Dying is bad, dying stupidly is worse

Mike Hughes has built a steam-powered rocket, which is kind of cool. It takes some skill to assemble that kind of thing.

Mike Hughes does not trust in science, which is kind of stupid.

According to the AP, Hughes says he expects his new rocket to hurl him through the skies above the Mojave Desert ghost town of Amboy at up to 500 miles per hour for roughly one mile, attaining a peak altitude of 1,800 feet before it deploys two parachutes. Hughes is a proponent of the Flat Earth theory; the Research Flat Earth group is his main sponsor. Hughes does not “believe in science,” which he told the AP has “no difference” from science fiction.

Now that is a curious statement, because he claims to be doing this stunt in order to test a scientific claim, that the earth is round, which means he is purporting to do this for a scientific purpose. If he actually knew anything about how science works, though, he’d be able to think this through and realize that launching himself 1800 feet in the air to snap a picture a) doesn’t actually test his hypothesis that the earth is flat, and b) has been done safely and intelligently many, many times before. He could attach his camera to a weather balloon that could easily loft itself to 100,000 feet and take many pictures.

So this exercise makes no sense at all, and will probably get him killed. He launched himself before for a shorter distance and came out physically wrecked from the acceleration and the rough landing. Now he’s pumping up his steam rocket for even more acceleration.

What an absurd way to commit suicide, for such a pointless purpose.


  1. says

    Aren’t all Darwin Awards lifetime?

    I don’t understand why he doesn’t just launch the thing on a really fast flat trajectory, then go off the edge. I guess the problem is, uh, you know, finding the edge.

  2. johnlee says

    There are people who have contributed time and money to help this sad, deluded, foolhardy man undertake this ill advised adventure. They should be examining their consciences. I for one couldn’t live knowing that I had helped him along with this.

  3. says

    Perhaps he has yet to hear of an amazing new invention called the “airplane.” Believe it or not, it is actually possible for an ordinary member of the public to pay a couple of hundred bucks, and attain an altitude of 5 miles or more! And there’s a window! I know that seems incredible, but it’s true.

  4. Ogvorbis: Swimming without a parachute. says

    A steam rocket.




    Even more, a steam rocket carrying a human being.

    What the fuck?

    I deal with high pressure steam. I interpret the technology and science behind the effective and safe use of high-pressure steam. Of course, what I deal with is reciprocating steam. Two (sometimes three or four) cylinders with a single stroke piston (powered both directions) driving, er, drive wheels.

    I have also read the ICC reports stemming from high-pressure steam vessels exploding spontaneously disassembling themselves or creating unplanned depressurization events. Steam, under high pressure, is scary shit. The heat, combined with the pressure release, can do really bad things to human beings (picture marinara sauce with bits of bone in it).

    The idea of taking a steam pressure vessel and subjecting it to the violence of high-g acceleration is scary. The idea of an anti-science idiot building his own steam pressure vessel is scary. The idea of an anti-science idiot designing his own system to release, control, and aim the steam jet is scary. Add them all together? That’s an equation I want nothing to do with. (Sorry: That’s an equation with which I want nothing to do (keep the English majors happy)).

    I’m glad he’s in California and I am not.

  5. microraptor says

    If he doesn’t trust science, how did he manage to build a functioning steam rocket in the first place?

  6. whheydt says

    I suspect his “steam rocket” is Hydrogen Peroxide monopropellant, so the only place there is high pressure steam is in the “combustion chamber”. The Germans used 75% peroxide to power the pumps in the V-2 and were experimenting with 90% peroxide at the end of the war.

    As for balloons and altitude… Here https://www.raspberrypi.org/blog/new-high-altitude-ballooning-record-dave-akerman/ is an article on a High Altitude Balloon (HAB) run with a picture taken from an altitude of a bit over 41.8Km.

  7. unclefrogy says

    well the flat earth thing does catch the eye but all I can think of is Evel Knievel and his attempt to jump all those things even used a steam rocket once.
    uncle frogy

  8. says

    I suspect his “steam rocket” is Hydrogen Peroxide monopropellant

    Uh. Uh. “What could possibly go wrong?”
    I used to love all the old footage of V-2 explosions. They’re pretty energetic. It looks neat from a safe distance.

    I have heard rumors that there are actually things up there that go around the Earth in all manner of different directions. One of them even has people, in zero-g (it’s too expensive to lift gravity up that high so they just have to float around) and they take pictures and the Earth looks round. How do they time it so that they only ever photograph the flat side and never the edge?

  9. says

    I might add that the ancient Greeks were perfectly well aware that the earth is approximately spherical, and that Eratosthenes computed its circumference to within .0016 of the present value, some 2,200 years ago. Contrary to the story we are told in school, European navigators in the 15th Century were also perfectly well aware of the sphericity of the earth. Columbus, however, thought that Eratosthenes was off by a factor of about 1/3 which is why he though the could get to Asia by sailing west. If he hadn’t happened to run into another continent along the way, he and his men would have starved to death. But nobody thought he would sail off the edge.

  10. komarov says

    Re: Marcus Ranum (#11):

    I have heard rumors that there are actually things up there that go around the Earth in all manner of different directions. One of them even has people, in zero-g (it’s too expensive to lift gravity up that high so they just have to float around) and they take pictures and the Earth looks round. How do they time it so that they only ever photograph the flat side and never the edge?

    Truthfact (TM):90% of worktime on the ISS is actually spent photoshopping pictures of the Earth to make it look like a globe. That’s why only scientists can be astronauts these days: they’re the only ones with the necessary photoshop experience, because, being scientists, they use it all the time to fake their data. All science is a lie!

    The logical response is, of course, to use it in the construction of steam-powered rockets to go where noone has gone before: slightly up. (I surmise that building rockets from scratch is a lot easier than climbing a mountain)

  11. knut7777 says

    Reminds me of way back when Evel Kineval went on the Tonight Show a few days before his Snake River jump. He came out in his red white and blue leathers, American flag helmet and a cane with a diamond encrusted motorcycle on the handle. He gave his usual spiel, “A man has to do what a man has to do, kids don’t do drugs, but I like a little bourbon to take the edge off before a jump” , his standard bs.

    Downcouch sat Richard Pryor who took it all in and finally raised his hand to ask a question, “If you don’t make it, can I have the cane?”

  12. says

    I’ve done a little research and found that the curvature of the horizon is not really perceptible at the maximum height of a commercial airliner, 13.7 km. However spy plane pilots can see it — it begins to be perceptible at around 19 km. But you can perceive the curvature of the earth from sea level by watching a ship sail away from you and appear to sink below the horizon.

  13. moarscienceplz says

    Cervantes @ #15
    I have been on transpacific flights and have seen the curvature quite clearly.

  14. monad says

    If you want to credibly prove the Earth is flat, up is the hard direction. Travel horizontally in any direction until you can get some pictures of the edge that nobody seems to have. And of course you won’t, but seeing some of the world outside California will probably be better for you than a quick violent death either way.

  15. says

    moarscienceplz: Apparently some people said they could see it from the Concorde, others could not. This source says you would need at least a 60 degree field of view to see it from a commercial airplane. I’m not sure you can get that from an airplane window but maybe just. At best it’s borderline. You definitely can’t see it from a mountaintop.

  16. Rich Woods says

    I can well imagine all the people who will look at his photo of the horizon when he posts it on Facebook and absolutely agree that he’s dead right about the Earth being flat. I do hope he survives this stupidly insane flight, but I wish full-wrought death and destruction upon his camera.

  17. whheydt says

    Joshua Slocum, the first man to sail around world, solo (he did it between 1895 and 1898…he was in nu hurry) made a stop in South Africa and was invited inland to meet Oom Paul Kruger, then president of the Transvaal Republic. The meeting was a little touchy as Kruger believed in a flat earth. Slocum, on the other hand, having been a commercial sea captain and had been around the earth more than once before doing it single-handed had no such illusions.

  18. jahigginbotham says

    “The rocket is powered by 77 gallons of superheated water. According to Hughes, once the cork is pulled the 400-degree water vapor will flash to steam and drop down to 212 degrees in milliseconds. The steam will propel the rocket into the air at 500 mph within 5 to 6 seconds.”

    “Hughes, who believes the Earth is flat, said he hopes the 1-mile jump also will help to raise awareness for his next project — a space launch.

    The plan is to go to the Karman line — 62 miles above the Earth.

    “We have the propulsion system, the gas tank, an oxygen tank. I need three hours of oxygen — that how long it takes,” said Hughes. “The balloon will take me 20 miles up and then from there the rocket propulsion system will take me the remaining 42 miles.”

    NASA used this rockoon — rocket and balloon technology — in the 1950s to launch mice into space and test the radiation at that altitude. The balloon allows the rocket to achieve much higher altitudes than it could from the ground. Once the balloon is released the rocket will take him the remaining distance in two minutes.

    When asked if he had any fear before his 1-mile jump, Hughes said there’s always a concern.

    “You’ve strapped yourself to a rocket,” said Hughes. “I have a special seat that absorbs some of the shock. It launches with 5,000 pounds of thrust. This is serious.”

  19. jrkrideau says

    I did not see the AP report but I was poking around RT and ran into roughly the same story.

    ‘Mad Mike” is going for broke (in many ways). RT reports
    On his Facebook page Hughes clarified there were further plans for a $1.8 million project to catapult him to the the Karman line – widely accepted as the start of space. He added a fuel tank and propulsion system were already in place to make this happen and it would offer “one true way to prove a flat earth.”

    Wiki says that The Kármán line, or Karman line, lies at an altitude of 100 km (62 mi; 330,000 ft) above the Earth’s sea level, and commonly represents the boundary between the Earth’s atmosphere and outer space.

    Clearly a normal plane or weather balloon won’t do

    Is AP guilty of a bit of careless reporting or bad editing?

    It’s going to take some truly egregious stupidity or a miracle for him not to win.

  20. schreiberbike says

    I think this is a crazy guy who likes to fly rockets. I can’t blame him for that. I’d like to fly rockets too. He couldn’t raise funds until he tried to appeal to the flat Earth people. Now he’s gonna fly a little. Not so crazy.

    Steam rockets are real https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steam_rocket , but relatively low power.

  21. bachfiend says

    This reminds me of a Goon Show episode ‘the jet propelled NAAFI’, which involved using a rocket to send supplies to British troops in Malaya in the ‘50s. Part of the plot involved taking a photo of the Earth from space, because (I’m paraphrasing, I don’t know the exact words) ‘there are some idiots who think the Earth is flat’. And Neddie Seagoon replied ‘what idiots… everyone knows the Earth is flat.’ At the critical point in the flight someone asks ‘did the Earth look round?’, and the answer is ‘yes, but I don’t think it saw us’.

  22. Ed Seedhouse says

    We have a handy viewpoint here in Victoria B.C. called “Beacon hill”. If you take a pair of binoculars you can see the roads and buildings in Port Angeles about 18 miles away on the other side of the Straits of Juan de Fuca (possibly the funniest geographic name in western Canada). Then you can walk to the bottom of the hill and down some stairs to the seashore and point your binoculars in the same direction. You will discover that some of the roads and buildings have disappeared and are now below the horizon. It’s almost as if the flat straight somehow has a hill in it… Maybe it’s an optical illusion?

    We have an accessible roughly 6000 foot mountain about a hundred miles from Victoria. I climbed it once and I noticed I could see a lot further from the top of it than I could from the highway and rough sea level. I wonder how that could be….anyway, climbing Mt. Arrowsmith seems a lot safer than riding a steam rocket. Admittedly the curvature of the Earth is not obvious up there – proof that the Earth is flat?

  23. anbheal says

    Don’t all the Jackass movies have warnings at the beginning saying “Don’t Try This At Home!”?

  24. numerobis says

    I agree with schreiberbike: his flat-earthism sounds exactly like he’s just out to scam flat-earthers out of money to pay for his steam rocket habit.

    He’s likely to kill himself, but if that’s what he wants… The only thing I worry is whether he’ll land on someone who doesn’t want to die.

  25. says

    This is a highly amusing way to travel with water which isn’t actually wet. Musk could build a system of these to get to work and back.

  26. VolcanoMan says

    LOL, I thought of the Darwin Awards too when I saw this (like, brain-flashed to them immediately). Those awards were MADE for this kind of person. Not a smart person doing something dumb, but a dumb person thinking he’s doing something smart, completely misapprehending the physics and/or engineering of the endeavor and killing or sterilizing himself (and it’s almost always a HIM, although women certainly qualify for this dubious accolade occasionally) in the process.

    If you want to see what a steam rocket launch looks like (approximately), look no further than the Mythbusters, who did this exact experiment with electric water heaters (disabling the safety features and letting the pressure build up). Turns out they don’t just explode, they fail at the bottom (maybe deliberately because a hole forced through all floors and the roof is easier to fix – and possibly less deadly in the making – than that which results from a water heater blowing up in a roughly spherical manner), and launch several hundred feet in the air when unconstrained by building material (but still impressively high when going through a 2-storey house). I am surprised this guy survived his first attempt; I do not think I can stand the irony of a man like this successfully using science (that methodology which he explicitly distrusts and clearly doesn’t even understand) to design and build a rocket that will actually enable him to survive the kind of launch he intends to undergo. THAT would be stunning.

    But he’s probably going to die. Or break many, many bones and require years of rehab.

  27. microraptor says

    Volcano Man @32: I think that if water heaters were designed to deliberately fail, they would be set to do so at a much lower PSI level so that they didn’t explode quite so catastrophically. Hot water heaters have knocked houses off their foundations when exploding. The Mythbusters episode recorded the force of the blast as “lethal to everyone in the room” level.

  28. John Morales says

    I too think schreiberbike @26 is correct. “Mad” Mike is a daredevil stuntman who found a source of funding in the Flat Earthers, and it’s worth nothing he is promoting Pay Per View on his website.

    I imagine sure both parties are happy with the exposure this proposed stunt has given them.

  29. John Morales says

    VolcanoMan @32:

    But he’s probably going to die. Or break many, many bones and require years of rehab.

    jahigginbotham @23 quotes: “The steam will propel the rocket into the air at 500 mph within 5 to 6 seconds.”

    Obviously, what matters is the highest instantaneous rate of acceleration, but as a rough comparison (sorry if it seems complicated, but the units are not in the metric system):

    Let’s consider the higher bound of that claim; average acceleration is δv ÷ δt thus the average acceleration is 500 ÷ 5 = 100 miles per hour per second. One mile is 5280 feet, hence that acceleration is 528000 feet per hour per second or 146.7 feet per second per second. 1G is 32.2 feet per second per second, so the average acceleration is 4.55G.

    That’s roughly the same average acceleration as a Top Fuel dragster.

    PS I’m very happy if anyone wants to check my math; I am very rusty!

  30. numerobis says

    Sounds about right: 800 km/h is 222 m/s, which is five seconds means about 45 m/s^2, about 4.5g.

    Thrilling for a short while.

    The landing is the hard part.

  31. VolcanoMan says

    @33 microraptor

    Regarding failure of water heaters, remember that the Mythbusters deliberately counteracted the overpressure valves present which would, if active, prevent them becoming deadly rockets. I also think they overpowered the thermocouples that would cause the heaters to fail if a certain temperature was reached; all electric water heaters I’m aware of, even old ones, have such thermocouples which are designed prevent house fires in cases where the tank drains with the element left on (even if the element just slightly overheats the thermocouple kills it). But yes, I agree with you that the critical failure due to overpressure seems awfully high to be intentionally set there. You’d think the things would fail with disappointingly boring results 9 times out of 10 in cases of genuine overpressure (perhaps a physical, non-counteractable “valve”, some kind of weak spot that fails if the pressure reaches more than twice normal operating levels).

    So it may be just lucky accident that they turn into rockets that only partially destroy your house when all the safety systems fail, instead of bombs that turn it into a smoking crater in the ground (since there is enough energy present to neatly level most single-family residential dwellings).

  32. VolcanoMan says


    I wasn’t thinking he’d die from the acceleration. I was thinking he’d die from unfortunate (or unfortunately predictable) parachute failure. Or from a failure of his pressure vessel essentially vaporizing him.

    Those two possibilities seem to me to be the biggest threats (the first more than the second). I wasn’t even thinking of the g-forces he’d experience when launched.

  33. John Morales says

    VolcanoMan, no worries. I imagine extricating himself from the contraption in a safe manner would be another.

  34. aziraphale says


    I like the subtle plug for the metric system. But the fact that g and c are close to nice round numbers in the metric system is a happy accident. Unlike the useful fact that a cubic meter of water weighs a metric ton – that was designed in.

  35. microraptor says

    VolcanoMan @ 37:

    Yeah, Adam and Jamie said they had to remove or bypass all the safeties on the tanks for the test, though that was back when the show still had a fact-finder who listed several confirmed instances where it had actually happened.

  36. Matt G says

    He’s going to only 1800 ft? Doesn’t he know that gravity stops at 2000 ft and after that he can just coast all the way to the moon?

  37. jahigginbotham says

    John Morales @35
    Thanks for numbers. Care to compare to earlier launches? I can’t find too many details.

    It;s fun reading some of the other comments here.

    As Ars Technica noted, Hughes has done a lot of this kind of thing, winning a Guinness World Record in 2002 for jumping “102 feet in a Lincoln Town Car stretch limo.” He also survived a manned steam rocket flight in 2014, traveling 1,374 feet and earning himself three days of recovery from extreme g-forces and a rough descent, the AP wrote.

    Videos of his prior test flights showed that the rockets did not explode in a cloud of steam in mid-air, which is good, but also did not exactly appear to be equipped with the latest-generation parachute technology.
    “If you’re not scared to death, you’re an idiot,” Hughes,

  38. says

    I am glad its “only” a steam rocket. I do NOT want that guy fucking around with actual rocket fuel.
    Even more manageable hybrid rockets (solid fuel, liquid oxidizer) can archive way more power, and are as such way more dangerous. Mostly for him. Unmanned hobbyist hybrid rockets have reached over 30 km heights.
    There is a reason the people behind Bloodhound SSC (Super sonic car) have their hybrid rocket designed and built by a rocket company. And are still carefully testing it and the rest of the car.
    And that are the nice, gentle hybrid rockets. Solid fuel or even more so liquid fuel rockets? In the hand of a person that does not believe in science? The only question would be the depth of the resulting crater.

  39. Ichthyic says

    everyone is making too much out of this.

    he is a con man.

    he’s done this before.

    he simply picks the most gullible group he can find, pretends to be on their side, then gets them to contribute cash to his “endeavors”. The pattern should at least SEEM familiar by now…

  40. says

    “Now that is a curious statement, because he claims to be doing this stunt in order to test a scientific claim, that the earth is round, which means he is purporting to do this for a scientific purpose”

    I’ve hung around a few of these people. They do not believe in science, but ‘zeteticism’ Whereas science – so they claim – begins with a hypothesis which a scientist will then devise an experiment to try to disprove, a zeteticist asks the question “What shape is the Earth?” and then devises an experiment to test it personally through observation.

    While a scientist can stand on the shoulders of previous scientists to see further, the zetetic method involves not believing a claim until you can see it demonstrated with your own eyes.

  41. jrkrideau says

    @40 aziraphale
    I don’t think numerobis was making a subtle plug for the metric system. There are only 2 or 3 countries in the world that still use Imperial/US measurements any more.

    I, certainly, would have thought it very weird to see some units like foot-pounds or miles/hour.

  42. jrkrideau says

    # 48 John Morales

    (Journalism, it ain’t)

    The Russian RT channel did a better job than AP.

  43. VolcanoMan says


    That sounds very similar to the classic Ken Ham line, “were you there?” This implies that the only kind of evidence worth believing is personal observational evidence. In fact, it’s even worse than the creationist’s thought-stopper* because implicit in Ham’s blathering is that were someone actually there millions of years ago, observing deep time and the evolution of modern organisms, and if that someone had sufficient documentation to make it likely that they were being truthful, he would believe in geologic time and the fact of evolution. Whether he actually would do so is debatable, but he knows damn well that nobody has ever been an eyewitness to the truths he vehemently denies, so he’ll never be forced to decide whether such evidence would really convince him (I suspect it wouldn’t since he has admitted that nothing would ever change his mind; “were you there” is used rhetorically, not literally – ironic for a noted literalist). If the zeticist’s methodology as you’ve described it is accurate, a flat-earther would not believe actual, documented evidence of a round earth, personally observed by someone else. Instead, they would only change their mind if they were the ones doing the observing (at least that’s the claim).

    Thus, the gentleman described in PZ’s original post should really be raising money to hitch a ride on a Soyuz rocket to the ISS (I believe the going rate is about 10 million USD, but if he is overcharged by bemused Russians and thus forced to deprive his supporters of even more money, I wouldn’t shed a tear); after 2-3 revolutions about the oblate spheroid that is the Earth, if he didn’t admit that the thing is not, in actuality, flat, then he would not just conning other people, he’d be conning himself. Unfortunately, if he did change his mind, it would, by the provincial procedures governing zeticists, be a drop taken out of an ocean of self-deception since his very own observational evidence would not be accepted by a single one of his buddies.

    *Thought-stoppers are pretty self-descriptive – they are used by people who deny reality to ensure that they will never be convinced of anything they deny because they will never be mentally open to receiving that new information. By deploying a thought-stopper, such individuals are re-exposing themselves to a fallacious and highly specious argument against the thing they wish to continue not believing in, and in so doing, are reassuring themselves that nobody can possibly offer any evidence that would overcome their pre-determined conclusions. After all, in the “were you there” case, clearly nobody was there. Of course, such people readily believe in other things that nobody they know has personally observed (like in the literal truth and historicity of the Bible), but for reasons, those things are different and are thus held to a different standard. After all, hypocrisy is the gold standard for reality-deniers.

  44. says

    VolcanoMan, the windows of a Soyuz capsule would just be TV screens showing fake views whereas the hero’s bare eyeballs can’t be fooled!!!!!111!!! making it imperative to stay close to the surface.

  45. jrkrideau says

    54 VolcanoMan
    classic Ken Ham line, “were you there?”
    Well yes I was, I’m older than I look.

    Lofty @ 55 is right. I was in bicycle shop today and the owner was showing me a trainer that can simulate riding on cobble stones or riding through the Pyrenees . If a bicycle trainer can do that just think what NASA can do!

  46. adonisds says

    If he dies, will we be happy? Do we think stupid people should die? Are we ok with him dying? I’m not really comfortable with making fun of stupid people about to die, assuming this is the case.

  47. jberry says


    Being a student of the Bible (and of Christian theology, and of comparitive religion, albeit also being an atheist and a severe critic of all belief in the supernatural), my impression is that, quantitatively, the great bulk of the Bible’s historicity is correct; that is, perhaps 80%(after discarding from consideration all reasonably-possible information that has been neither confirmed nor refuted) of its ostensibly objective historical data regarding people and peoples—in contexts where the author had no overwhelming vested interest in distorting the facts—is accurate. A more qualitative approach might highlight some ignorant mistakes (or bald misinformation) in key places. But, regarding the general verity of the historical details that it incidentally records, when merely providing background to the dramatic narratives that explicate and endorse the agendas of its authorial parties, the Bible is a valuable historical resource.

  48. says

    The impression I got from the reporting on this was that the guy has been trying to build a steam rocket out of junk, for the hell of it, for a while, because he thought it was fun. Or cool, or crazy, or something else unrelated to the flat earth.

    He was looking for money to continue the project, there was a kickstarter that got something like $300 in total. Then he ‘converted’ to the flat earth theory, started posting on their boards and ended up with $8k. He’s just gulling flat earthers in service of his pet inanity.

  49. jahigginbotham says

    Flat-Earther postpones steam-powered rocket flight after motorhome/launchpad breaks down

    “Mad” Mike Hughes still plans to launch his homemade rocket despite setbacks CREDIT: AP

    Rob Crilly, new york
    25 NOVEMBER 2017 • 11:33PM
    The plan was all set. “Mad” Mike Hughes had picked a launch site, built his steam-powered rocket and set lift-off for Saturday, one step in his plan to fly into space and prove the Earth is flat.

    Just one tiny problem.

    Well, two problems actually.

    At t-minus three days the limo driver from California was told he did not have the necessary permissions for his expedition. There was further disaster as he set off for the ghost town selected for the launch.

    “Plus when we were actually ready to leave and go to Amboy the motorhome-slash-rocket launcher broke down in the driveway,” he said in a Youtube announcement.

    “I just fixed it about two hours ago.”

    Mr Hughes, 61, has attracted global ridicule since his audacious scheme went viral this week.

    He has spent years – and about $20,000 – building a steam-powered space vehicle from salvaged parts in his garage.

    The contraption was designed to be launched from a motorhome that he bought on Craigslist and turned into a launchpad.

    “If you’re not scared to death, you’re an idiot,” he told the Associated Press earlier in the week. “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.”