Reaching the skies has always been one of man’s dreams. Going beyond the clouds to the stars is another. Both dreams, however, require more than just theory and study but long years, even decades, of testing and, in modern society, government regulation. That hasn’t stopped dreamers from crafting their own aircraft to beat the odds and the system. Sometimes they survive with only a few bruises or broken bones. Sometimes, like “Mad Mike” Hughes, they, unfortunately, don’t.
Although he already had a reputation as a stuntman, Mike Hughes gained more fame and notoriety barely three years ago when he announced to the world that he would be building his own steam-powered rocket to take him just a bit higher than commercial planes. Naturally, that brought in the scrutiny of the US Federal Aviation Administration that Hughes had no fondness for. After getting around some legal hurdles, Hughes rode his self-made rocket for the first time in March 2018 and lived to tell the tale.
Lightning didn’t strike twice for the daredevil in his second attempted launch on Saturday. Based on stunned eyewitnesses testimony and video footage, the rocket’s parachute tore off just right after launch. Moments after spiraling through the air, the rocket crashed off highway 247 in Barstow, California. Hughes was 64.
Mad Mike’s rocket wasn’t exactly a rocket in the strict sense, requiring a ramp to direct its take off. The end goal was to have a rocket that would launch him 62 miles into the air, just where the Earth’s atmosphere ended. The last successful launch in 2018 only brought him 1,800 feet above the ground, far below the intermediary goal of 5,000 feet.
Hughe’s ambition wasn’t without controversy. His ultimate purpose, other than showing The Man that anyone can build rockets, was to document his flight and prove once and for all that the Earth was flat. Somewhat ironically, his fatal launch was being documented by Discovery’s Science Channel for a series on “Homemade Astronauts”.