Ky Michaelson

‘Homemade Astronauts’ Exclusive Interview: Ky Michaelson Talks Rocket Building And Elon Musk’s Ventures


Homemade Astronauts blasts off today for you to see how the thirst for space exploration is not just for billionaires.

The series will stream on discovery+ and it is a real boon for any parents of kids with learning disabilities as the main attraction, 82-year-old Ky Michaelson, overcame severe dyslexia to be not only a top Hollywood stunt coordinator but an authentic rocket building Minnesotan who is still going strong.

America once was the space exploration center of Earth’s eggheaded universe. We were the kings. The Soviets were close, but let’s be honest, we kicked their a**.

Ky’s vitality and interest in this science have to be a real key to aging well, defying the chronological year’s toll on the mind. He’s as sharp as a tack and ready to blast off another rocket.

TV Shows Ace spoke to Ky about his fantastic career, and how Homemade Astronauts reveals his interest in space. We found out he’s a huge fan of Elon Musk’s work in this area and not so much a fan of another castmember’s odd ties to the Flat Earthers, who sadly enabled him to go up into the atmosphere only to crash and die.

Homemade Astronauts is about daring to dream.

The space-age is still going strong, with a few hiccups along the way, yet few people have experienced space for themselves. For some, space travel is the ultimate mission and exploring our universe beyond the Earth’s atmosphere.

discovery+ says:

Each year, civilians from across the country and around the world set out on their own backyard space race – using nothing but grit, determination and self-taught skills to create their own home-built rockets and spacesuits. HOMEMADE ASTRONAUTS follows the journey of three groups of dreamers who pave their own paths, each with a different approach to space travel.

It took two and a half years to film.

Lifelong daredevil Mike “Mad Mike” Hughes and his build partner Waldo Stakes set out with the ultimate goal of propelling Mike 62 miles above the earth, all the way to the Karman line, the border between Earth’s atmosphere and outer space.

The series documents how Mike first made three bold attempts to reach up to one mile above the earth. His goal was to raise publicity and fundraising for his rockoon. He wanted to take photos of the Earth as a flat object instead of the spherical planet that it is.

His daredevil dreams fueled his ill-conceived mission. Many of his team behind him all stoked each other’s ignorance about basic science and real evidence, insisting the planet is some hurtling space pizza. Hughes, 64, launched from the desert northeast of Los Angeles at about 2 p.m., and the flight lasted about 20 seconds when the rocket crashed headfirst, and sadly, he died.

Over in Minnesota, the real-life “Rocketman,” Ky Michaelson, is the first civilian to build and launch a crewless rocket into space. He’s working together with his son, Buddy, and entrepreneur Kurt Anderson – “The Rocketboys” – to be the first amateur to build and launch a fuel-powered, manned space rocket. Along the way, Ky and the Rocketboys build a rocket sled, in which Kurt attempts to break the land/ice speed world record.

Anthropology professor Cameron Smith of Portland, Oregon, pursues his dream of space flight after finding out years ago that his vision did not meet NASA standards. Using supplies as unexpected as a crockpot, he crafts a space-worthy suit that he tests on himself for safety on an airplane flight. With that success, he hatches an ingenious plan to float himself to the highest height.

Exclusive interview with Ky Michaelson

The show promotes the love of space exploration and going beyond the atmosphere. You’ve got your son Buddy looped into the rocket-making business?

Ky Michaelson: Sure is. He actually just launched a rocket today. He has never hung around with anybody his age since day one. He’s really sharp. In 2014, he helped assemble the second rocket that we put in space. So he’s been around this all his life.

When Buddy was born, he was 15 minutes old, and I brought some items in a satchel to the hospital, a rocket, and a fake stick of dynamite. And that is his baby picture. Buddy at 15 minutes old, he’s got a stick of dynamite in one hand! One hand holds the rocket! This is 21 years ago, so still not quite so bad, so he’s around rocketry all the time.

In fact, he’s working on an experiment right now where they launched a rocket up with a wire on it and trying to get lightning to hit it. So he’s working on that right now.

The three focus subjects of the show include you, Mad Mike, and Cameron Smith. They were concurrent stories, and you were vaguely aware of the other’s efforts?

Ky Michaelson: Yes, we didn’t really know each other. Nobody told us really what everybody else was doing. I knew of Mad Mike, and the other gentleman I was unfamiliar with before the show.

What I appreciated about your segment was your backstory is fascinating. You were a special effects Hollywood guy. How did you get from Minnesota to Hollywood? How did that happen?

Ky Michaelson: I started when I was 16 years old. When I got my first Gilbert, chemistry said it taught you how to make black powder. The black powder went from firecrackers to rockets.

I’ve known all kinds of rockets, but in 1969, I put a rocket on a snowmobile and set a world record with a snowmobile. Then I chased after world records with rocket power vehicles.

We ended up setting 72 states, national and international speed records. Meanwhile, because I’m racing around the country and put it on demonstrations with these rockets. I ended up out in California, and I was in a shop.

The stuntman walked in with a piece of stunt equipment for a catapult. And he wanted a weld on it.

I say, ‘who built this for you?’ And he told me, I said,’ I could build one much better than this using the aerospace type hardware.’ And before he knew it, I built a new device for him.

All of a sudden, I got more guys coming, asking me if I want me to build more stuff for them. Now I’m on a movie set. I make friends with Dar Robinson and Kitty O’Neil. O’Neil was Wonder Woman’s stunt double. I started doing work for her.

And now I’m a stunt man and a stunt coordinator. So it happened that way. I think, old school or not, that I just slid into the deal.

How long were you in California doing this professionally?

Ky Michaelson: Well, I’ve worked off and on for 30 years in the business, and I still am in the business, building stuff. I like the show. I’ve worked out on many shows throughout the years, but back in the day, I did 17 segments of That’s Incredible and worked on Rescue 911, Unsolved Mysteries.

But I worked at a lot of, a lot of commercials and things like that. So often, I’m 82 years old, but I know a lot about explosives and can do special effects and stuff like that.

You don’t look, and you don’t sound your age.

Ky Michaelson: I’m blessed to have a 21-year-old son. He keeps me young around here too.

You had some learning disabilities; please share what happened.

Ky Michaelson: That was the one thing I could not learn was math. And reading was really tough for me. If I look at a page instead of the focus out of the sentence, I focus on the old page, and then my mind wanders.

But back then, they didn’t know what dyslexia was, and they just thought you just copped an attitude.

I was called stupid dumb. I don’t want your kind around here. Well, that built my character. I have a very strong character. So I look at it this way. If you could do it, I can do it. I have many, many interests. I’m not just interested in one or two things.

So Tripoli was your first rocket, and that poor rocket went into the ground headfirst…

Ky Michaelson: Yes, yes. Oh yeah.

And you admitted to your son that it was wrong. Because you decided to fly it, and then you regretted it.

Ky Michaelson: Yes. I know what part you’re talking about. I don’t know how far they went with that, but we had a guy helping with the electronics because some new electronics just came out, and he knew a lot more about electronics than I did, but there was also a backup modem in there.

The first stage looked like it was going to work. Then as it turns out, it did not.  It failed, and there was no backup. And so consequently, we lost a motor and that one.

And then the next rocket was three months later, it’s been up close to $10,000 on it, and it went up, and then it came down and then your main chute was tangled, but the tall corn crop saved you.

Ky Michaelson: Yeah, there was enough parachute out. So we saved that. Yes. That came out in fine shape. We could fly that. It’d get if we want it to, yes.

The corn crop actually kind of cushioned it.

Ky Michaelson: Yeah. [laughs] That’s probably had a little bit to do with it.

Tell me about your team. 

Ky Michaelson: There’s Kurt Anderson along with Gary and Buddy. He’s the one with the rocket sled. He’s one of the rocket boys, he and I worked together, and we’ve been friends for maybe eight years.

He came to my door, and I have had many people come and want me to help with rocketry and stuff like that. But when he came to my door, I said,’ I’ll tell you what, Kurt, if you make a promise with me and that I want you to break my world records, and you’ll never stop until you do.’

That’s how Kurt and I became acquainted.  The first one he went after is the rocket sled. He ended up crashing at over 203 miles an hour, but we’re in the process. He’s building a new one as we speak.

Well, another thing that I noticed about you is you’re not anxious to put a human being put their life at risk. You’re doing unmanned tests.

Ky Michaelson: Yes. One thing at a time, you know, and you were the very first civilians to actually get licensed by the federal government to launch a rocket in space. We were before Space X. We were before Burt Rutan.

We are the very first to ever get a license in the world by our government. I’m pretty proud of that. And we beat Burt Rutan by about 20 days in the day. I have an email from him offering congratulations. I think that’s a pretty proud thing for me, but we had many things that happened while this was going on.

My mom died when I was out there. We had several failures, and my bank account was getting smaller and smaller. Some other things happened. So it wasn’t. It wasn’t an effortless feat. After we did it, that’s the proudest moment in my life. As a matter of fact, putting that rocket into space,

What is your opinion about Elon Musk and the desire to go to space and for him to funnel his capital into these space programs away from the government’s control?

Ky Michaelson: Well, Incredible. It shows you that the private sector is doing something faster and better, and it’s unbelievable what Elon Musk has accomplished in this short amount of time. Still, to recover rockets and fly them over together, I would know where he would ever believe that that would be impossible in flying them over again.

I mean, it’s incredible, just unbelievable. And, after our Apollo missions and all that stuff, these guys, they all retired.  I said, ‘Oh man, that’s going to be the end of our space program.’ And I was wrong.

Elon Musk came around, and his SpaceX hired all these young guys and girls working for him and showed up in shorts. They only have suits on, they have got a laid-back work atmosphere, and it’s just unbelievable what Elon has done in a short period of time.

I was not too fond of the pseudoscience flat earthers and Mad Mike getting airtime.

Ky Michaelson: Yes. Mike came to me; he wanted me to build that rocket motor for him to start with. Frankly, I did not want anything to do with him.

What is the moment you realized that in your non-professional life, you were going to continue doing rocket work?

Ky Michaelson: Well, because I’ve always, I’ve always been involved in rocketry, always,. All through my life, one way or another was special effects or fireworks or whatever.

I’ll never forget when I was around 48 years old. I had friends from Hollywood who came up to Minnesota who wanted to build a rocket and see what these rockets are like. I built this rocket, and we went to all about five miles from my place and launched this thing.

Anyways, it ended up in a cornfield, and meanwhile, somebody called the fire department and the police department saying kids were playing with fireworks. This friend of mine went into the cornfield trying to find this thing. So they come out to me, the officer’ says, ‘have you seen some kids playing with fireworks here?

I say, ‘No.’ And then Jeff is waving our rocket up in the cornfield, several blocks away. Yelling, ‘I’d found it.’

And I looked down and my jacket, and it says, ‘rocketman,’ [laughs] I was busted by the police department! The officer says, ‘we’re going to give this to the Chief of Police and the fire department.  If you want it back, talk to him.

We have a club in Minneapolis; we just launched rockets and we have planned a huge rocket launch this weekend.

But organized rocketry for kids comes with science and math. There’s so much involved. I love to see them get involved in rocketry because, of course, we’re in the space age pretty much now.

There’s a lot of good jobs out there with SpaceX. They are doing a lot of hiring!


‘Homemade Astronauts’ to Stream Thursday, May 13, on discovery+

April Neale

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