UPDATE: Nov. 25 ― Hughes has had to postpone his planned launch for the time being, The Washington Post reported Friday. Hughes said he was unable to obtain the required permits to launch on public land, but now plans for it to take place sometime next week on private property.
A self-taught rocket engineer who claims he believes the earth is flat plans to launch himself nearly 2,000 feet in the air on a homemade steam rocket this Saturday.
“Mad” Mike Hughes, a 61-year-old limo driver, told The Associated Press that he’ll be lifting off over the California ghost town of Amboy, traveling about a mile at 500 mph, reaching 1,800 feet in altitude and then exiting via parachute.
The amateur rocket scientist has been making national headlines not just for the stunt, but for his self-professed bizarre attitude toward science, given the circumstances.
For one thing, his primary sponsor in the endeavor is reportedly a group called Research Flat Earth. Photos that Hughes has posted on Facebook show the words “RESEARCH FLAT EARTH” painted in large letters across the bright red rocket’s side.
“I don’t believe in science,” Hughes told AP. “I know about aerodynamics and fluid dynamics and how things move through the air, about the certain size of rocket nozzles, and thrust. But that’s not science, that’s just a formula. There’s no difference between science and science fiction.”
His ultimate plan, he said, is to launch a rocket into space so he can see for himself whether or not the earth is flat.
While a homemade rocket built by someone who claims to not believe in science seems a little alarming, Hughes does have some experience under his belt. In 2014, he flew a manned rocket more than 1,000 feet over Winkelman, Arizona.
In 2016, he planned another launch up the side of Texas’ Palo Duro Canyon, but ultimately canceled after some of his last-minute tests were “absolutely brutal,” the Amarillo Globe-News reported at the time. He was also awarded a 2002 Guinness World Record for the longest ramp jump in a limousine.
The Washington Post has raised the question of whether Hughes’ flat-eartherism may be more opportunistic than sincere, pointing out that he only “converted” to the philosophy after failing to come up with enough money to fund his latest project on his own. The rocket has cost about $20,000 so far, according to AP.
When Hughes first conceived of the launch, he attempted to fund it via a Kickstarter campaign that didn’t mention any skepticism about science or the generally acknowledged shape of the planet.
According to Hughes’ website, the launch is set to take place Saturday. The event won’t be open to the public, but “will be available on internet [pay-per-view].”
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Palo Duro Canyon was in California. It’s in Texas.