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SpaceDev Founder Jim Benson Dies at 63

SpaceDev Founder Jim Benson Dies at 63
SpaceDev founder Jim Benson. (Image credit: SpaceDev.)

American entrepreneurJim Benson, founder of the aerospace firm SpaceDev that helped build the rocketengine that launched the world?s first privately-built manned spaceship intosuborbital space, died early Friday of a brain tumor, the company announced today.

Benson diedin his sleep from a glioblastoma multiforme brain tumor, which he was diagnosedwith last year, SpaceDev officials said. He was 63.

"Jimwas a truevisionary," said Mark Sirangelo, SpaceDev's CEO and Chairman of theBoard. "He saw that space exploration could be more effective if donecommercially, and formed SpaceDev to make that dream become a reality.?

Benson foundedthe Poway, Calif.-based SpaceDev in 1997 after 30 years working in the computerindustry.

In 2003,the firm won a contract to provide key elements of the hybrid rocket engine forSpaceShipOne, a piloted reusable suborbital spacecraft built by aerospacepioneer Burt Rutan and his firm Scaled Composites in Mojave, Calif. After asuccessful June 2004 demonstration flight, SpaceShipOne went on to win the$10 million Ansari X Prize by flying twice in two weeks later that year.

"Ourmotor performed flawlessly during that flight," a proud Benson told SPACE.comin September 2004.

Benson earneda Bachelors of Science degree in geology from the University of Missouri in hishometown of Kansas City. He invented modern full text computer indexing andsearching in 1984. He founded the companies Compusearch and ImageFast ofMcLean, Va., to tap into those fields.

SpaceDevofficials said Benson later founded the space-oriented company to combine hisinterests in science, technology and astronomy.

"Iwant to go into space,? Benson said in May 2007 at International Space DevelopmentConference (ISDC) in Dallas, Texas. ?It's been 52 years. I'm tired ofwaiting."

At times, Bensonseemed at odds with Rutan over the credit for SpaceShipOne?s novel engine andits performance. After the spaceship?s first successful flight in June 2004,Benson lauded the success and told that the next flight wouldfeature an upgraded version of the nitrous-oxide and rubber-burning engine. Ina swift interview response, Rutan proclaimed there were noupgrades, simply extra propellant.

But Benson?spassion for spaceflight never wavered and he unveiled SpaceDev?s plans to buildthe DreamChaser spaceship in 2004. In 2006, he stepped down from anoperational role in SpaceDev and founded the Benson Space Company, a spacetourism venture.

Benson issurvived by his wife Susan, three children and four grandchildren. His family isplanning a memorial service later in the year.

?He will bemissed by many but his legacy contained in SpaceDev will continue to forwardhis vision for the commercialization of space,? Sirangelo said.


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Tariq Malik

SPACE.COM EDITOR IN CHIEF — Tariq joined the team in 2001 as a staff writer, and later editor, covering human spaceflight, exploration and space science. He became's Managing Editor in 2009. Before joining, Tariq was a staff reporter for The Los Angeles Times. He is also an Eagle Scout (yes, he has the Space Exploration merit badge) and went to Space Camp four times as a kid and a fifth time as an adult. He has journalism degrees from the University of Southern California and New York University. To see his latest project, you can follow Tariq on Google+, Twitter and on Facebook.