Mike Hughes, self-taught "rocket scientist" and flat Earth conspiracy theorist, died this weekend in a homemade rocket launch gone wrong. Hughes, known as "Mad Mike," was filming for a Science Channel series called "Homemade Astronauts," a title that telegraphs the inherent problem. He was attempting to get his rocket up to an altitude of 5,000 feet allegedly to prove that the Earth is flat, but shortly after launch, there were problems and the parachute attached to the rocket ripped off, leading to Hughes falling to his death.
Hughes had made similar attempts twice in the past, most recently in August 2019. His first launch was in March 2018, and during that attempt he did reach an altitude of 1,875 feet. The second attempt was cancelled due to bad weather.
So what do "Flat Earthers" believe? Modern flat Earth conspiracy theorists believe that the Earth is flat, disputing the Earth's spherical shape, despite photos from space and other planets appearing to us through telescopes as spheres. These groups began cropping up again in the middle of the 20th century, after a comfortable dormancy when Pythagoras posited it in Greece around 500 BC. Some self-professed Flat Earthers are really serious in their beliefs, often motivated by religion, pseudoscience or conspiracy theories. Others, less serious, are just doubtful of science in general and don't believe what they don't see with their own eyes. Why anyone who seeks to disprove something that is not up for debate gets airtime on the "Science Channel" is an answer only the network can make.
Here is the issue with Hughes' attempted flight. Even if he did make it to 5,000 feet, he would not have been able to prove (or disprove) the flat earth theory. He would actually have needed to be at roughly 62 miles above the Earth at a spot called the Kármán line, which is where the sky ends and space begins.
He would never have made it to that altitude in a homemade rocket.
Here is video of the launch
The Science Channel issued a statement shortly after the news about Hughes death:
And that has been met by not a little scorn from actual scientists:
I don't want to end with a mention of Darwin, but...