The countdown to launch creeps closer and there’s still plenty for self-taught rocket scientist “Mad” Mike Hughes to do: Last-second modifications to his vessel. Pick up his flight suit. Leave enough food for his four cats — just in case anything happens.
Hughes is a 61-year-old limo driver who’s spent the last few years building a steam-powered rocket out of salvage parts in his garage. His project has cost him $20,000, which includes Rust-Oleum paint to fancy it up and a motor home he bought on Craigslist that he converted into a ramp.
His first test of the rocket will also be the launch date — Saturday, when he straps into his homemade contraption and attempts to hurtle over the ghost town of Amboy, California. He will travel about a mile at a speed of roughly 500 mph.
“If you’re not scared to death, you’re an idiot,” Hughes said. “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. I’m a walking reality show.”
The daredevil-limo driver has been called a little bit of everything over his career — eccentric, quirky, foolhardy. Doesn’t bother him. He believes what he believes, including that the Earth is flat. He knows this thought is a conundrum, given that he’s about to launch himself into the atmosphere.
Down the road, he’s intending to build a rocket that takes him to space, so he can snap a picture and see with his own eyes.
“I don’t believe in science,” said Hughes, whose main sponsor for the rocket is Research Flat Earth. “I know about aerodynamics and fluid dynamics, and how things move through the air, about the certain size of rocket nozzles, and thrust. But that’s not science, that’s just a formula. There’s no difference between science and science fiction.”
This will actually be the second time he’s constructed and launched a rocket. He jumped on a private property in Winkelman, Arizona, on Jan. 30, 2014, and traveled 1,374 feet. He collapsed after that landing — the G-forces taking a toll — and needed three days to recover.
That distance, though, would’ve been enough to clear the Snake River Canyon, which is a jump daredevil Evel Knievel made famous when he failed to clear it during his attempt in 1974. Stuntman Eddie Braun did successfully zoom over the canyon — using Knievel’s original blueprints — in September 2016.
Just don’t mention Knievel around Hughes. He’s not a fan.
“He was an average stunt guy,” said Hughes, a former motorcycle racer. “He stole his look from Elvis.”
Hughes constructed his latest rocket at the “Rocket Ranch” in Apple Valley, California. It’s a five-acre property he leases from Waldo Stakes, the CEO of Land Speed Research Vehicles, who’s currently working on a project to make a car travel 2,000 mph.
Their relationship formed a few years ago when Hughes approached Stakes about building a rocket. Stakes receives plenty of these sorts of requests, but this one stood out because Hughes was building it himself.
“Nothing is out of reach,” Stakes said. “Anything can be done. You just have to put enough money, time and thought into it.”
Here’s the thing: Hughes doesn’t make all that much money — $15 per hour as a limo driver, plus tips. That’s why he’s scrounged for parts, finding the aluminum for his rocket in metal shops and constructing the rocket nozzle out of an aircraft air filter. He gave it a good varnish of cheap paint, and his launch pad is attached to a motor home he bought for $1,500.
“I want to inspire others, and you have to do something incredible to get anybody’s attention,” Hughes said.
The location of the jump will be Amboy, a ghost town in the Mojave Desert and along historic Route 66. The fictional town of Radiator Springs in the Disney movie “Cars” was loosely based on Amboy.
Hughes got permission from the town’s owner, Albert Okura, who purchased the rights to Amboy in 2005 for $435,000. The launch will take place on an air strip next to a dilapidated hangar.
“It is absolutely the most wacky promotional proposal I have had since I purchased the entire town in 2005,” said Okura, who’s also the founder of the Juan Pollo restaurant chain. “He is a true daredevil and I want to be part of it.”
On the morning of the launch, Hughes will heat about 70 gallons of water in a stainless steel tank and then blast off between 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. He plans to go about a mile — reaching an altitude of about 1,800 feet — before pulling two parachutes. They’re discouraging fans, safety issues, but it will be televised on his YouTube channel. He said he’s been in contact with the Federal Aviation Administration and the Bureau of Land Management.
Following his jump, he said he’s going to announce his plans to leap into the race for governor of California. No joke.
His future plans include an excursion into space. He and Stakes have already brainstormed on a “Rockoon,” which is a rocket that, rather than being immediately ignited while on the ground, is carried into the atmosphere by a gas-filled balloon, then separated from the balloon and lit. This rocket will take Hughes about 68 miles up.
First things first — this jump over a ghost town. He will be tinkering with his rocket right up to takeoff.
“A guy who builds his own rocket in his garage, about to jump a mile is pretty cool,” Hughes said. “It’s the most interesting human-interest story in the world.”
By Barbara Opall-Rome
TEL AVIV, Israel — U.S. and Israeli officers broke ground in Israel on Monday for a permanent U.S. Army base that will house dozens of U.S. soldiers, operating under the American flag, and charged with the mission of defending against rocket and missile attack.
The American base, officers in Israel say, will be an independent facility co-located at the Israel Defense Forces Air Defense School in southern Israel, near the desert capital of Beersheba. Once completed, the base will house U.S. operational systems to identify and intercept a spectrum of aerial threats, along with barracks, recreational and other facilities required to support several dozen American air defenders.
“A few dozens of soldiers of our American allies will be stationed here permanently. They are part of an American task force that will be stationed here,” said Israeli Air Force Brig. Gen. Zvika Haimovich, the IDF‘s air defense commander.
According to Haimovich, the co-located, permanent U.S. presence will enhance Israel’s ability to detect and defend against the growing rocket and missile threat. “The purpose of their presence is not for training or for exercises, but rather as part of a joint Israeli and American effort to sustain and enhance our defensive capabilities.”
Maj. Gen. John Gronski, deputy commanding general of the Army National Guard in U.S. Army Europe, led the U.S. delegation participating in Sept. 18 ceremonies.
The United States is to create a new permanent base in Israel, something the U.S. Army National Guard’s deputy commanding general says “signifies the strong bond” between the U.S. and Israel. “We’ll have Israeli airmen, U.S. soldiers living and working side-by-side,” Maj. Gen. John L. Gronski said. (Israel Defense Forces) Correction: A previous version of this video misidentified the force Gronski helps command. He is with the U.S. Army National Guard.
Referring to the site as Site 883 Life Support Area, Gronski said the planned base “signifies the strong bond” that exists between the United States and Israel.
“This life support area represents the first ever stationing of a U.S. Army unit on Israeli soil,” he said. “The U.S. and Israel have long planned together, exercised together, trained together. And now, with the opening of this site, these crucial interactions will occur every day. We’ll have Israeli airmen, US soldiers living and working side by side.”
While the new U.S. base marks the first to be co-located within an Israeli base and the first in which active interceptors are to be deployed, the U.S. military has operated an independent facility for nearly a decade in the same general area of Israel’s Negev desert. That facility — which is operated only by Americans without an Israeli presence — houses the U.S. AN/TPY-2, an X-Band radar that is integrated with Israeli search and track radars to augment early warning in the event of ballistic missile attack from Iran.
In his briefing to reporters, Haimovich said the IDF has been working with its U.S. counterparts for nearly two years to establish the new facility. He emphasized that the American presence “would not hamper the IDF‘s ability to act independently against any threat to the security of the State of Israel.”
He also noted that in recent weeks, the IDFs Air Defense Command stood up a new Iron Dome battalion to enable the Jewish state to more equitably deploy active defenses along its northern as well as southern borders, where Israel faces growing threats from Lebanon and Gaza, respectively.
One of Israel’s operational Iron Dome systems is now in the U.S., where it is competing with U.S.-proposed systems for an interim — and possibly longer-term — solution to the medium- and short-range air defense requirement.
A teacher is facing disciplinary action at his school after he referred to a transgender pupil as a girl, although the student identifies as a boy.
Joshua Sutcliffe, a Christian pastor from Oxford, admitted he said “Well done girls” when addressing a group including the student.
He described it as a “slip of the tongue”, but said he believed biological sex was defined at birth
The school said it would be “inappropriate” to comment.
Mr Sutcliffe, who teaches children aged between 11 and 18, said the incident took place on 2 November.
He said a week-long investigation found he had “misgendered” the pupil.
‘Born a girl’
The maths teacher, who is also a pastor at the Christ Revelation church in Oxford, said he tried to balance his beliefs with the need to treat the pupil sensitively.
He claimed he did this by avoiding the use of gender-specific pronouns and by referring to the pupil by name.
“While the suggestion that gender is fluid conflicts sharply with my Christian beliefs… I have never looked to impose my convictions on others”, he said
He said he had apologised to the student, but said he did not consider it “unreasonable” to call someone a girl “if they were born a girl”.
More children seek help with gender identity
More than 2,000 young people, aged between three and 18, were referred to a specialist NHS clinic in 2016-17, seeking help with their gender identity.
The numbers have been growing every year since the start of the decade.
Of 2,016 young people referred to the Gender Identity Development Service (GIDS) in the most recent year, 1,400 were assigned female at birth.
Polly Carmichael, a consultant clinical psychologist and director of GIDS, said there was no single explanation for the increase but said there had been “significant progress towards the acceptance and recognition of transgender and gender diverse people in our society”.
Dr Carmichael said the majority of the service’s users did not take up physical treatment.
There were two children referred aged three in 2016-17. The service rejected 30 referrals of people who were already 18 years old.
The Christian Legal Centre, which is supporting Mr Sutcliffe, said he faced an internal disciplinary hearing on Wednesday.
The state academy school where he is employed said the matter was confidential.
However, it said it took equality and discrimination seriously and had a range of governor-approved policies in place to ensure it acted lawfully.
LGBT charity Stonewall said “pupils must be protected” even if teachers may hold “different opinions” about sexuality and gender identity.
It did not want to comment on the case involving Mr Sutcliffe, but it said “children should always feel included and accepted for who they are”.
By Aimee Lutkin
On Monday, the Church of England announced an initiative called “Valuing All God’s Children,” that states children should be allowed to experiment with their gender identity. The measure has been adopted as a way to combat bullying in the Church’s thousands of schools.
The New York Times reports that teachers are being encouraged to allow students in school to “explore the possibilities of who they might be without judgment or derision.” The guidelines were supported by the Most Rev. Justin Welby, archbishop of Canterbury.
“For example, a child may choose the tutu, princess’s tiara and heels and/or the fireman’s helmet, tool belt and superhero cloak without expectation or comment,” it said. “Childhood has a sacred place for creative self-imagining.”
Welby was appointed to his position in 2012; in 2014, the Church extended guidelines to schools in an attempt to combat homophobia, but these new edicts have grown to encompass children experimenting with or expressing their gender identity.
“All bullying, including homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying causes profound damage, leading to higher levels of mental health disorders, self-harm, depression and suicide,” Archbishop Welby wrote. “This guidance helps schools to offer the Christian message of love, joy and celebration of our humanity without exception or exclusion.”
However, in 2016, the International Anglican Communion suspended the U.S. Episcopal Church for performing same-sex marriages. Anglican archbishops from England wrote in a statement that the Episcopal Church had made “a fundamental departure from the faith and teaching held by the majority of our provinces on the doctrine of marriage.” Priests in the Church of England are still forbidden from performing same-sex ceremonies.
Lydia Rimawi has just given birth to what she calls a gift from God. Baby Majid – new life born out of an underground smuggling ring that’s rippling through Israel’s prisons.
I’m talking about Palestinian babies born from sperm smuggled out of Israeli prisons.
The imprisoned men are convicted of participating in what Israel deems terror attacks. To most Israeli’s – the men are considered terrorists.
To Palestinians – they’re martyrs.
Their wives – the smugglers whose tactics have been shrouded in secrecy… Until now.
For the first time the women shared their secret methods. On my trip to Palestine reporting this story over three days these women invited me into their lives and homes to reveal their successes and plans to continue to smuggle sperm out of Israel’s prisons.
There are around 4,700 Palestinian husbands, sons and brothers imprisoned in Israeli jails. Many of them are serving life sentences.
These Palestinian prisoners are not permitted conjugal visits and permitted visits are restricted to 45 minutes. Husband and wife are separated by a sealed glass panel and communicate via telephone. No physical contact is allowed at any time.
Lydia and her counterparts – Em Rafat and Samia are amongst a growing number of Palestinian women refusing to let the ongoing conflict between Palestinian and Israeli forces halt their lives.
They’re keeping their husbands legacies alive – one shot of semen at a time.
There’s an overwhelming sense of accomplishment in the room today following Lydia’s birth. She is chanting “we did it, we challenged the Israeli’s and this is the biggest victory for us and I have a beautiful baby boy”.
Lydia is not the only one of these women with a cause for celebration. Samia whose husband is serving multiple life sentences is five months pregnant.
Em Rafat’s son has been in prison for seven years. His wife is eight months pregnant.
As the Islamic call to prayer floats over the West Bank, I’m told Lydia’s counterparts are planning their next smuggle ‘operation’.
It’s my last day in The West Bank and the morning of the operation I meet Em Rafat in her home village near Ramallah. She is allowing me to accompany her along to Ramon prison where her son is.
Due to stringent Israeli security measures the trip can take up to 14 hours. This is the same journey she made 9 months ago when she smuggled out sperm for her daughter in law.
The women claim the prisoners bring the sperm ready to each visit. But I was left bewildered as to how they get the sperm out and how it survives.
IVF experts say sperm can survive outside the body for up to five days only if kept at 37 degrees.
According to specialist Dr Salem Abu Khaizaran who helps these women with the IVF procedure there a currently 65 samples of smuggled sperm, 16 women pregnant, and three about to have their babies.
Dr Salem explains to me the variety of ways that he’s had samples delivered to him.
“The samples come to me in different forms either in eye-drops containers, nose-drops containers, some of them give it in plastic gloves in different forms. The strangest thing the sperm came to us in was through a chocolate wrapper,” says Dr Salem.
Several checkpoint security breaches later, the threat of my camera being smashed to pieces by guards and a very hairy situation that just escalates as the adventure progressed – this is a story that definitely won’t leave me for a while.
I can tell you the sperm, the smugglers and myself all came out unscathed – with some extraordinary footage but it was by no means an easy feat.
I hope this underground network of Palestinian women and their phenomenal courage, determination and strength of spirit will leave you feeling as amazed as I am. They are truly a force to be reckoned with.
By Avi Selk
CORRECTION: Earlier versions of this article — including the original headline — cited a CNN report that said a “Pray for an Islamic Holocaust” banner was displayed at the weekend march in Warsaw. CNN has since corrected its story and removed its reference to the banner. A similar banner was hung in another Polish city in 2015, according to local reports, but not at Saturday’s march. This post has been updated.
The official celebration of Poland’s 99th independence day went innocuously, with the usual ceremonies in the capital. There was even a visit from the European Council’s internationalist president, who insisted to Politico that Saturday’s festivities would proceed “with a smile on our face and with joy in our hearts.”
But for blocks and blocks and blocks beyond the central towers of Warsaw, a much larger crowd swelled beneath a cloud of red smoke.
Tens of thousands of people had come from across Poland and beyond, and reporters documented their signs:
“Clean Blood,” as seen by Politico.
“White Europe” streaked across another banner, the Associated Press reported — as about 60,000 people chanted and marched through Warsaw in an annual gathering of Europe’s far-right movements, which have grown to dwarf the official version of Poland’s independence day celebration.
By the end of the weekend, the AP reported, the official and unofficial events even seemed to be merging.
Police had arrested 45 counterprotesters — but not one of the marchers seen carrying white supremacist symbols or heard chanting “Sieg Heil” in a country where Nazis carried out some of the Holocaust’s worst atrocities.
Rather, Poland’s Foreign Ministry said Monday that the day had been “a great celebration of Poles, differing in their views, but united around the common values of freedom and loyalty to an independent homeland.”
Nov. 11 marks Poland’s celebration of its freedom from imperial rule in 1918. That freedom was interrupted over the following century by brutal occupations, first by Nazis, then communists.
In the 21st century, a group called All-Polish Youth, which the AP reported is named after a radical anti-Semitic group from the 1930s, began hosting a competing Nov. 11 celebration in Warsaw.
It began as a small thing, Politico reported. No more than a few hundred people showed up to the march in 2010, although the numbers soon grew into the thousands.
In some years, the spectacle turned bloody — as when masked marchers threw rocks, flares and paving slabs at police in 2014, according to the BBC.
By all accounts, the Nov. 11 rallies since then have been fairly peaceful and very large.
Some who marched under the flares and red smoke on Saturday were families and children, the AP reported. But more noticeable were droves of young men, some masked — and some chanting, “Death to enemies of the homeland.”
There was some violence Saturday, the AP reported, when nationalists pushed and kicked a group of women holding a banner that said “Stop Fascism.”
But that was the only such report. A heavy police force kept the small assembly of counterprotesters separated from the far-right march.
Far-right leaders from Britain and Italy were welcomed by the crowd, according to the AP. (The U.S. alt-right leader Richard Spencer had been deemed too extreme by the Polish government, and he canceled his plans to attend.)
An Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman called the march dangerous, per the AP.
“History teaches us that expressions of racist hate must be dealt with swiftly and decisively,” he said — perhaps referring to the Nazi-era Warsaw ghetto, where hundreds of thousands of imprisoned Jews were deported to extermination camps if they were not killed before.
But the Polish Foreign Ministry waved off the worst reports about the crowd as “incidental,” the AP reported.
After the rally ended Saturday evening, a reporter asked Poland’s interior minister — a member of the right-wing government — what he thought of the banners and chants of “white Europe” and “pure blood.”
“It’s only your opinion, because you behave like a political activist,” he replied, Politico reported. According to the AP, the same minister called that swollen, crimson-fogged march across Warsaw “a beautiful sight.”