SpaceDev, LLC - NEAP (Near Earth Asteroid Prospector)
Commercial Space Exploration & Development of Space Resources
July 6, 1997
The Benson Prize was announced at the American Astronomical Society meeting June 10, and Mr. Tucker, using a camera-equipped 14-inch telescope in his backyard, became the second amateur to ever discover a near earth asteroid, and the first winner of one of the ten $500 Benson Prizes.
Mr. Tucker began looking for earth-approaching objects in May, and was pleased to find a near earth asteroid so quickly. Mr. Tucker plans to use the Benson Prize money to help buy a better camera for his telescope.
Mr. Tucker first spotted the object on June 28. Additional observations came from observers in the Czech Republic, Australia, Italy and the U.S. By the morning of July 2 the orbit computations were considered secure. The object was designated 1997 MW1. The discovery was confirmed by the International Astronomical Union's Minor Planet Center on July 3.
SpaceDev, LLC is a commercial space exploration company, and will announce in September details of its premier venture, the first private unmanned spacecraft to another planetary body. Mr. Benson, a geologist and native of Kansas City, sold his computer companies in McLean, VA in 1995, and founded SpaceDev early this year.
Beginning June 10, 1997, a cash prize of $500 will be awarded for each of the next ten amateur discoveries of near earth asteroids. The definitions of "amateur" and "near earth asteroid" can be found below.
The purpose of the Benson Prize is to encourage the discovery of near earth objects by amateur astronomers. The utilization of valuable near earth resources can provide many new jobs and economic activities on earth, while also creating many new opportunities for opening up the space frontier for working and living in space.
Long-term utilization of these near earth resources, worth billions of dollars for their gold, platinum group metals, water and volatiles, will significantly contribute to the lessening of the Earth's environmental degradation caused by mining operations required to exploit the low grade ores now remaining on Earth.
In addition, near earth objects pose grave dangers for life on earth. Discovering and plotting the orbits of all near earth objects is the first and necessary step in protecting ourselves against the enormous potential damage possible from near earth objects.
With the high quality, large size and low cost of today's consumer telescopes, with the rapid development of powerful, high resolution and inexpensive CCD cameras, and with the proliferation of inexpensive software for today's powerful home computers, the discovery of near earth asteroids by amateur astronomers is more attainable than ever.
The Benson Prize is sponsored by Space Development, LLC, a private space exploration company headquartered in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. In July, Space Development will make a major announcement concerning the company's venture to build the first private spacecraft to venture beyond earth orbit, and the first private venture to visit and land on another planetary body.
"Amateur" is a person who is not employed as an astronomer. In the event of controversy, Space Development, LLC will judge if the candidate meets the spirit of the Prize, which encourages amateur astronomers to seek out new near earth objects.
"Near Earth Asteroid" is any natural object with a current perihelion less than the Earth's average distance from the Sun, 1.0 Astronomical Unit (AU).
For additional information concerning near earth asteroid exploration and the "Benson Prize," visit the web site created by Sky Publishing at: http://www.skypub.com/benson/prize.html.
[Resulting United Press International wire story]
UPI Science News
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C., June 10 (UPI) -- A private space-exploration company says it will award 500 dollars to the next 10 amateur astronomers who discover near-Earth asteroids.
Speaking at the American Astronomical Society meeting in Winson- Salem, N.C., James William Benson says he hopes the asteroid hunt will stimulate amateur participation in astronomy.
Benson, who is chairman of the Space Development Corporation in Steamboat Springs, Colo., says developing near-Earth mining can open up new job markets in space industries as well as ease pressure on Earth's own precious resources.
Only skywatchers who are not employed as astronomers are eligble for the 500-dollar awards.
Benson defines a near-Earth asteroid as any natural object whose distance when it is closest to the sun is less than one astronomical unit -- that is, the average distance between Earth and sun.