The Mojave Desert had cast its spell over "Mad Mike" Hughes the night he thought to fly to the edge of space. It’s no wonder why. The sky is fall-over-backwards big, wrapping around you in a way that hints at infinite possibilities. After buttery sunsets fade into glowing orange then purple light, the heavens do their high-wattage flexing. Maybe this struck him as an invitation, and maybe that celestial pull was amplified by the proximity to Hollywood, where his fantasies of fame could be spun up into life. It was some intermingling of these elements that brought Hughes and his friend Waldo Stakes here, like so many others who found their way to Southern California’s mythological landscape from places like Oklahoma City and Chicago: hungry but broke, flogging a dream, bristling with intelligence, and willing to chase an idea that others might consider unreasonable—like launching a man into the sky in a homemade steam-powered rocket.

Pause for a moment and think about the undeniable elegance and utter simplicity of it: heating water until it launches—in a rocket, like from a child’s drawing! Thousands of feet up! Has there ever been an idea so fanciful and yet so completely attainable? And what if that was just a precursor to something even more fantastic—being the first civilian to send himself more than 62 miles up to the edge of space... Keep Reading With Pop Mech Pro

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David Howard

David Howard has written for many national publications and is the author of two nonfiction books, most recently Chasing Phil: The Adventures of Two Undercover Agents with the World's Most Charming Con Man