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‘Mad Mike’ Hughes Was a Daredevil First, Flat Earther Second

This article originally appeared on VICE Canada.When Mike Hughes climbed into the homemade rocket he would eventually die in Saturday afternoon, he was well aware of the risks. “When I’m walking up the ramp, I’m thinking: Am I walking up to the gallows where I am going to hang myself?” he told me in 2018.…

‘Mad Mike’ Hughes Was a Daredevil First, Flat Earther Second

This article originally appeared on VICE Canada.

When Mike Hughes climbed into the homemade rocket he would eventually die in Saturday afternoon, he was well aware of the risks.

“When I’m walking up the ramp, I’m thinking: Am I walking up to the gallows where I am going to hang myself?” he told me in 2018. “That goes through your mind.”

Hughes, who rose to fame by building amateur rocket flights and dreaming of proving the earth was flat, died when his steam-powered rocket crashed in the Barstow, California desert this weekend. The goal of the launch was to send Hughes to 5,000 feet, where he would then parachute safely back to ground. If this flight succeeded, the plan was to send Hughes to a height where he could gaze to the earth below and see that it was flat.

Things went wrong quickly after the launch.

After giving his team the go-ahead, the 64-year-old’s rocket went skyward, leaving behind only a plume of steam. The rocket went off-kilter immediately upon launching, deploying a parachute straight away. Things went from bad to catastrophic when the rocket reached its apex. Waldo Stakes, Hughes’ long time rocket partner, wrote in an impassioned Facebook post that, at the rocket’s highest point, the crew began to frantically message Hughes to deploy the other parachutes—the buttons were “right at his fingertips”—but got no reply. In footage taken by a journalist on the scene, the crowd was silent as the rocket rapidly approached the earth with no sign of slowing down.

Eighteen seconds after taking off, Hughes and his rocket slammed into the earth. Emergency crew pronounced him dead at the scene.

1582640043269-22782774The rocket and parachute shortly after take off on February 22, 2020. Photo via Mercedes Blackehart

“The chutes were found not deployed in the wreckage,” wrote Stakes, who did not respond to a request for comment from VICE. “He never tried to fire them. It will always be a mystery and no one will ever know for sure.”

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Hughes’ launch, and therefore, his death, was filmed for Homemade Astronauts, a reality show that was supposed to air on the Science Channel—which is owned by Discovery Inc. The show would “follow three self-financed teams with sky-high dreams, in their cosmic quest to explore the final frontier on limited budgets,” according to the channel.

A source told VICE Hughes handled his own logistics and the show’s future is now up in the air. Discovery said in a press release it was just there to “chronicle [Hughes’] journey.”

A spokesperson for the company would not provide VICE with a contract similar to the one Hughes had signed. When asked if they were willing to expand on how much they were paying Hughes for the project and if they provided Hughes with insurance, the spokesperson simply replied with “nope.”

Jonathan Handel, an entertainment lawyer and contributing editor at The Hollywood Reporter, told VICE the network wouldn’t be liable for anything in part because Hughes was already planning this launch—this would be different in reality shows such as Fear Factor or Survivor where the scenario is designed and the participants thrust into it. Handel added that the contract Hughes most likely signed included an “assumption of risk” section and the production would be even further insulated by entertainment insurance policies.

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