Self-taught rocket scientist eyes Monday for new launch date
By PAT GRAHAM
Nov. 28, 2017
Self-taught rocket scientist "Mad" Mike Hughes won't allow a little red tape to get in the way of his green light for a launch.
All systems go for his rescheduled steam-powered rocket attempt — in his view, at least.
The 61-year-old limo driver who believes Earth is flat plans to climb into his homemade vessel Monday and rocket 1 mile over the ghost town of Amboy, California. He was scheduled to blast off last weekend, but he didn't have the proper permits from the Bureau of Land Management.
He's relocated his launch pad about 4 miles from its original spot so he takes off and lands on private property.
It may not be enough. The BLM said he still needs to fill out the permits. Hughes contends that shouldn't be required since he's flying on private land and has permission.
"I'm moving forward," Hughes said Tuesday. "I'm a daredevil. I'm not much for authority or rules."
In the meantime, he keeps readying his rocket in the Mojave Desert and sleeping in a motor home that doubles as his rocket launcher. He still can't quite wrap his mind around how his project has generated so much buzz. He's been contacted by news outlets from all over the globe.
"This is all just nuts, but I guess it's supposed to be," said Hughes, who will televise the launch on his YouTube channel and doesn't want spectators to show up out of safety concerns. "I've had people say so much, that I'm a fraud. I've had people email me and say, 'You're going to die.' I even had one woman ask me if we were all going to die on (launch day). But I've also had so much support. It's just crazy."
His original intention was this: Set up his rocket that's built out of salvage parts and launch on an air strip next to a dilapidated hangar. He said a verbal agreement he received from the BLM a year ago fell through at the last moment.
With no permit, his mission was postponed.
"The BLM has a permitting process for recreational activity on public lands," BLM spokesman Stephen Razo said in an email. "Mr. Hughes has been made aware of this process by the local field office and stands ready to work with Mr. Hughes on his permit like any other once we receive an official permit request from him."
Hughes said BLM representatives have since visited his location to check how things are going.
"They've been very nice to me. I have no animosity," said Hughes , who transported his rocket to Amboy late last week, with his vehicle breaking down numerous times during the 100-mile trek. "Things come up and I expect things to come up. ... I understand it."
Not everyone does.
His beliefs that the world is flat and there's "no difference between science and science fiction" have added another dimension to the reaction to Hughes and his plans.
"When I am in space, it is a sphere. It is a curve. The Earth is not flat," said retired NASA astronaut and doctor Jerry Linenger, who orbited the globe more than 2000 times during four months in 1997. "I circled it every 90 minutes and it is a real thing."
As for the amateur rocket launch?
"Good luck, I hope he doesn't blow something up," Linenger said. "Rocketry, as our private space companies found out, isn't as easy as it looks."
Hughes has permission to be on the property from Albert Okura, who purchased the rights to Amboy in 2005 for $435,000. Hughes' new spot for a launch isn't exactly ideal, though.
For starters, he had to dig ditches to level the rocket launcher, with three of the four tires now resting in holes. He's in the process of raising the 57-foot ramp, which takes about two days. He hopes to begin heating the rocket on Saturday morning.
"We're almost all set," he said.
Hughes assembled his contraption at the "Rocket Ranch" in Apple Valley, California, a five-acre property he leases. He found the aluminum for his rocket in metal shops and constructed the rocket nozzle out of an aircraft air filter. His project has cost him roughly $20,000, which includes the motor home he bought on Craigslist that he converted into a ramp.
Since his announcements, he's received all sorts of comments, including someone posting on social media: "He'll be fine" with a picture of the cartoon character Wile E. Coyote strapped to a rocket.
He takes it all in stride.
"I'm not chickening out. But I'm not going to get into this (rocket) until it is right," Hughes said. "I think the world needs this — somebody out there to question everything, and put their money where their mouth is and put it all on the line. This is like the World Series of Poker and I'm all-in."
AP Science Writer Seth Borenstein contributed to this report.