A self-taught rocket scientist has blasted himself high into the California sky using a steam-powered contraption he built in his garage, the first step in his long-term aim of proving the Earth is flat.
“Mad” Mike Hughes propelled himself 1,875 feet (571m) into the air above the vast Mojave desert in the homemade rocket before deploying his parachute and landing back to Earth with a bump.
The madcap 61-year-old limo-driver-turned-daredevil was visibly dazed as he was carefully lifted from his seat and was checked over by paramedics as he lay exhausted on the ground following a hard landing which damaged the front of his rocket.
“Am I glad I did it? Yeah. I guess,” he told the Associated Press. “I’ll feel it in the morning. I won’t be able to get out of bed. At least I can go home and have dinner and see my cats tonight.”
The Flat-Earther, who has spent around $20,000 (£14,000) pursuing his rocket dream since 2016, admitted he was “relieved” to have finally achieved his goal following several aborted attempts and ridicule from some quarters when his plan captured the attention of the world’s media last year.
“I’m tired of people saying I chickened out and didn’t build a rocket. I’m tired of that stuff. I manned up and did it.”
Acknowledging how dangerous the mission was, he added: “This thing wants to kill you 10 different ways … This thing will kill you in a heartbeat.”
Last year, the California native was forced to postpone a take off attempt from an abandoned runway in the ghost town of Amboy, located about 200 miles (321.85km) east of Los Angeles, due to his motorhome-slash-rocket launcher breaking down and problems getting a permit.
Mr Hughes has the support of the flat-Earth community, who helped fund the mission, and eventually wants to build a "Rockoon," – a rocket that is carried into the atmosphere by a gas-filled balloon – to take him about 68 miles up so he can photograph the planet from space.
“Do I believe the earth is shaped like a frisbee – or flat? I believe it is,” he said last year. “I cannot disprove it after my months of research. Do I know for sure? No. That’s why I want to go up into space 62 miles up to settle this thing once and for all for people who want to know.”
“My story really is incredible,” Hughes reflected after his mission. “It’s got a bunch of story lines – the garage-built thing. I’m an older guy. It’s out in the middle of nowhere, plus the Flat Earth. The problem is it brings out all the nuts also, people questioning everything. It’s the downside of all this.”
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