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 (opens in new tab), 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.
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 (opens in new tab).
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."
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