Looking for Life on a Flat Earth

By Alan Burdick

On the last Sunday afternoon in March, Mike Hughes, a sixty-two-year-old limousine driver from Apple Valley, California, successfully launched himself above the Mojave Desert in a homemade steam-powered rocket. He’d been trying for years, in one way or another. In 2002, Hughes set a Guinness World Record for the longest ramp jump—a hundred and three feet—in a limo, a stretch Lincoln Town Car. In 2014, he allegedly flew thirteen hundred and seventy-four feet in a garage-built rocket and was injured when it crashed. He planned to try again in 2016, but his Kickstarter campaign, which aimed to raise a hundred and fifty thousand dollars, netted just two supporters and three hundred and ten dollars. Further attempts were scrubbed—mechanical problems, logistical hurdles, hassles from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. Finally, a couple of months ago, he made good. Stuff was leaking, bolts needed tightening, but at around three o’clock, and with no countdown, Hughes blasted off from a portable ramp—attached to a motorhome he’d bought through Craigslist—soared to nearly nineteen hundred feet, and, after a minute or so, parachuted less than gently back to Earth.

For all of that, Hughes might have attracted little media attention were it not for his outspoken belief that the world is flat. “Do I believe the Earth is shaped like a Frisbee? I believe it is,” he told the Associated Press. “Do I know for sure? No. That’s why I want to go up in space.”

Hughes converted fairly recently. In 2017, he called in to the Infinite Plane Society, a live-stream YouTube channel that discusses Earth’s flatness and other matters, to announce his beliefs and ambitions and ask for the community’s endorsement. Soon afterward, The Daily Plane, a flat-Earth information site (“News, Media and Science in a post-Globe Reality”), sponsored a GoFundMe campaign that raised more than seventy-five hundred dollars on Hughes’s behalf, enabling him to make the Mojave jump with the words “Research Flat Earth” emblazoned on his rocket.

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