Daredevil “Mad Mike” Hughes died on Saturday, February 22, after an accident during the latest launch of his homemade, steam-powered rocket near Barstow, California.
Hughes had already piloted his rocket to several thousand feet in a successful test launch in 2018, but Saturday’s effort, which was being filmed for a new Science Channel series called Homemade Astronauts, ended in disaster.
The launch was supposed to see the 62-year-old self-taught engineer blast to an altitude of 5,000 feet inside the rocket, with both returning gently to Earth using several parachutes.
It’s not clear at this stage what exactly went wrong, but a video of Saturday’s tragedy shows what appears to be a parachute coming away from the rocket shortly after launch, while Hughes remained inside the vehicle, which later crashed to Earth.
An NPR report suggested the trouble began when a piece of ground-based launch kit apparently tore off the parachute can as the rocket blasted off.
The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department later confirmed that deputies were called at 1:52 p.m. on Saturday before pronouncing a man deceased “after the rocket crashed in the open desert during a rocket launch event.”
The idea of a “homemade” rocket sounds like a risky proposition whichever way you look at it, but that didn’t stop daredevil Hughes from climbing inside and launching himself skyward to put his technology to the test.
His ultimate ambition was to ride a “rock-oon” (part rocket, part balloon) all the way to the Karman line, an area 62 miles above Earth generally recognized as the beginning of space. The plan was for the balloon to carry him skyward for the first part of the journey before Hughes fired the rocket to complete the trip to space. Saturday’s launch was part of efforts to raise money and awareness for the Karman line trip.
Hughes’ flat-Earth beliefs were well documented, though he insisted his rocket trips had nothing to do with his rocket launches, telling Space.com last year that he was simply a daredevil with a passion for rockets.
“Our thoughts and prayers go out to Mike Hughes’ family and friends during this difficult time,” the Science Channel said in a statement, adding, “It was always his dream to do this launch and Science Channel was there to chronicle his journey.”
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