Published: Sept. 1, 2015

Bruce D. Benson

No Place Like Space

How long have you been interested in space?

The Soviet Sputnik mission in 1957 first got my attention. Since then, I have been interested on several levels. As a geologist, the science of space has always fascinated me. I also have more than a half-century connection to CU, so I’ve always been proud of our role in space. As an American, I think the space program is critical to our nation and the world. Jack Swigert (MechEngr’53) (of Apollo 13 fame) was a friend, and I always enjoyed discussing space with him.

What is most impressive about CU’s efforts in space?

It’s hard to pick one. CU’s 18 alumni astronauts span our country’s history in space, from the Mercury program to the space shuttle to the International Space Station. They are great ambassadors for our university. I’m also impressed by the sheer imagination and science that goes into missions such as MAVEN or New Horizons. But it’s most gratifying to see how deeply our students — undergraduate and graduate — are involved with missions. It’s a tremendous commentary on the quality of our students, faculty and of our educational experience.

How important is CU to Colorado’s space economy?

My friend Peter Teets, who once led Martin Marietta, told me the reason the company located in Colorado was largely due to CU. We provide the industry a highly skilled workforce, we have innovative minds that design experiments and we have a successful track record through partnerships with industry and with NASA. Colorado typically ranks second or third nationally in space economy, and CU is a big part of that.

What do you think is the highlight of CU’s history in space?

Certainly the astronauts we have produced capture our imagination and demonstrate a combination of bravery and knowledge. But for me, our MAVEN project to Mars is most exciting. I’m interested in how studying the Martian atmosphere may provide insight about Earth’s. As CU president, I’m proud of our role as the lead on this $671 million project. As a Coloradan, I’m happy to see the Colorado partnership among CU, United Launch Alliance and Lockheed Martin. Additionally, the recent New Horizons mission to Pluto had its genesis at CU-Boulder, where mission leader Alan Stern (PhDAstro’89) was a graduate student charged by colleagues to pitch the idea to NASA. Obviously, he was successful and so was the mission. In the years ahead, CU’s role in space science will only intensify.

Illustration by Melinda Josie