June 26, 2013
Tom Benson donated his entire evening to the NASA Academy class of 2013. Mr. Benson has been an aeronautical engineer for over 40 years and has endless motivational stories to share. His plan was to share his view on the world as well as his life experiences, so that the NASA Academy knows the dedication and hard work it takes to become a successful and influential leader in the aeronautics industry.
Mr. Benson began with his thoughts on living an orthogonal lifestyle. Life can be split into countless areas (family, sports, religion, work, etc.), and Mr. Benson believes he has been able to successfully live his life by being a well-balanced human being that doesn’t bias one area over another.
When Mr. Benson graduated from high school, he assumed he was going to be a professional football player, following the footsteps of many family members. However, his small size and weight at that time allowed him to be constantly crushed on the field, leaving him the option of anything else but football. After applying to several universities, Mr. Benson was accepted to the University of Notre Dame. However, the acceptance papers for the full ride scholarship that he filled out were never received by the university, and he therefore went to the cheaper and closer Ohio State University.
Soon after graduating Ohio State with a Bachelors and Masters in Aeronautical Engineering, Mr. Benson was drafted due to the Vietnam War. One interesting story was that after boot camp, a taxi driver took him to the wrong aeronautics building. He was supposed to report for duty as an officer at another aeronautics building across town. However, he quickly made a great impression with everyone in the “wrong” building and was transferred to the supersonic inlet team instantly. Within an afternoon, his course in the military completely changed directions.
After his military service, Mr. Benson returned to Ohio State for a PhD in aeronautical engineering. However, he soon began working at NASA also, dealing with classified information on supersonic inlets. His work in classified aeronautics halted his PhD research, and he was never able to finish. Soon after, he began working on DARPA’s National Aerospace Plane (NASP) due to his experience in supersonic inlets. However, lots of political conflicts on this project left him frustrated, and he soon left to work in a management position at NASA Glenn Research Center. Mr. Benson realized he was not meant for management, and moved back into the technical field of computational fluid dynamics for aerospace applications.
Years later, Mr. Benson became very interested in the area of educational outreach. He would see his son playing endless hours of video games, and thought that making education a video game could benefit many students. He began to create interactive solvers that simulated common aerospace applications. Some of these java programs that he created are called FoilSim, EngineSim, RocketModeler, KiteModeler, ShockModeler, AtmosModeler. They can be found free for download on the NASA website.
Mr. Benson also began a series of online textbooks called “Beginners Guide to Aerodynamics” that can be found on the NASA website. He believes that textbooks are inefficient due to their serial nature, and that textbooks designed with topics in parallel can benefit students. Thanks to the internet, he was able to make textbooks into an interactive format, where students can choose the path they desire to study.
Mr. Benson concluded his session by answering questions from the audience. It is clear that Mr. Benson is an overachiever and expects the best from NASA, as well as his peers and future leaders. The NASA Academy was very happy to have shared the evening with Mr. Benson.