WASHINGTON — SpaceDev founder and board member James Benson died Oct. 10 from a brain tumor that first was diagnosed in 2007. He was 63.
“Jim was a true visionary,” Mark Sirangelo, SpaceDev’s chief executive officer and chairman of the board said in a statement announcing Benson’s death. “He saw that space exploration could be more effective if done commercially and formed SpaceDev to make that dream become a reality. He will be missed by many but his legacy contained in SpaceDev will continue to forward his vision for the commercialization of space.”
Benson founded Poway, Calif-based SpaceDev in 1997 as a publicly traded company with the marquee goal of launching a commercial mission to land on a near Earth asteroid, conduct scientific experiments and claim it as private property. Benson’s aggressive promotion of the Near-Earth Asteroid Prospector Mission ran afoul of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), which alleged SpaceDev made false and misleading statements in an effort to increase the price of its over-the-counter stock. A settlement was reached under which Benson and SpaceDev agreed to abide by SEC regulations governing forward-looking statements from publicly traded companies.
The Near-Earth Asteroid Prospector mission was shelved as SpaceDev switched its focus to building the NASA-funded Cosmic Hot Interstellar Plasma Spectrometer microsatellite for the
. The satellite launched in 2003 and remained in service until April 2008.
Under Benson, SpaceDev completed at least two acquisitions. In 1998, it acquired all patents, test results and other intellectual property produced by the defunct American Rocket Company and in 2005 acquired through merger the Boulder, Colo.-based microsatellite technology firm Starsys Research Corp., putting the number of SpaceDev employees above 200.
Benson also saw SpaceDev-built rocket motors help propel SpaceShipOne on its Ansari X-Prize winning flights in 2004.
“The space enterprise community lost one of its great visionaries this morning,” Andrea Seastrand, executive director of the California Space Authority, said in an Oct. 10 statement. “Jim Benson tested convention and developed cutting edge hybrid propulsion and advanced structural systems. His 30-years of entrepreneurial experience and out-of-the-box thinking will be sadly missed.”
Benson stepped down from his operational role in SpaceDev in late 2006 to start a space tourism venture called Benson Space Company. The company was still in its start-up phase when Benson was taken from an industry conference in an ambulance, hospitalized and eventually diagnosed with glioblastoma multiforme brain tumor, considered the most aggressive and common type of brain tumor.
Before founding SpaceDev, Benson spent 30 years in the computer field, inventing modern full-text computer indexing and searching in 1984 and founded two companies, Compusearch and ImageFast of McLean, Va., to exploit the technology, according to his SpaceDev biography.
Mr. Benson received a bachelor’s degree in geology from the
in his home town of
He is survived by his wife Susan, three children and four grandchildren. The family is planning a memorial service later in the year.