16 October 2008
News - General (Bad)
SpaceDev Founder, Dead at 63
Jim Benson, RIP
by G B Leatherwood
Jim Benson, 63, founder of SpaceDev, the first publicly traded space company, died October 10, 2008, from a glioblastoma multiforme brain tumor, with which he was diagnosed in 2007.

Benson had worked in the computer industry for 30 years; in 1964 he invented the modern full text computer indexing and search engine. Armed with a degree in geology from the University of Missouri, Benson decided to go into the commercial space exploration business. In 1997 Benson founded the SpaceDev company because he saw that space exploration would be more effective if done commercially, rather than solely under government control.

This venture combined his lifelong interests in science, technology, and astronomy with his successful business experience: he bought a defunct company that happened to be listened on the stock exchange and purchased enough shares to own a majority stake. He changed the companys name and purpose, and thus SpaceDev was born.

In 2003 the firm won a contract to provide key elements of the hybrid rocket engine for SpaceShipOne built by aerospace pioneer Burt Rutan and his company, Scaled Composites. SpaceShipOne flew its first successful test flight in 2004, then captured the $10 million Ansari X-Prize with two back-to-back flights to the edge of space two months later.

In 2004 Benson unveiled plans SpaceDevs plans to build the Dream Chaser space ship. In 2006 he stepped down from his active operational role with SpaceDev and founded a space tourism venture, the Benson Space Company, but retained his seat on the SpaceDev board of directors.

I want to go into space, Benson told the International Space Development Conference (ISDC) in May 2007 in Dallas, Texas. Its been 52 years. Im tired of waiting.

SpaceDevs CEO and Chairman of the Board Mark Sirangelo said of Benson, He will be missed by many but his legacy contained in SpaceDev will continue to forward his vision for the commercialization of space.

He died peacefully in his sleep. Benson is survived by his wife Susan, three children, and four grandchildren. His family is planning a memorial service later this year.
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G B Leatherwood 16 October 2008
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