This is how 'Mad' Mike Hughes went from flat-earther to astronaut
Who hasn't ever wanted to be an astronaut? For many people, the dream of taking off in a rocket and travelling into space is one of the most exciting prospects imaginable. However, you have to be smart, dedicated and highly-trained. You have to be an expert pilot, engineer and scientist in your own right, and even then only the best of the best could possibly stand a chance.
Personally, I just didn't measure up. As for going it alone? Well, building a machine capable of launching you into space is no simple feat - especially if you don't work at NASA, which estimates that the average cost of launching a Space Shuttle (as of 2011) totals around $450 million per mission.
It seems like for your average Joe, getting to space is all but impossible. Yet despite these obstacles, an ordinary American man is trying to do it anyway, with a homemade rocket that's as shoddy as a soapbox race car.
"Mad Mike Hughes" is a self-described flat-earther; somebody who believes that, contrary to the beliefs of Galileo and Copernicus and almost every single learned scholar since the days of antiquity, the planet Earth is not actually shaped like a sphere, but a flat disc. Hughes believes that the government and the world of academia has (for several thousand years) conspired to keep the public ignorant of the planet's true shape. Whether ironic or not, the flat-earth movement has actually seen a steady growth in members on social media lately (although it's impossible to tell how many of them are actually just trolls) and while most of them are content to bicker with the more rationally-minded on Twitter, Hughes wants to prove his flat-earth credentials by actually flying into space so he can observe the shape of the Earth with his own eyes.
To that end, Hughes has been building bespoke rockets of his very own, using materials he's acquired himself, in order to fulfil his dream of spaceflight. The 61-year-old former limo driver has spent the last four years attempting to build tiny steam-powered rockets, with the eventual goal of overcoming the colossal gravitational force a planet with a weight of approximately 13,166,800,000,000,000,000,000,000 lbs. Hughes built his first rocket back in 2014, launched from a heavily modified mobile home, which flew for about a quarter-mile in one minute before crashing down in Winkelman, Arizona. Although he was injured as a result of the failed launch, Hughes was undeterred by his own failure, despite the fact that his craft is literally powered by boiling water.
In 2016 Hughes launched a Kickstarter campaign “From Garage to Outer Space! to raise funds for his amateur rocketry. Unfortunately the campaign only managed to raise a measly $310. Back then, Hughes seemed to subscribe to the same "Ball Earth" belief as the rest of humanity. Yet once he expressed a belief in the flat-earth theory, the community rallied around him and he was able to raise $7,875 to shoot off into space and take a picture of the disk-shaped Earth as proof. Hughes' second rocket launch was first scheduled for the 25 November 2017, which was later rescheduled for 2 December, after he had difficulty obtaining permission from the Bureau of Land Management to conduct his launch.
On 3 February 2018, Hughes live-streamed an launch attempt from a site in the Mojave Desert, but his rocket failed to ignite - something which Hughes blamed on a bad O-ring. Footage showed Hughes disheartened by the failure of his tiny vessel, and he stated to cameras: "Maybe I left a plug in there ... I pulled the plunger five different times... I considered beating on the rocket nozzle from the underneath side. But you can't get anyone under there. It'll kill you. It'll scald you to death. It'll blow the skin and muscle off your bones."
Mike's latest attempt, a manned flight, ended in ignominy and injury for him. At 3.00pm on March 25, (again in the middle of the Mojave desert), Hughes launched another steam-powered rocket into the sky, which he was riding in, reaching a max speed of around 350 mph before pulling his parachute. That's pretty fast, but when you consider the fact that a rocket typically reaches speeds of 17,600 before breaking the Earths orbit, then it's not that impressive.
After using nearly 70 gallons of water to shoot 1,800 feet into the air, Mike was forced to eject himself from the rocket, and deployed two parachutes on the way down. Despite being hospitalised by a heavy landing, he remained undeterred when the paramedics came for him, and stated: "Am I glad I did it? Yeah. I guess. I’ll feel it in the morning ... I won’t be able to get out of bed. At least I can go home and have dinner and see my cats tonight."
It's easy to scoff at Hughes, to laugh and jeer at his beliefs and his lofty goal. But it's important to remember that he's risking everything in attempting this: his financial security, his reputation, and his life and health could all be seriously compromised by his DIY rocket science. It's clear that he's extremely unqualified, in almost every way that matters, to be an astronaut ... except for one. It's obvious to me that Mike Hughes, even if he is as "mad" as he's been called, has got the cojones of Neil Armstrong, and the same determination and grit as the entire national space agency ... it's just too bad he doesn't have the training or qualifications. Until then, here's to you rocket man: you're not the man they think you are online.
Featured illustration by Egarcigu