SpaceDev Founder Jim Benson Dies at 63
SpaceDev founder Jim Benson.
American entrepreneur Jim Benson, founder of the aerospace firm SpaceDev that helped build the rocket engine that launched the world?s first privately-built manned spaceship into suborbital space, died early Friday of a brain tumor, the company announced today.
Benson died in his sleep from a glioblastoma multiforme brain tumor, which he was diagnosed with last year, SpaceDev officials said. He was 63.
"Jim was a true visionary," said Mark Sirangelo, SpaceDev's CEO and Chairman of the Board. "He saw that space exploration could be more effective if done commercially, and formed SpaceDev to make that dream become a reality.?
Benson founded the Poway, Calif.-based SpaceDev in 1997 after 30 years working in the computer industry.
In 2003, the firm won a contract to provide key elements of the hybrid rocket engine for SpaceShipOne, a piloted reusable suborbital spacecraft built by aerospace pioneer Burt Rutan and his firm Scaled Composites in Mojave, Calif. After a successful June 2004 demonstration flight, SpaceShipOne went on to win the $10 million Ansari X Prize by flying twice in two weeks later that year.
"Our motor performed flawlessly during that flight," a proud Benson told SPACE.com in September 2004.
Benson earned a Bachelors of Science degree in geology from the University of Missouri in his hometown of Kansas City. He invented modern full text computer indexing and searching in 1984. He founded the companies Compusearch and ImageFast of McLean, Va., to tap into those fields.
SpaceDev officials said Benson later founded the space-oriented company to combine his interests in science, technology and astronomy.
"I want to go into space,? Benson said in May 2007 at International Space Development Conference (ISDC) in Dallas, Texas. ?It's been 52 years. I'm tired of waiting."
At times, Benson seemed at odds with Rutan over the credit for SpaceShipOne?s novel engine and its performance. After the spaceship?s first successful flight in June 2004, Benson lauded the success and told SPACE.com that the next flight would feature an upgraded version of the nitrous-oxide and rubber-burning engine. In a swift interview response, Rutan proclaimed there were no upgrades, simply extra propellant.
But Benson?s passion for spaceflight never wavered and he unveiled SpaceDev?s plans to build the DreamChaser spaceship in 2004. In 2006, he stepped down from an operational role in SpaceDev and founded the Benson Space Company, a space tourism venture.
Benson is survived by his wife Susan, three children and four grandchildren. His family is planning a memorial service later in the year.
?He will be missed by many but his legacy contained in SpaceDev will continue to forward his vision for the commercialization of space,? Sirangelo said.
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