was launching to photograph the curvature of the Earth and "prove" that the Earth is flat. This was after Hughes told AP News, "I don't believe in science … There's no difference between science and science fiction."

However, Hughes refuted (some of) these claims in an interview with Space.com. Though he does believe the Earth is flat and he ascribes to many other conspiracy theories (there isn't enough time or space to explain them all), these beliefs are irrelevant to his career as an amateur rocketeer, he said. "I believe the Earth is flat," Hughes said. But "this flat Earth has nothing to do with the steam rocket launches," he added. "It never did; it never will. I'm a daredevil!" 

Hughes aims for Sunday's launch to be the first step in one day reaching the Karman line, a boundary signifying the beginning of space. Now, even if this upcoming launch is successful, it will still be very far from the approximately 327,000 feet (100,000 m) that Hughes will have to reach to achieve this ambitious goal.

'Mad' Mike Hughes stands beside his rocket in his roadside launch area near Amboy, California on Nov. 27, 2017. Hughes aims to launch to high highest altitude ever this upcoming Sunday, Aug. 11.  (Image credit: Paul Buck/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

To launch to the Karman line, Hughes and fellow rocketeer Waldo Stakes are developing a "rock-oon," which is part rocket, part balloon. Essentially, the balloon would attach to the rocket and carry Hughes up part of the way, and then he would fire the hydrogen-peroxide-powered rocket to travel the rest of the distance. 

Stakes helps to design these rockets alongside Hughes, who later builds them. They hope to have their "rock-oon" completed and ready to launch 18 months to two years after they finish fundraising $2.8 million for the build, Stakes told Space.com. As of now, the success and development of the "rock-oon" is yet to be seen. 

Others set to appear on "Homemade Astronauts" include Ky Michaelson, known as the "real Rocketman"' — who aims to be the first amateur to launch a crewed, fuel-powered rocket — and Cameron Smith, who is building a spacesuit that he will test by riding a specialized hot-air balloon up to 60,000 feet (18,000 m). 

"As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, 'Homemade Astronauts' looks at a group of ambitious individuals who are carrying on in the American tradition of finding their own way and making their dreams come true with old-fashioned grit and self-determination," Marc Etkind, general manager at the Science Channel, said in a statement.

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Chelsea Gohd
Senior Writer

Chelsea “Foxanne” Gohd joined Space.com in 2018 and is now a Senior Writer, writing about everything from climate change to planetary science and human spaceflight in both articles and on-camera in videos. With a degree in Public Health and biological sciences, Chelsea has written and worked for institutions including the American Museum of Natural History, Scientific American, Discover Magazine Blog, Astronomy Magazine and Live Science. When not writing, editing or filming something space-y, Chelsea "Foxanne" Gohd is writing music and performing as Foxanne, even launching a song to space in 2021 with Inspiration4. You can follow her on Twitter @chelsea_gohd and @foxannemusic.