Even NASA had disasters with its moon missions, so was it really fair to expect Mike Hughes to build a rocket, fly to space, and prove once and for all that the Earth is flat without a few hitches along the way?
Hughes — a 61-year-old daredevil-turned-rocket-maker-turned-round-Earth-skeptic — intends to launch himself 52 miles into the sky by the end of year. Then he'll see for himself whether the planet is shaped like a ball, as most of humankind has believed for centuries, or like a Frisbee, as most flat-earth philosophies assume.
The problem is, Hughes said, the hot-air balloon, rocket pack and space suit he needs to get him to the required vantage point (we're hazy on the specific logistics) will cost about $2 million. He's a limo driver by trade.
To raise the money, Hughes was going to launch himself a mile across the Mojave Desert back in November, in a steam-powered rocket with “RESEARCH FLAT EARTH” on the side, as a fundraising stunt. Call it Phase 1 of his one-man space program.
He got the publicity he wanted, and then some, with headlines
around across the world. But the rocket launch never happened.
“This is what happens anytime you have to deal with any kind of government agency,” Hughes told The Post at the time. He said the Bureau of Land Management forbade him from launching in Amboy, Calif., hours before he was set to go.
Worse, he said, while he tried to get the paperwork sorted out, his combined mobile home/rocket launcher broke down in his driveway.
While he set about his repairs, much of the public turned against Hughes. Some mocked him for believing in a flat Earth. Some suggested he'd only adopted the philosophy to raise funds for his stunts, and a few even accused him of faking his previous rocket flight several years ago.
Now, Hughes says, he's ready to launch again — with a redesigned rocket that he will climb inside on Feb. 3 and fly straight up, for a third of a mile, to complete phase 1 of his mission and win back the public's faith.
He's got a bit of damage control to do in the meantime.
“The flat-Earth stuff, it makes people crazy,” Hughes told The Washington Post. “No matter what I do, people are going to minimize it.”
He recorded a video last week rebutting some of the accusations against him — notably questioning his faith in flat-Earth theory, if not also his wisdom in trying to steam himself off the surface of the disc.
“People are calling me not a flat-Earther,” Hughes said in the video. “Do I believe the earth is shaped like a Frisbee, or flat, or whatever? I do, because in my months of research I've not been able to prove” otherwise.
Forget space, Hughes said, he's also come to doubt what lies under the planet's surface. “We've only drilled 7 1/2 miles into the Earth,” he said. “So all the crap we were taught in school about the mantle is all B.S. No one knows.”
Hughes said he's parted ways with the Flat Earth Society and other flat-Earth organizations that helped fund and publicize his failed November launch. (He raised nearly $8,000 on GoFundMe.) He's an independent thinker now, and said if he makes it into space and sees a curved horizon, he'll accept that the Earth is round.
He just needs to see for himself.
Anyway, that's a ways off. First, Hughes needs to avoid another delay, and launch next week on private property outside Amboy — with “FLAT EARTH” emblazoned on the side of his new rocket, so as to convince people to donate hundreds of thousands of dollars to build the balloon and buy the space suit for Phase 2. Because he plans to take off on private property this time, he said, the government can't get in his way.
In his video, Hughes also addressed critics who accused him of faking his most famous stunt before his flat-Earth conversion, a rocket launch in 2014, because video of the stunt never shows him inside the thing.
Easy explanation, Hughes said: His cameraman had to stop filming to help him with the canopy.
While he won't allow live spectators at next Saturday's launch — and has promised to shoot down any drones — he said in the video it would be live-streamed.
When The Post phoned Hughes on Wednesday, he said the pay-per-view company he planned to use was “going bankrupt,” and he was looking for alternatives. He contacted the paper again a few hours later to say the company would stream his event after all.
We'll see what happens next week. To paraphrase John F. Kennedy at the dawn of the moon missions, no one said this would be easy.
This post has been updated to reflect Hughes's additional comments about the pay-per-view company.
Read the rest of our series on the flat-Earth space program: