A California man who planned to launch himself 1,800 feet high Saturday in a homemade scrap-metal rocket — in an effort to prove that Earth is flat — said he is postponing the experiment after he couldn't get permission from a federal agency to conduct it on public land.
“It's still happening. We're just moving it three miles down the road,” Hughes told The Washington Post on Friday. “This is what happens anytime you have to deal with any kind of government agency.”
Hughes claimed the Bureau of Land Management said he couldn't launch his rocket as planned Saturday in Amboy. He claimed the federal agency had given him verbal permission more than a year ago, pending approval from the Federal Aviation Administration.
A BLM spokeswoman said its local field office had no record of speaking with Hughes and that he had not applied for the necessary special recreation permit to hold an event on public land.
"Someone from our local office reached out to him after seeing some of these news articles [about the launch], because that was news to them," BLM spokeswoman Samantha Storms said.
Representatives from the FAA did not immediately respond to requests for comment Friday.
Hughes said he had originally intended to arrive in Amboy on Wednesday to start setting up the rocket. The BLM's denial, along with some technical difficulties — a motor in his modified motor home quit working for a day — threw a wrench into his plans, according to Hughes.
“I don't see [the launch] happening until about Tuesday, honestly,” he said. “It takes three days to set up. . . . You know, it's not easy because it's not supposed to be easy.”
Assuming the 500-mph, mile-long flight through the Mojave Desert does not kill him, Hughes told the Associated Press, his journey into the atmosflat will mark the first phase of his ambitious flat-Earth space program.
Hughes’s ultimate goal is a subsequent launch that puts him miles above Earth, where the 61-year-old limousine driver hopes to photograph proof that it's a disk we all live on.
“It’ll shut the door on this ball Earth,” Hughes said in a flight fundraising interview with a flat-Earth group. Theories discussed during the interview included NASA being controlled by round-Earth Freemasons and Elon Musk making fake rockets from blimps.
Hughes promised the flat-Earth community that he would expose the conspiracy with his steam-powered rocket, which will launch from a heavily modified mobile home — though he acknowledged that he still had much to learn about rocket science.
“This whole tech thing,” he said in the June interview. “I’m really behind the eight ball.”
That said, Hughes isn’t a totally unproven engineer. He set a Guinness World Record in 2002 for a limousine jump, according to Ars Technica, and has been building rockets for years, albeit with mixed results.
“Okay, Waldo. 3 . . . 2 . . . 1!” someone yells in a test-fire video from 2012.
There’s a brief hiss of boiling water, then . . . nothing. So Hughes walks up to the engine and pokes it with a stick, at which point a thick cloud of steam belches out toward the camera.
He built his first manned rocket in 2014, the Associated Press reported, and managed to fly a quarter-mile over Winkelman, Ariz.
As seen in a YouTube video, the flight ended with Hughes being dragged, moaning, from the remains of the rocket. The injuries he suffered put him in a walker for two weeks, he said.
The 2014 flight was only a quarter of the distance of Saturday’s mile-long attempt.
And it was based on round-Earth technology.
Hughes only recently converted to flat-Eartherism, after struggling for months to raise funds for his follow-up flight over the Mojave.
It was originally scheduled for early 2016 in a Kickstarter campaign — “From Garage to Outer Space!” — that mentioned nothing about Illuminati astronauts and was themed after a NASCAR event.
“We want to do this and basically thumb our noses at all these billionaires trying to do this,” Hughes said in the pitch video, standing in his Apple Valley, Calif., living room, which he had plastered with drawings of his rockets.
“They have not put a man in space yet,” Hughes said. “There are 20 different space agencies here in America, and I’m the last person that’s put a man in a rocket and launched it.” Comparing himself to Evel Knievel, he promised to launch himself from a California racetrack that year as the first step in his steam-powered leap toward space.
The Kickstarter raised $310 of its $150,000 goal.
Hughes made other pitches, including a plan to fly over Texas in a “SkyLimo.” But he complained to Ars Technica last year about the difficulty of funding his dreams on a chauffeur’s meager salary.
A year later, he called into a flat-Earth community Web show to announce that he had become a recent convert.
“We were kind of looking for new sponsors for this. And I’m a believer in the flat Earth,” Hughes said. “I researched it for several months.”
The host sounded impressed. Hughes had actually flown in a rocket, he noted, whereas astronauts were merely paid actors performing in front of a CGI globe.
“John Glenn and Neil Armstrong are Freemasons,” Hughes agreed. “Once you understand that, you understand the roots of the deception.”
The host talked of “Elon Musk’s fake reality,” and Hughes talked of “anti-Christ, Illuminati stuff.” After half an hour of this, the host told his 300-some listeners to back Hughes’s exploration of space.
While there is no one hypothesis for what the flat Earth is supposed to look like, many believers envision a flat disk ringed by sea ice, which naturally holds the oceans in.
What’s beyond the sea ice, if anything, remains to be discovered.
“We need an individual who’s not compromised by the government,” the host told Hughes. “And you could be that man.”
A flat-Earth GoFundMe effort subsequently raised nearly $8,000 for Hughes.
By November, the AP reported, his $20,000 rocket had a coat of Rust-Oleum paint and “RESEARCH FLAT EARTH” inscribed on the side.
While his flat-Earth friends helped him finally get the thing built, the AP reported, Hughes will be making adjustments right up to the launch.
But he won’t be able to test the rocket before he climbs inside and attempts to steam himself at 500 mph across a mile of desert air. And if it’s a success, he's promised his backers an even riskier launch within the next year, into the space above the disk. He told Ars Technica last year that the second phase of his mission might involve floating in a balloon up to 20,000 feet above the ground, then rocket-packing himself into space.
“It’s scary as hell,” Hughes told the AP. “But none of us are getting out of this world alive.”
This is true. And yet some hope to live to see its edges.