Flat Earther ‘Mad Mike’ Killed In Homemade Rocket Crash


Michael “Mad Mike” Hughes was killed in the crash of his homemade steam-powered rocket Saturday in California. It was the second launch for Hughes in his mission to prove the Earth is flat by eventually taking photos of the lack of curvature of the planet from space. Hughes, 64, launched from the desert northeast of Los Angeles about 2 p.m. and the flight lasted about 20 seconds when the rocket crashed nose first at high speed.

As the rocket launched, the recovery parachute separated from the rocket. The craft arced to the right before reaching about 1,000 feet and then plummeting to the ground. The Science Channel was covering the launch as part of its series Homemade Astronauts. Medical personnel were on hand for the launch and reached the crash site immediately but there was no chance of survival.

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.


  1. Mad Mike wasn’t a flat earther. He was just scamming flat earthers to fund his thrill seeking. His plan was to launch his steam powered rocket to some low-ish altitude then launch a balloon once the rocket reached its apex, and have the balloon take the photos.

    There was no reason not to just launch the balloon from the ground, other than for Mad Mike to launch himself on his contraption as part of the ordeal.

    The balloon and photos were just the hook to get money to fund his rocket escapade from the flat earth folks.

    • I read that he planned to launch a rocket from a balloon, but I’m curious about the balloon from rocket bit. I tried Googling it, but to no avail – can you provide links or cites or further info? Thanks.

    • Not to speak ill of the dead, but anyone who gets on that whole flat earth thing for whatever reason is deserving of scorn and ridicule or better yet just being ignored. Wild conspiracy theories used to be harmless fun, but nowadays they’re being weaponized through social media. When large swathes of ignorant people get turned away from science and start buying wholesale into made-up alternate realities, well, the ending isn’t going to be pretty.

  2. Science Channel better engage premier legal counsel to handle the liability they clearly have. This was a foolish stunt that they endorsed – in the quest for ratings. This was clearly a tragedy on many levels, and one that was completely avoidable.

  3. If only that rocket had TAWS and GPWS !! I’m sure the NTSB will tell us that. (I’m being facetious based upon the Kobe crash blogosphere).

    Also, I wonder what sort of FAA authority they had to launch a human occupied rocket around Barstow ?

    This limo driver shoulda stuck to … limo driving …

  4. Sad that the safety system failed, the most important part of any system involving humans is that the safety system works and has proved to work before a human gets involved.

    Science Channel is deeply responsible for this crash, sincerely hope the guy has a widow who is going to sue them!

    • You’re joking, right? Or do you come from a place where there is no personal responsibility? This guy actually did this before, announced he was gonna do it again, and Discovery was filming it. This is America, dude.
      I hope he had life insurance, and I hope that if his family sues Discovery, they sue back, and bankrupt them.

  5. I don’t see Science Channel’s involvement in this incident other than following a story which fits the subject matter of their series. If they were smart, they approached it as reporting the news. If they offered to pay him or promised to pay him, things may be different.

    • “May” is indeed the operative word – their liability could be all over the place.

      If they’d hired him as a test pilot for their in-house rocket program, then their liability should run deep. If they covered it in a such a fashion that they had no influence on the project, then their liability should be zero.

      [BTW, I’m looking at ‘liability’ in an ethical, not necessarily legal, sense.]

      But suppose they offer to sponsor an existing rocketry program? This was his second proven flight, and his claim of an earlier one sounds credible. He was already committed to continuing his efforts. Sponsoring him wouldn’t cause the crash, it would only speed up his timetable. If anything, extra funds should ease the need to cut corners, increasing his safety. In my book, they’s still be morally off the hook

      But they walk a fine line!

  6. What’s really sad is how many people across social media immediately call for lawyers to get involved. The guy was undertaking risky ventures of his own free will, much like early aviators. He was responsible for his own fate, and I suspect he wouldn’t have had it any other way. No wonder innovation in so many fields (notably aviation) has crawled to a standstill.

  7. OK … am I missing something here? “Steam power” to achieve orbital flight??

    And as of yet, I still haven’t heard anything concerning the space flight licensing requirements. (CFR §415.8 Human space flight.)

  8. Russ, categorizing this particular rocket crash as an aviation story is a stretch. It’s no more of an aviation story than was Evel Knievel’s motorcycle jumps over busses.

    • On September 8th, 1974, famous daredevil Evel Knievel climbed into a steam-powered rocket and attempted to blast across Idaho’s Snake River Canyon:

      I should’ve sued Evel Knievel for wrecking my bicycle a dozen times or more. I jumped everything until Becoming a pilot ;).
      I really believed 50 years after that attempt rockets would be taking me to the moon station on a schedule.

  9. Like so many other Californians, fed up with how the state is run, Mike was simply trying to get out of the place as fast as he could.

  10. Mike was very shy of scientific knowledge if he thought that an altitude of 5,000 feet would disprove a round/spherical Earth, never mind the 2,000 feet he hoped to exceed during this test. I wonder if he had any advisors who discussed spherical geometry with him? Did he have any advisors at all?