Mike Hughes, who had described himself as the “world’s greatest daredevil,” died Saturday when the launch of his homemade rocket failed. The 64-year-old was out on a mission to prove the Earth was flat, but his steam-powered rocket crashed shortly after takeoff near Barstow, California. Journalist Justin Chapman, who was working on a profile of Hughes, captured the launch and subsequent crash in a video he posted to Twitter. “Everyone was stunned. They didn’t know what to do,” Chapman told the Los Angeles Times. “He landed about a half a mile away from the launch pad.”
Hughes carried out the launch for a new Science Channel series called Homemade Astronauts. “It was always his dream to do this launch, and Science Channel was there to chronicle his journey,” Science Channel said in a statement.
There was precedent for Hughes’ launch considering that in March 2018 he managed to go 1,875 feet above the Mojave Desert on a homemade rocket. The goal at the time was to photograph the Earth to prove his theory that the Earth is “shaped like a Frisbee.” He expressed confidence that if he got a chance to get to space, it would “shut the door on this ball Earth.” But even as he became one of the best-known flat-Earthers, Hughes said he was open to being wrong. “I expect to see a flat disk up there,” he said in an interview with CBS after his 2018 launch. “I don’t have an agenda. If it’s a round Earth or a ball, I’m going to come down and say, ‘Hey guys, I’m bad. It’s a ball, OK?’ ”
According to his public relations representative, though, the whole flat-Earth theory was likely all part of a ruse to get more funding. “I don’t think he believed it,” Darren Shuster said. “He did have some governmental conspiracy theories. But don’t confuse it with that flat Earth thing. That was a PR stunt we dreamed up.” There’s also some speculation that Science Channel may have asked him to tone down the whole flat-Earth talk. In a video ahead of the launch, Hughes never mentioned his flat-Earth views. “The flat Earth thing is like everything else to me. I just want people to question everything. Question what your congressman is doing, your city council. Question what really happened during the Civil War. What happened during 9/11,” Hughes said in the 2018 CBS interview.