First published by Gas2. Reprinted with permission.
All science is junk science, in the view of many. All those highfalutin eggheads in their white lab coats, slide rules suspended saucily from their belts, are charlatans — people who spin out fantastical fairy tales worthy of Roald Dahl in an effort to pry money out of governments and weak-minded patrons. On November 25, a 61 year old man who calls himself “Mad” Mike Hughes will launch himself into the atmosphere in a homebuilt, steam-powered rocket as part of his master plan to prove that the world really is flat.
Hughes is dismissive of space pioneers like NASA astronauts John Glenn and Neil Armstrong, calling them “Freemasons.” All of them have contributed to “the roots of the deception” that the Earth is round. “This is the king of the deceptions,” Hughes says. “Once this domino falls, this is it.” He has equally harsh things to say about Elon Musk, calling him “a giant fraud.” Among other things, Hughes is a former motorcycle racer, but he is no fan of fellow racer and stunt man Evel Knievel. “He was an average stunt guy. He stole his look from Elvis.”
Driving a limousine is Hughes’ primary occupation these days. The relatively low pay (about $15 an hour including tips) and long hours make building a rocket a daunting task, but Hughes is not a man who is easily deterred. His rocket is made of aluminum scrounged from metal fabrication shops and painted in a nice shade of red Rustoleum. The launch vehicle for his rocket is a used mobile home he bought on Craigslist for $1,500.
To raise money for his venture, “Mad” Mike began a Kickstarter campaign that raised a total of $310. His second attempt on GoFundMe was more successful. It raised $7,890, just slightly more than the goal. He has spent less than $20,000 on the entire project. “I researched it for several months in between doing everything else — you know, I’ve still got to make a living and all that kind of stuff, and building this rocket actually eats up a lot of my time,” reports the Associated Press. “But when I’m not doing that, I research things.” His primary sponsor for this latest mission is Research Flat Earth.
Hughes is one of those people women look back on and think to themselves, “I can’t believe I actually used to date that guy!” Calling him “eccentric” is being kind. He has worked as a stunt driver, raced motorcycles, and been part of NASCAR pit crews. He stopped being a stunt man after breaking his back twice.
He has flown a homemade rocket before. In 2014, he traveled about a quarter mile in one before activating his two scrounged parachutes — one of which was full of holes and the other failed to deploy. He spent three days hobbling around with the help of a walker after that escapade. “Yeah, it was a scary moment,” he said afterwards. “I had never parachuted before.”
Eccentric people tend to attract other eccentrics. Hughes built his rocket at the “Rocket Ranch” in Apple Valley, California, on land leased from Waldo Stakes, the CEO of Land Speed Research Vehicles. Stakes is currently working on building a car that can go 2,000 mph. “Nothing is out of reach,” he says. “Anything can be done. You just have to put enough money, time, and thought into it.”
The actual rocket flight will take place in the town of Amboy in the Mojave desert near the original Route 66. In fact, the fictional town of Radiator Springs in the Pixar movie Cars is said to be based on the town. It is owned by yet another eccentric, Albert Okura, who purchased it in 2005 for $435,000.
Okura has a dream just like Hughes. He wants to sell more chickens than any other person in the history of the world. Okura tells AP, “It is absolutely the most wacky promotional proposal I have had since I purchased the entire town in 2005. He is a true daredevil and I want to be part of it.”
The “it” in this case, is a rocket designed and built by Hughes. “I don’t believe in science,” Hughes says. “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.”
On November 25, after Hughes picks up his spacesuit and leaves extra food for his four cats, he will begin heating 70 gallons of water to make steam for his rocket. The plan is to fly over the town of Amboy at an altitude of 1,800 feet at a speed of 500 miles per hour. After traveling approximately one mile, Hughes will activate two parachutes that will (hopefully) waft him gently back to earth. One presumes he will not be using the parachutes from his 2014 escapade again.
Spectators are forbidden due to safety concerns — you never know where homebuilt rockets will go, do you? But people can watch live on Hughes’ YouTube channel. “If you’re not scared to death, you’re an idiot,” Hughes says. “It’s scary as hell, but none of us are getting out of this world alive. I like to do extraordinary things that no one else can do, and no one in the history of mankind has designed, built and launched himself in his own rocket. I’m a walking reality show.”
Hughes says that after the flight he intends to leverage his newfound fame to run for governor of California. He will also begin work on his next project, a high-altitude balloon that will carry his next rocket ship high above the earth. From there, Hughes will light the fuse and climb high enough to snap a photograph that exposes the “round world” notion as the fraud it has always been.
At long last, the ravings of lunatics such as Aristotle abut the world being round will be exposed as carefully crafted lies. As the BBC points out, the noted Greek philosopher penned these words in 350 B.C. “Again, our observations of the stars make it evident, not only that the Earth is circular, but also that it is a circle of no great size. For quite a small change of position to south or north causes a manifest alteration of the horizon.” Madness! Sheer madness!! And “Mad” Mike Hughes is going to prove it, after which he will probably be tapped to fill an important position in the Trump maladministration.
Note: for some inexplicable reason, while writing this story, I couldn’t help remembering the clever Volkswagen ad from 2012 that plays on the lyrics of Elton John’s Rocket Man. Different people hear those lyrics in different ways and the ad plays on that fact brilliantly. I have a suggestion for Hughes. Loop that video and replay it endlessly during the journey. If he is about to die in the interests of debunking science, he should do so with a smile on his face.
Editor’s note: In all seriousness, it is this sort of anti-science thought that drives much Republican policy, Republican talking points, anti-cleantech rhetoric and viewpoints, and overall wackiness in the USA. I don’t know what went wrong exactly that this has become such a common problem — this dramatic misunderstanding of what science is and how to deal with it — but something has clearly gone wrong.