A few days ago, a man named “Mad” Mike Hughes died in California. I didn’t know him, although I knew of him: his goal in life was to prove that Earth is flat. He kept building rockets to take him high enough that he could gain photographic proof, and said he didn’t care if he died trying. I hope he meant that, because that’s what happened.
Mr. Hughes launched himself in a homemade rocket Saturday outside Barstow, attempting to reach 5,000 feet as part of a broader plan to eventually get to the Karman Line 62 miles above the Earth’s surface, where the atmosphere ends and space begins. His rocket misfired, and is reported to have “pancaked” into the desert. He did not survive.
It was Mr. Hughes’ seventh rocket; I first heard about him two years ago, when he successfully made it about 1,900 feet off the ground and back down. Apparently he first gained some notoriety back in 2002, when he managed to jump a stretch limo 103 feet (I’m not sure where, or over what). He also attempted to replicate a failed Evel Knievel stunt, taking a steam-powered rocket over the Snake River Canyon in Idaho. He didn’t have any more luck than Mr. Knievel, although someone eventually succeeded in 2016.
But Mr. Hughes, who was 64, seemed most driven by his need to prove that the Earth is flat, and that’s where I really wonder about all this effort.
He had to be enough of a man of science to understand propulsion, and his ultimate goal was a scientific demarcation between atmosphere and space, and yet somehow he really believed he was going to show all of us that our world is flat. He was going to take pictures as proof.
But if the literal millions of pictures showing the Earth’s curvature weren’t proof enough for him, why would his pictures convince a single person, including himself?
The story I read made it sound like he shared many conspiracy theorists’ extreme distrust, if not outright fear, of the federal government, even though he had a friendly 10-year phone relationship with a man who worked for the Federal Aviation Administration, supervising permits for nutcases — let’s call a spade a spade — like Mr. Hughes.
But you don’t really need the government’s say-so regarding the roundness of the Earth. You can reject every single notion of every country’s space program and travels to the moon, and pictures sent back from space-faring craft. I suppose you can blow off private enterprises like Elon Musk’s and Richard Branson’s as aiding and abetting the government in this extremely vast hoax.
Maybe you can doubt the satellites that beam rays around the curve of the Earth straight into your cell phone. Maybe you disregard every airline that has discovered quicker routes by using different curves of the globe. Maybe you don’t understand that maps don’t work unless curves are factored in. Maybe you remain in happy ignorance of historical figures who weren’t necessarily government related (and certainly knew nothing of a future United States where the government was going to go to such expense to pull off this vast hoax for some unstated purpose on its citizenry) who proved, over and over again, that the Earth is round. The ancient Greeks did this, without ever leaving Greece, simply by using math, but maybe you don’t believe in math either. (I know I’d like not to.)
[A little nod here to Katherine Johnson, also recently deceased, but in a more dignified fashion, as one of those people who used math in that fictitious push in the 1960s to get Americans into space. Even though he referred to her (at age 43) as “the girl,” John Glenn wouldn’t get into his capsule based on the numbers machines crunched until Mrs. Johnson corroborated them.]
So even if you’re going to dispute the existing photographs taken from above the Earth’s surface, and deny history, astronomy, cartography, math and engineering (this isn’t leaving a whole lot, is it?), there are still the photographs that ordinary people can, and have, taken without their feet ever leaving Earth.
It’s a weird flat little bubble people like Mr. Hughes live in. You would think, in attempting to jump the Snake River Canyon, that he would have needed to factor some curvature into his calculations. You would think he would have needed that for his rocket launches as well. Maybe that’s why he never got close to an astronomical demarcation he appears to have acknowledged the existence of.
But what should have really stopped him was the awareness that no matter what he found, up among the clouds, no one was going to change their mind on that basis. He said he was open to his mind being changed, that if he saw a round globe, he would come back and say so. What do you think his friends would say? A) “By golly, Mike, you must be right!” or B) “The government brainwashed you, didn’t it?”
To me, it seems an incredibly stupid thing to have died for, but it was his life to be as stupid as he chose to make it. Living proudly in ignorance is bad enough, but obsessively setting out to prove the entire (round) world is wrong and you are the only one who is right? Well, let’s lift that spade again and dig up a few more nuts, shall we?
Update: it turns out I’m not the only one bothered by the asymmetry of our calendar. Just days after I regaled you with my proposal to add a 13th month, now I hear about two professors from Johns Hopkins University who want to do away with leap days and years and make the calendar 364 days long, except for every fifth or sixth year, where you’d get a week-long party at the end of the year, just like the Egyptians.
In their version, which at the moment they have named after themselves (I was only going to name one month after me) but are prepared to stand aside for the U.S. president, because they seriously think he will be willing to adopt their calendar if he can name it after himself, New Year’s Day is always on a Monday, and everyone’s birthday falls on the same day every year. Which they say is the point that seems to give people the most pause on their suggestion.
Quarters for business reporting purposes would always be 91 days long, so Apple, as it did in 2012, wouldn’t have inflated earnings because there was an entire additional week in the quarter. And then it lost stock value one year later when the quarter was a week shorter.
As a Wednesday’s child, I would be full of woe every year, and we would always have Christmas on a Sunday. February would pick up two extra days. For some reason, most of the months that now have 31 days would only get 30, but September would pick up a bonus day for 31.
Anyway, you can read about the specifics for yourselves. I mostly just wanted to say, Who’s the nutty one now?
This is how you make a bad situation worse: