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Episode 24: Ming Dynasty Astronaut, Perpetual Motion, Ceiling Fans

  • A ~1500AD astrologer was able to launch himself into space: mythbusted
  • Free energy/Perpetual motion machines: mythbusted
  • A ceiling fan can decapitate you: busted

Wan Hu: Ming dynasty astronaut

Ming Dynasty Astronaut

This myth comes from the story of a Wan Hu, Ming dynasty (~1500 AD) astrologer, who strapped 47 rockets to a chair, lit them off, and vanished in a puff of smoke -- records claim he was launched into space.

Wan Hu: Ming dynasty astronaut

To reconstruct the rockets of that time, they found some 3/4" bamboo poles to build 1' rockets. The rockets were filled with homebrewed gunpowder (charcoal/sulfur/saltpeter) mimicking the historical ingredients. The bamboo was also wrapped in twine for strength.

Adam had a lot of trouble cooking up the bamboo. Hoping for as much as 50 pounds of thrust out of each rocket, his first mixture got a grand total of... a half a pound of thrust. Changing the ratios around, there was shot after shot of wimpy rocket firing off. Adam's best only managed 0.77 pounds, so at last they called in rocketeers from the JATO myth for help (who had a mixture that could manage 5 pounds of thurst per rocket).

For the experiment in the Mojave desert, they built two elaborate rocket chair thrones: one to be launched according to myth, one to be launched with more modern rockets (imotors?) that had 50 pounds of thrust each.

The first chair with the 'authentic' rockets pretty much reproduced the myth. There was a big explosion of smoke leaving a void where there was once Buster and throne, except the throne was blown to smithereens and Buster was a smoking heap on the ground, instead of in space (they may need to find him new skin now). The heat from the adjancent rockets was too much and the rockets exploded.

The second chair produced different results. After getting a couple feet of liftoff, the throne flipped over and the rockets proceeded to push Buster into the ground (breaking a leg).


Photos from Friends of Amateur Rocketry (

Friends of Amateur Rocketry Photo Friends of Amateur Rocketry Photo Friends of Amateur Rocketry Photo

More photos from Friends of Amateur Rocketry

Free Energy

Adam and Jamie tested various free energy myths, which is their "biggest file" they have for mythbusting. There is no end to different ideas for free energy, but they settled on a couple that they were able to downloaded specs for off the net.

  1. G-strain amplifier (actually a ring oscillator) that sucks power from the curvature of space. They ran two motors simulatenously, one with the device, one without: the free energy motor went first.

  2. Temperature wheel: wheel of tanks joined together by spokes set in a pool of water. Half of the tanks filled with propane, which settles to the water side of the wheel. The sun heats water, which heats propane and causes it to shift to other side of wheel, which induces rotation. The wheel worked, though the best designs only manage one rotation per minute. The device is a basic solar energy harvester.

  3. Radio wave power harnesser: a 100' antenna that captures radio waves to induce current. The device generated a whopping half a volt.

  4. Perpetual motion machine: blah

Ceiling Fan of Death

Can a ceiling fan chop your head off? The tested two different approaches: jumping up into a fan, and coming in from the side.

The build team built rather disgusting dummy heads/necks for this, filling a Adam's ballistic head mold with a pig's spine and skull. They picked up one household ceiling fan (~20+mph) and one industrial strength fan (~50+mph) from House of Fans and rigged the dummy heads to hit the fans from the two approach angles.

Unsurprisingly (if you've ever put your hand up into a ceiling fan), the household fan did nothing to the dummy head. The industrial fan managed a bit more damage, perhaps doing enough to break the skull or cutting the neck.

In order to "replicate the myth," Tory and Scottie rigged up a lawn mower motor to a custom blade of death. The contraption absolutely annhiliated the dummy head, ripping the head/neck to shreds, though not actually doing enough damage to decapitate.

The dummy heads were perhaps a bit too realistic because it seemed that they were hesitant to show some of the footage of the dummy head being hit.



i really liked the ming dynasty astronaut myth

hey there
this stuff is really useful coz i almost always miss the mythbusters and i was wondering abt the ming dynasty astronaut so thx for bringing that up

around 20 years ago, Johnny Carson had a guest on "The Tonight Show" that demonstrated a regenerating motor he built that consisted of a balenced boom with magnets at each end with motors supporting them. As they passed through the coils, the jolt and inertia boosted the other set on the boom around for another jolt that kept it going until it reached roughly 300 rpm. He also had a bank of neon lights hooked up that flashed every time the magnets hit the coils. Jamie and Adam would have better access to the files than we would here in the boondocks (about 100 miles from their balistic gell source) if NBC still has them.

The radio wave power harnesser seems to have been messed up, I my self have used a kite to go out and hooked up the 200 foot red cooper wire to a crystal radio. The antenna was lifted via a kite. It captures radiant energy (remember electrostatics and thermocoupling plays a part here), not just radio wave energy (which can be any noise on the spectrum). It did induce enoguh current that I felt the line energy (a few milliamps; not to cause a cardic misbeats ... but enough to twitch your muscles). My friends, who also assisted me, felt the line current. We did not measure the amerage (which suck), but the voltage was 5 to 15 volts AC, with spikes of 35 to 50 volts. The mythbusters did not have a verticle tether and did not utilize a crystal radio setup (or any of the early radiant energy patents of Nikola Tesla). It is though funny to watch the mythbusters messing up ... and not do things right.

The line went from the kite, to the crystal radio setup, to the ground. THe ground was compose of a 4 foot soft iron pipe hammered into the ground (di the mythbusters even have a frickend ground?!?). THe crystal radio circuit was a simple one, it ws composed of a variable coil (with the tap leading to the wire and kite), a low resistor, and a capacitor. The fluxes in the voltage was due, in my estimate, to the capaciotr charging and discharging.

I am glad this mythbuster episode didn't come on a few years ago, as I may not have done the experiment. I am glad that the NASA electrodynamic experiments are released. Those were a drive for me to try this. But the tech for it ccomes from Tesla, Moray, Plauson, Maxwell, and Hamiliton. Ben Franklin and Oleg D. Jefimenko also have lots of information on this technology. Atmospheric electricity is possible. Too bad the buster were too inept.

regarding the temperature wheel, the still unanswered question is how much power can you get? Sure they only go 1 RPM, but you can gear that up, and make them as large as the vapor pressure difference provided by the difference between the hot bottom and the cool side can drive the fluid up.

Regarding the Fan of death. If the head had been attached to a body it means there would have been more weight to keep the head and neck in position. The way it worked in the episode the fan pushed the head and shoulders off it's mounting and not doing the full damage it could have.