A Tale of Two Prizes

SpaceShipOne on the floor beside the Spirit of St. Louis of the National Air & Space Museum. (Credit: National Air & Space Museum)
SpaceShipOne on the floor beside the Spirit of St. Louis of the National Air & Space Museum. (Credit: National Air & Space Museum)

Two major flight-related anniversaries are being celebrated this week. Today marks the 89th anniversary of Charles Lindbergh’s historic solo flight across the Atlantic aboard the Spirit of St. Louis. Lucky Lindy took off from New York on this date and arrived in Paris some 33.5 hours later, claiming the $25,000 Orteig Prize.

Wednesday was the 20th anniversary of the launch of X Prize (later Ansari X Prize). Inspired by the Orteig Prize, it offered $10 million for the first privately build vehicle to fly to suborbital space twice within two weeks. The Ansari X Prize was won in October 2004 by a team led by Burt Rutan and Paul Allen with SpaceShipOne.

After Lindbergh’s flight, a public that had previously shunned commercial aviation embraced it with a passion. Following the Ansari X Prize, Richard Branson vowed to begin flying tourists to space aboard a successor vehicle, SpaceShipTwo, within three years. Nearly a dozen years and four deaths later, Branson has yet to fulfill this promise.

The SpaceShipTwo program has now taken longer than it took for NASA to go from President John F. Kennedy proposal to land a man on the moon to the completion of the program with the splashdown of Apollo 17. NASA launched the space shuttle Columbia exactly 20 years after the first spaceflight by Yuri Gagarin.

So, why have things taken so long? And why did one prize succeed beyond the dreams of its sponsor, while the space prize it inspired has promised so few practical results? The answer is a complex one that I addressed back in March in a story titled, “Prizes, Technology and Safety.” I’ve republished the story below with links to other posts in a series about flight safety.

(more…)

Jim Benson’s Widow Donates Scholarship to Her Late Husband’s Alma Mater

PRESS RELEASE

The University of Missouri-Kansas City (UMKC) Henry W. Bloch School of Business and Public Administration is pleased to acknowledge a $135,000 gift from Susan C. Benson in memory of her husband, Jim Benson – a UMKC alumnus and space entrepreneur. The scholarship will benefit full-time undergraduate students who have faced academic challenges but have demonstrated a personal drive, entrepreneurial spirit and commitment to success – similar to that of the late Jim Benson.

(more…)

SpaceDev Founder Jim Benson Passes Away at 63

SpaceDev Press Release
10 October 2008

SpaceDev, Inc. announced today that SpaceDev Founder and Board Member James Benson, 63, died peacefully in his home. Benson was diagnosed in 2007 with a glioblastoma multiforme brain tumor, the cause of his death early this morning.

Mr. Benson had resigned from an operational role in SpaceDev in September 2006. He retained a seat on the Board of Directors of SpaceDev where he had continued to support the Company that he founded in 1997.

(more…)