Self-taught rocket scientist plans to launch over ghost town - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

Self-taught rocket scientist plans to launch over ghost town

Posted: Updated:

The countdown to launch creeps closer and there’s still plenty for self-taught rocket scientist “Mad” Mike Hughes to do: Last-second modifications to his vessel. Pick up his flight suit. Leave enough food for his four cats — just in case anything happens.

Hughes is a 61-year-old limo driver who’s spent the last few years building a steam-powered rocket out of salvage parts in his garage. His project has cost him $20,000, which includes Rust-Oleum paint to fancy it up and a motor home he bought on Craigslist that he converted into a ramp.

His first test of the rocket will also be the launch date — Saturday , when he straps into his homemade contraption and attempts to hurtle over the ghost town of Amboy, California. He will travel about a mile at a speed of roughly 500 mph.

“If you’re not scared to death, you’re an idiot,” Hughes said . “It’s scary as hell, but none of us are getting out of this world alive. I like to do extraordinary things that no one else can do, and no one in the history of mankind has designed, built and launched himself in his own rocket.

“I’m a walking reality show.”

The daredevil/limo driver has been called a little bit of everything over his career — eccentric, quirky, foolhardy. Doesn’t bother him. He believes what he believes, including that the Earth is flat. He knows this thought is a conundrum, given that he’s about to launch himself into the atmosphere.

Down the road, he’s intending to build a rocket that takes him to space, so he can snap a picture and see with his own eyes.

“I don’t believe in science,” said Hughes, whose main sponsor for the rocket is Research Flat Earth. “I know about aerodynamics and fluid dynamics and how things move through the air, about the certain size of rocket nozzles, and thrust. But that’s not science, that’s just a formula. There’s no difference between science and science fiction.”

This will actually be the second time he’s constructed and launched a rocket. He jumped on a private property in Winkelman, Arizona, on Jan. 30, 2014 , and traveled 1,374 feet. He collapsed after that landing — the G-forces taking a toll — and needed three days to recover.

That distance, though, would’ve been enough to clear the Snake River Canyon, which is a jump daredevil Evel Knievel made famous when he failed to clear it during his attempt in 1974. Stuntman Eddie Braun did successfully zoom over the canyon — using Knievel’s original blueprints — in September 2016.

Just don’t mention Knievel around Hughes. He’s not a fan.

“He was an average stunt guy,” said Hughes, a former motorcycle racer. “He stole his look from Elvis.”

Hughes constructed his latest rocket at the “Rocket Ranch” in Apple Valley, California. It’s a five-acre property he leases from Waldo Stakes , the CEO of Land Speed Research Vehicles who’s currently working on a project to make a car travel 2,000 mph.

Their relationship formed a few years ago when Hughes approached Stakes about building a rocket. Stakes receives plenty of these sorts of requests, but this one stood out because Hughes was building it himself.

“Nothing is out of reach,” Stakes said. “Anything can be done. You just have to put enough money, time and thought into it.”

Here’s the thing: Hughes doesn’t make all that much money — $15 per hour as a limo driver, plus tips. That’s why he’s scrounged for parts, finding the aluminum for his rocket in metal shops and constructing the rocket nozzle out of an aircraft air filter. He gave it a good varnish of cheap paint, and his launch pad is attached to a motor home he bought for $1,500.

“I want to inspire others — and you have to do something incredible to get anybody’s attention,” Hughes said.

The location of the jump will be Amboy , a ghost town in the Mojave Desert and along historic Route 66. The fictional town of Radiator Springs in the Disney movie “Cars” was loosely based on Amboy.

Hughes got permission from the town’s owner, Albert Okura, who purchased the rights to Amboy in 2005 for $435,000. The launch will take place on an air strip next to a dilapidated hangar.

“It is absolutely the most wacky promotional proposal I have had since I purchased the entire town in 2005,” said Okura, who’s also the founder of the Juan Pollo restaurant chain. “He is a true daredevil and I want to be part of it.”

On the morning of the launch, Hughes will heat about 70 gallons of water in a stainless steel tank and then blast off between 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. He plans to go about a mile — reaching an altitude of about 1,800 feet — before pulling two parachutes. They’re discouraging fans — safety issues — but it will be televised on his YouTube channel . He said he’s been in contact with the Federal Aviation Administration and the Bureau of Land Management.

Following his jump, he said he’s going to announce his plans to leap into the race for governor of California.

No joke.

His future plans include an excursion into space. He and Stakes have already brainstormed on a “Rockoon,” which is a rocket that, rather than being immediately ignited while on the ground, is carried into the atmosphere by a gas-filled balloon, then separated from the balloon and lit. This rocket will take Hughes about 68 miles up.

First things first — this jump over a ghost town. He will be tinkering with his rocket right up to takeoff.

“A guy who builds his own rocket in his garage, about to jump a mile is pretty cool,” Hughes said. “It’s the most interesting human-interest story in the world.”

(Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

  • Most Popular StoriesMost Popular StoriesMore>>

  • Racial slurs lead to vicious assault in downtown Spokane

    Racial slurs lead to vicious assault in downtown Spokane

    Tuesday, December 12 2017 10:22 PM EST2017-12-13 03:22:40 GMT

    SPOKANE, Wash. - A downtown bar manager is recovering after a vicious assault that occurred last Tuesday. He said it all started when he tried to remove two customers after they were spewing racial slurs.

    >>

    SPOKANE, Wash. - A downtown bar manager is recovering after a vicious assault that occurred last Tuesday. He said it all started when he tried to remove two customers after they were spewing racial slurs.

    >>
  • Missoula Police searching for 'person of interest' after childrens' bones found in shed

    Missoula Police searching for 'person of interest' after childrens' bones found in shed

    Wednesday, December 13 2017 6:25 PM EST2017-12-13 23:25:24 GMT

    MISSOULA, Mont. - Law enforcement officers in western Montana have a "person of interest" they want to interview after a box containing the bones and teeth of three children were found in the shed of a Missoula home in September.

    >>

    MISSOULA, Mont. - Law enforcement officers in western Montana have a "person of interest" they want to interview after a box containing the bones and teeth of three children were found in the shed of a Missoula home in September.

    >>
  • 3 people arrested for killing Colville father with a hammer

    3 people arrested for killing Colville father with a hammer

    Wednesday, December 13 2017 2:19 AM EST2017-12-13 07:19:59 GMT

    STEVENS COUNTY, Wash. - Three people are facing charges for a murder in Stevens County that happened more than a year ago. The case had all but gone cold until recently, now it's taken a dramatic turn. The deputy prosecutor in Stevens County describes it as brutal. Now three people, including the victim's ex-wife, are facing first degree murder charges after she confessed to investigators.

    >>

    STEVENS COUNTY, Wash. - Three people are facing charges for a murder in Stevens County that happened more than a year ago. The case had all but gone cold until recently, now it's taken a dramatic turn. The deputy prosecutor in Stevens County describes it as brutal. Now three people, including the victim's ex-wife, are facing first degree murder charges after she confessed to investigators.

    >>
HD DOPPLER 6i
/
  • Top Stories from KHQHomeMore>>

  • Inflatable Christmas decorations slashed in Liberty Lake neighborhood

    Inflatable Christmas decorations slashed in Liberty Lake neighborhood

    Wednesday, December 13 2017 9:34 PM EST2017-12-14 02:34:41 GMT

    LIBERTY LAKE, Wash. - A homeowner is looking for answers after her Christmas decorations were vandalized in a quite Liberty Lake neighborhood. The incident happened Monday night when Gina Lackey found her three inflatable decorations deflated. “We looked out the window and noticed all our inflatables were deflated,” said Lackey. “So we knew right away something happened.” Lackey found that the inflatables, The Grinch, a Stormtrooper, and Yoda, had all been

    >>

    LIBERTY LAKE, Wash. - A homeowner is looking for answers after her Christmas decorations were vandalized in a quite Liberty Lake neighborhood. The incident happened Monday night when Gina Lackey found her three inflatable decorations deflated. “We looked out the window and noticed all our inflatables were deflated,” said Lackey. “So we knew right away something happened.” Lackey found that the inflatables, The Grinch, a Stormtrooper, and Yoda, had all been

    >>
  • Oregon Police rescue deer stuck on icy lake

    Oregon Police rescue deer stuck on icy lake

    Wednesday, December 13 2017 9:33 PM EST2017-12-14 02:33:06 GMT

    KLAMATH COUNTY, Ore. - Oregon State Police and the Oregon Department of Wildlife worked together to rescue a deer stranded on ice Tuesday. OSP posted photos of the rescue mission on Facebook Wednesday. A concerned landowner called officers to report a deer trapped about 75 yards out on the ice of Spring Lake in southern Klamath County.

    >>

    KLAMATH COUNTY, Ore. - Oregon State Police and the Oregon Department of Wildlife worked together to rescue a deer stranded on ice Tuesday. OSP posted photos of the rescue mission on Facebook Wednesday. A concerned landowner called officers to report a deer trapped about 75 yards out on the ice of Spring Lake in southern Klamath County.

    >>
  • Community rallies around young father as he battles another brain tumor

    Community rallies around young father as he battles another brain tumor

    Wednesday, December 13 2017 9:28 PM EST2017-12-14 02:28:45 GMT

    SPOKANE, Wash. - A young father is fighting once again for his life after he’s diagnosed with another brain tumor, and this time he says it’s behind his eye wrapping around the back. KHQ received a news tip about this, as the community rallies this holiday season to help this man and his family. Christopher Roth is 26 years old. He was diagnosed with a brain tumor on August 4th this year again. That’s because back in 2010, he got a brain tumor that endangered hi...

    >>

    SPOKANE, Wash. - A young father is fighting once again for his life after he’s diagnosed with another brain tumor, and this time he says it’s behind his eye wrapping around the back. KHQ received a news tip about this, as the community rallies this holiday season to help this man and his family. Christopher Roth is 26 years old. He was diagnosed with a brain tumor on August 4th this year again. That’s because back in 2010, he got a brain tumor that endangered hi...

    >>