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'Mad Mike' wasn't trying to prove 'flat Earth' theory on ill-fated 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 credit: 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 (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.

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 (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 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 "Anything [going wrong] could be catastrophic."

"This is a 50-50 deal," Stakes added in a 2019 interview with "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 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, 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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Chelsea Gohd joined as an intern in the summer of 2018 and returned as a Staff Writer in 2019. After receiving a B.S. in Public Health, she worked as a science communicator at the American Museum of Natural History. Chelsea has written for publications including Scientific American, Discover Magazine Blog, Astronomy Magazine, Live Science, All That is Interesting, AMNH Microbe Mondays blog, The Daily Targum and Roaring Earth. When not writing, reading or following the latest space and science discoveries, Chelsea is writing music, singing, playing guitar and performing with her band Foxanne (@foxannemusic). You can follow her on Twitter @chelsea_gohd. 

  • Aaron C
    At least Mike was pursuing his dream and if you have to go then this the way to do it, in my opinion. Mad props to Mad Mike for going out with flare, in true daredevil fashion. I don't agree with the rest of his theories, but I very much agree with his philosophy of living his life to the fullest
  • RDibird
    Just to be clear, this launch by Mike was NOT to prove the earth is flat. This launch was a stepping stone event. It was the filming of his cable tv show, which he hoped would catapult his fundraising to build his "Rockoon" - Rocket on a Balloon - which would have taken him to the edge of space.

    He was a pretty quiet and lonely guy really - driven by the idea of beating another record. Doing something that he knew that the vast majority of the rest of us would never dream of doing, is what drove him. He loved putting in the effort every week to do his radio show on my radio network - Flat Earth Radio Live and a simulcast video stream on our Youtube channel Ferret Radio Live - watch Mike's previous shows here:
    Mike was a daredevil who died doing what daredevils often do - he died trying.

    Russell Dibird

    PS The earth really is FLAT and NOT MOVING under your feet. I'm available to discusss or debate anyone, anytime on this topic.