Daredevil rocket builder “Mad” Mike Hughes of Apple Valley died Saturday, Feb. 22, when the homemade steam-powered vessel he manned as part of a television series crashed in the San Bernardino County desert near Barstow, reports said.
The Science Channel, which has scheduled the series “Homemade Astronauts” to premiere this year, and TMZ reported that Hughes, 64, was aboard the rocket and perished in the accident.
A video posted on Twitter shows a parachute separating from the rocket just after launch and then moments later, the rocket falling from hundreds of feet nose-down.
“Michael ‘Mad Mike’ Hughes tragically passed away today during an attempt to launch his homemade rocket. Our thoughts & prayers go out to his family & friends during this difficult time. It was always his dream to do this launch & Science Channel was there to chronicle his journey,” a Science Channel post on Twitter said.
Waldo Stakes, a colleague who was at the rocket launch, also said Hughes was killed.
“It was unsuccessful, and he passed away,” Stakes said. He declined further comment.
Justin Chapman, a freelance journalist, told The Associated Press that he and his wife witnessed the crash.
The rocket appeared to rub against the launch apparatus, which might have torn the parachutes attached to it, Chapman said.
Hughes was a resident of Apple Valley, according to the Victorville Daily Press.
— Justin Chapman (@justindchapman) February 22, 2020
The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department said that about 1:50 p.m., deputies were called to an event on private property off Highway 247 near Barstow, where a man was pronounced dead after the crash. A sheriff’s spokeswoman was not able to immediately provide any other details or confirm the identity of the dead man. The sheriff’s aviation and special investigations units are trying to determine the cause of the crash.
The Federal Aviation Administration was not involved in the investigation, FAA spokesman Ian Gregor said.
“In the past, we determined his previous flight attempts did not fall within the FAA’s regulatory authority,” Gregor said.
Michael ‘Mad Mike’ Hughes tragically passed away today during an attempt to launch his homemade rocket. Our thoughts & prayers go out to his family & friends during this difficult time. It was always his dream to do this launch & Science Channel was there to chronicle his journey pic.twitter.com/GxwjpVf2md
— Science Channel (@ScienceChannel) February 23, 2020
The website Space.com said Hughes planned Saturday “to blast himself off-Earth as part of Homemade Astronauts, a new series on the Science Channel that follows self-financed, self-made teams on their quest to reach the sky.” The website said Hughes, with the help of partner Waldo Stakes, hoped to reach 5,000 feet in a steam-powered rocket.
The premise of the show, which involves two other teams, is to launch a rocket on a tight budget. In August, Space.com reported, Hughes’ attempt to launch the rocket was scuttled when the water heater he bought off Craigslist for $325 failed to heat the water enough to create steam. Hughes also acquired a nose cone for the decidedly un-NASA-like price of $50. “No one knows where the nose cone came from or what its original intent was,” the story said.
In March 2018, Hughes launched himself 1,875 above Amboy in the Mojave Desert, according to BusinessInsider.com.
Hughes has been widely quoted as saying that he believes the Earth is flat. He has told some people that his launches are designed to prove his belief while telling others that his launches are unrelated.
“My story really is incredible,” Hughes told the AP in 2018. “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.”
The Associated Press contributed to this story.