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'Mad Mike' wasn't trying to prove 'flat Earth' theory on ill-fated homemade rocket launch

Daredevil Mike Hughes tragically passed away during a launch accident this past Saturday (Feb. 22). This image is from August 25, 2019, Amboy, California, USA: After a long month of launch attempts in August in 100 degree heat ''Mad'' MIKE HUGHES and crew dealt with a 5th scrub launch during filming of the Science Channel series ''Homemade Astronauts.''
Daredevil Mike Hughes tragically passed away during a launch accident this past Saturday (Feb. 22). This image is from August 25, 2019, Amboy, California, USA: After a long month of launch attempts in August in 100 degree heat ''Mad'' MIKE HUGHES and crew dealt with a 5th scrub launch during filming of the Science Channel series ''Homemade Astronauts.''
(Image: © Gene Blevins/Zuma/Newscom)

Following the tragic death of 'Mad' Mike Hughes, we revisit the real reasons why he launched himself into the air aboard his homemade steam rocket, knowing how risky the stunt was. 

This past weekend (Feb. 22), Hughes, 64, a daredevil and amateur rocketeer, tragically died during the launch while filming for the Science Channel's show "Homemade Astronauts."

Hughes was attempting to launch to 5,000 feet (1.5 kilometers) into the air on private property near Barstow, California. He built the rocket himself with the help of his partner Waldo Stakes as part of the show (the Science Channel has yet to comment on whether or not production will continue) that set out to highlight amateur teams working to reach incredible altitudes.

Related: 'Mad' Mike's steam rocket grounded by Craigslist water heater 

According to witnesses at the scene of the launch, Hughes lifted off in his rocket, but soon after, the rocket crashed into the ground. According to Stakes, who was on-site for the launch, Hughes was killed in the event. Hughes crashed at about 1:52 p.m. EST (1752 GMT), according to the Daily Press of Victorville.

Justin Chapman, a freelance journalist, witnessed the crash along with his wife, he told the AP. According to Chapman, the rocket "appeared to rub against the launch apparatus, which might have torn the parachutes attached to it," AP reported

The risks that come with launching

In 2018, Hughes successfully launched to 1,875 feet (0.57 kilometers) in an earlier version of the homemade rocket. But, while that launch was a success, he told Space.com in a 2019 interview that he landed pretty hard in the Mojave desert, and this hard landing even caused him to get a compressed vertebra. 

Especially with a difficult, painful landing under his belt, Hughes was aware of how risky the daredevil feat was. "It's a dangerous thing to do," he told Space.com. "Anything [going wrong] could be catastrophic."

"This is a 50-50 deal," Stakes added in a 2019 interview with Space.com. "When you climb inside the rocket there's a 50% chance you're not gonna climb back out of it." But, Stakes added at the time, "Mike is a daredevil and he's willing to take the risk." 

Stakes and Hughes meant for this launch to be a steppingstone to the creation of what they called their "rockoon," a combination of a rocket and balloon. The "rockoon" would work by means of a balloon taking a rocket up fairly high into the air (about 22 to 25 miles), where it would disconnect from the rocket, which would soar to the Kármán line, or the line signifying the beginning of space, Stakes told Space.com. The passenger, who was to be Hughes, would then return to Earth via the help of a parachute. 

Debunking conspiracy coverage

So, if Hughes knew how dangerous it would be to launch himself in this rocket and had already suffered from a difficult landing previously, why did he choose to launch?

Following this tragic accident, a common notion has reemerged in the media. People are saying that Hughes was launching to "prove" the Earth is flat, as Hughes is openly a believer in a number of conspiracy theories, including the flat Earth theory. But, according to Hughes, there was no tie between these conspiracies and his love for launching rockets.

In a 2017 documentary about the daredevil entitled "Rocketman: Mad Mike's Mission to Prove the Flat Earth," Hughes stated, "I'm not going to take anyone else's word for it, or NASA, or especially Elon Musk with SpaceX," he said. "I'm going to build my own rocket right here and I'm going to see it with my own eyes what shape this world we live on."

However, in the interview with Space.com, Hughes clarified, "although I do believe in the flat Earth, this was never an attempt to prove that." 

"This flat Earth has nothing to do with the steam rocket launches, it never did, it never will. I'm a daredevil!" he added. He additionally shared that he wanted to launch "to inspire people."

Follow Chelsea Gohd on Twitter @chelsea_gohd. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

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  • wxman2003
    He may have not believed the earth was round, but he proved that the laws of physics are valid. He gets the Darwin award.

    RKrJIIxY7hchaView: https://media.giphy.com/media/RKrJIIxY7hcha/giphy.gif
    Reply
  • Alien8
    His demise was inevitable, not very bright people have a tendency to kill themselves. Fortunately, he didn't take anyone else with him.
    Reply
  • Hari
    Tributes rightly for Katherine Johnson while Hughes is mocked. He just wanted to go higher and faster then the rest of us and paid the price. Preferable than dying in a hospital bed from old age.
    Reply
  • tcumming
    I think the article made a good point.

    If Mad Mike wanted to prove the earth was flat, all he had to do was send up a camera. He didn't have to send himself up.
    Reply
  • Lobo
    wxman2003 said:
    He gets the Darwin award.

    He is survived by two kids, and was age 64 anyway.

    Alien8 said:
    His demise was inevitable, not very bright people have a tendency to kill themselves. Fortunately, he didn't take anyone else with him.

    The vast majority of not very bright people will live into old age. And it doesn't make sense to label as "not very bright" someone who was capable of building and launching rockets big enough to carry a person. The term "rocket scientist" is used to describe highly intelligent people for a reason. Rocketry is dangerous business, no matter how intelligent you are.
    Reply
  • abstractnotions
    There is some evidence, however, for flat Mike theory.
    Reply
  • wxman2003
    Hari said:
    Tributes rightly for Katherine Johnson while Hughes is mocked. He just wanted to go higher and faster then the rest of us and paid the price. Preferable than dying in a hospital bed from old age.

    One was very intelligent, the other was not.
    Reply
  • Alien8
    Lobo said:
    He is survived by two kids, and was age 64 anyway.



    The vast majority of not very bright people will live into old age. And it doesn't make sense to label as "not very bright" someone who was capable of building and launching rockets big enough to carry a person. The term "rocket scientist" is used to describe highly intelligent people for a reason. Rocketry is dangerous business, no matter how intelligent you are.

    Intelligent people don't strap themselves into an unproven rocket built in their backyard shed. Any fool can build a rocket that goes a few hundred or thousand feet, you only need a few seconds of thrust in the right direction.

    An intelligent person would look at it and think to themselves "holy crap, there's no way I'm getting in that thing".

    Just because someone can do a few calculations and build a rocket, it doesn't mean they are intelligent. My computer can do those calcs too and it's as smart as a house brick.

    Intelligent people have the ability to analyse a situation, including those of their own making, and see the problems and dangers that are present, and act sensibly in response to those.

    The fact that this guy killed himself in a dodgy rocket which was basically just a big steam pressure tank with a nosecone and seat proves that he didn't have the sense or brainpower to see the dangers. Of course, he may have just been plain nuts, and being a flat earther kind of points in that direction...
    Reply
  • joecow
    Dude Alien I get what your saying but being intelligent and taking crazy risks while being aware of the risks doesn't make you unintelligent.. stupid maybe, crazy maybe but it doesn't mean your not smart. Also it just depends on how someone wants to use the words in this case it seems your using intelligence to mean wisdom or anything you agree with being sensible. what he did yes was not very wise maybe, maybe not very sensible but so were a lot things done by the pioneers in many fields including flight. He did have a successful launch before too but we seem to be forgetting that. You make comparison with your computer but thats really apples and oranges I think.. your laptop cant build a rocket by its self.. You don't need just calculations but the ingenuity to put those calculations into practice, you have to build the rockit, and make guesses for x factors no one can control and a computers not always gonna get right.. so many things go into building rockits and even teams of scientist can mess it up. what he did privately is actually kind of remarkable if you really think about it..

    that said it doesn't mean it wasnt foolish to launch himself on it and it doesn't mean he wasn't aware of that foolishness. His name he took on even says he flat out knows the risks and the foolishness of it.. I think its a big difference when someone who is aware of the risks chooses to take them but someone who has no grasp of the risks takes them while not aware they could die from it..

    Last there are likely plenty of drooling morons who wouldn't dare launch themselves in a rockit but don't know the stars and our sun are the same thing but far away, or think paper is yummy or dirt makes great shampoo but that doesn't mean such drooling morons are more intelligent then this guy... Shoot I have a lot of common sense and I know the earth is not flat but that doesnt mean Im smarter then he was either.. intelligence is measured in so many ways after all. You can be a smart fool or a ignorant sage

    Your big argument is that he doesn't understand the risks but the more I read up on him the clearer it is to me that he did understand the risks but choose to go through it anyways.
    Reply
  • Hawkstein
    As it turns out you're pretty much all wrong:

    1) He was a daredevil first and foremost, dying doing what he loved seems like an alright way to go to me.

    2) The whole flat earth thing was a just a PR stunt (as per his his public relations representative), dude was probably smarter than most of us.
    Reply