Saturday, October 11, 2008

Jim Benson 1945 - 2008

The writer last met Jim Benson in 2007. He was very upbeat about the future in Space, and took great interest in the Spacesuit. He had big plans for his Benson Space Company, starting with suporbital flights in the Dreamchaser craft. Shortly afterward he was diagnosed with serious health problems. He wil be sorely missed.

Jim began by studying geology, then invented full text computer indexing and searching. He founded multiple companies like Compusearch. HIs Spacedev company was also successful, building and contributing to many spacecraft projects. As much as any party, Spacedev was responsible for the success of Spaceship One in 2004.

The heart of any rocket is the powerplant, and SS1 was powered by a hybrid engine. Scaled Composites had never built a rocket, so building and fuelling the engine was subcontracted to Spacedev. After the X-Prize was won and Scaled got most of the credit, the two companies parted ways. A fuel explosion at Scaled in 2007 tool the lives of three engineers. Recently the two companies have come back together to build Spaceship Two.

Among Jim's visions was a privately funded voyage to the Moon. Its mission would be servicing a Lunar Observatory. The trip is estimated to cost 3 billion, a tiny fraction of what NASA would spend. In 2007 he showed this fascinating video. 4 astronauts descend to the Moon in Lunar Human Access (ALOHA) chairs. That incredible ride would require a better Spacesuit, which led to Jim's interest. The dream of reaching the Moon must now continue.

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