This article originally appeared on VICE Canada.
Last November, a hero arose from the brazen hellscape that is modern life—his name was “Mad” Mike Hughes. He believed the earth may be flat and he wanted to launch himself into the sky inside a steam-powered rocket he built in his backyard.
The story went around the world and the name Mad Mike was on the tip of all of our tongues. Even when, sadly, his originally scheduled launch had to be shut down because of permits, Mike never gave up. No, the 61-year-old limo driver and his garage-built big red rocket with “RESEARCH FLAT EARTH” printed on the side, kept going.
Mad Mike persisted and on March 24, the glorious fucker did it.
In the big red rocket taking off from a modified trailer, Hughes blasted up to 1,875 feet and reached over 350 MPH before the parachute deployed and he drifted back down to earth. The landing was a little harsh but he lived.
I decided to call up the man to talk about what it’s like to ride inside a garage-built rocket up to 1,800 feet if the earth is really flat, and why he believes he’s going to make Elon Musk look like an “idiot.”
VICE: To start, congratulations!
“Mad” Mike Hughes: Thank you, it was an incredible experience. Hopefully, it gives people hope across this planet. Like I think a guy could do something like this despite the bureaucrats. I'm an old-time cowboy. I'm an outlaw.
Can you take me through the day of the launch and what it felt like?
Well, the first thing is you wake up that morning and you think: This is the day I do it. Of course, I've lived that before, and I've jumped before and I've had to or three false starts. You go through the same emotions. You can't sleep at night because you keep waking up. We drove there that morning, it was two to three hours, and you just keep thinking to yourself, man, is this it? Oh yeah, when we moved it before the launch, some girl threw her pair of panties inside of the rocket. They're hanging on my wall right now.
We sprang a leak on the day. We had to tighten the bolts on it twice in the day, too. It was just little things on there but in the end, it was still leaking somewhere. That affects everything.
Is that frightening? You're kind of just sitting on a bomb.
Oh yeah! All the energy is stored behind me. Dude, you got the devil in chains and he's waiting to get loose. So that's what you're doing; you're unleashing the devil.
What was it like when you finally did it?
Well, we didn't have a countdown—I didn't even have a radio, I had a walkie-talkie I kept in my hand. One of my guys said, "OK Michael, you're all clear, any time now." So I wanted to make sure everything was positioned properly—my feet, my head, my neck, but also the air and regulator were turned off, so there was no way this could launch. To get it going, I had to turn two ball valves.
So I turned the first, and I start thinking to myself, OK I'm set, I'm ready. Then I push that second ball valve down and it launches! Before you know what's going on, you're just going, man. A lot happened there in four or five seconds. The thing is, your body can't keep up with what is happening to you. Once I hit that ball valve to start everything going, I could not feel it going up the ramp. I never lost consciousness; I knew exactly what was happening, but it's just disillusioning because you think that you're just off the ramp but you're maybe 300 feet in the air. It feels like 1,000 people pushing on your chest.
The thing is that we had the first parachute that would go off automatically. I didn't really want it; I had to be talked into it. It's a good idea, but I knew I wasn't going to pass out but everyone else was afraid of that, so I understood. The problem was the first parachute came out just a little too soon. I could have gone another 200 feet. So because it came out early, it was underneath me. So the rocket was on top and the parachute was underneath me which was pretty goofy. So I felt it turn in midair.
It flipped me back over and then I start to see the ground. I realized that, wow this thing is up here, I can see the motorhome. I can see the people waving at me and the whole bit. I'm dropping and it feels like I'm going fast. I find the walkie-talkie that I had and I radioed my guy saying "I'm coming down too fast," and he says "I think you're doing OK." But I decided to pull the second parachute. Of course, it only deployed about two seconds before I hit the ground.
What was going through your head?
You're in survival mode, right? You just want to make sure the parachute holds are coming down and that the second shoot comes down. I just didn't want to pull it too high in the air in case they tangled. I was told they wouldn't tangle, but my ass is the one in the rocket. I felt in my mind that if they tangled anywhere above 800 feet, I was a dead man, but if it tangled 200 feet above the ground, I might be able to survive it... maybe. That's why it took me so long to pull the second chute. But it was a mistake—I should have pulled it two seconds earlier.
You landed a little hard, how are you doing?
The initial strike to the ground, when the nose cone hit it, I jammed my back. I could feel my back bend—the lower part of my back. I've broken my back twice and I've never felt that before, so anyway, it was quite the experience. After the nose cone hit, it fell back like a hammer, all the weight came back down and put all of the force to the back part of my spine. I just felt pain, just real-world pain. I thought I had broken my back.
How are you doing now?
I'm better. I just need to not do anything today, honestly. I need to keep my feet propped up and not move much today. I've been in so much movement, going back and forth to the jump site, and going to court twice. I still got a life man. I had some laundry backed up that I had to do. I live here in my house with my four cats, and I'm going to try and just be a normal guy today.
You said you were tired of people saying you “chickened out.” How did you feel knowing that it was complete?
I felt vindicated and relieved after it. You've got to realize that when I'm walking up the ramp, and I'm thinking: Am I walking up to the gallows where I am going to hang myself? That goes through your mind. I was asking myself if this was the last thing I was going to do. You put a million dollars behind it, and you've already fired the motor two or three times and tested the propulsion system, and you've test-fired the rocket with the dummy in it. It relieves the anxiety and dude, I did not have that. I John Wayne'd it. I'm a real guy. I put on my big boy pants and I man up and I do things and I will roll the dice. Very few people will roll the dice with their lives. I play Russian roulette.
What makes you play Russian roulette with your life like that?
Well, you know, I'm the top daredevil in the world now.
Yeah, I suppose you are.
Damn right I am! I think people will take me seriously now, and I'm going to go to space and I'm going to make all these billionaires look like a bunch of idiots. Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, I'm going to beat all of those guys on a private manned trip to space—it might happen this year.
Speaking of space, a big thing surrounding all this is your belief in a flat earth. What do you exactly believe?
I believe the earth is stationary but you have to realize I was an atheist for seven years. I just believed everything was a lie—all the wars, that there was no government, that corporations ran the world, that everything was a fraud—that everyone lied about everything. Then I found flat earth and I said, "Well, this makes sense" because they talk about the flat earth in the bible. Then you think well the airplanes can't fly around the globe; submarines can't go around the globe. The world photography record is not possible in a globe, and when they build bridges and roads, they don't worry about the curvature of the earth.
There are just so many things!
This magical little thing called gravity does not exist—it's all electromagnetism, OK. No one knows what is in the center of this earth, no one! The deepest drill they've ever drilled is seven and a half miles and that took twelve years. They don't know, so they can't say it's gravity. All of it is just all bull crap. So that brought me back to believing in a creator—that's what flat earth did. That helped me out. When I started looking into it and researching it, I couldn't dismiss it, bottom line.
What do you think the earth looks like?
I don't know! I don't have the answers. I'm not an expert. I'm just one guy who pushes the envelope and questions everything.
When you were in the air, did you see anything that confirmed your belief?
No! You can't! Anybody that thinks you can get 2,000 feet up and prove anything is ludicrous. I never said that—people have construed it into something completely wrong. I think it was the Washington Post who did that in their initial story and I wouldn't read them if they were the last newspaper on the planet. Of course, it is Jeff Bezos who owns it.
You mentioned you want to shoot yourself into space, is that in part to see if the earth is flat or not?
Exactly! We need the answer, and I'm not going to take any government space agency's answer on that. I don't care if it's Russia, the United States, or China. I'm going to go up there and I'm going to see it for myself. I'm going to have cameras with me. People will be able to talk to me on my way up and down; it'll be about three hours. I think it would be the most-watched event in mankind's history, bottom line.
What would go through your mind if you went up there and you did see it was a globe?
Well, I don't have an agenda, guy. I only want the truth. I want the raw truth. I don't want anything filtered; I don't want anybody telling me what to think or do. I just want to know the real truth. If I go up and it's a globe, I'm going to tell you it's a globe, OK. Why would I not?
So, what advice do you have for the kids at home?
Question everything. Be the best you can be, and be a critical thinker, OK. Just be a critical thinker. I don't care if you believe in Santa Claus, or the Easter Bunny or whatever. Just look into where it came from and where it originated from.
Furthermore, most people are afraid to follow their dreams. People want the security, the insurance, the 401K, and all that stuff and it's all crap, OK. There is no such thing as security. What you've got is right now—you don't have tomorrow; you don't have next week. You have right now. Do the most with what you've got today.
But, in the end, just be nice to people.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.