Home-made life insurance, the Apollo way

apollocovers.jpgOf all the places I never expected to learn anything cool about the Apollo astronauts, number one would have to be the blog run by ukinsurance.net. ("For many years we have provided buildings and contents insurance for home owners, landlords and business premises.") I mean, it doesn't exactly promise a light, zippy read, does it? But it delivers one, and this week's post on "The Apollo Astronauts' Fascinating Insurance Covers" actually is fascinating. It details the extraordinary measures taken to provide financial security for families of the Apollo crews, who were literally uninsurable: Before every flight, from 11 to 16, the crews would autograph and leave behind a number of commemorative post cards, the idea being that, should the flight end in an untimely fashion, the cards' value would skyrocket. ("No pun intended," ukinsurance.net notes brightly.) It's a weird, unexpected look into a neglected corner of our history in space. (Via Coudal.)

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  1. Did the astronauts really get down on their knees like that?

    Also, I’m skeptical that this was really an organized attempt at serious disaster insurance. For one, I find it very hard to believe that nobody would insure them (Lloyds or the U.S. equivalent, etc?) And why couldn’t the Federal Gov’t just offer them a posthumous pension? Or, come to think of it, an insurance policy?

    I bet we see this on Snopes in a couple days.

  2. The astronauts should have been covered by Servicemembers Group Life Insurance, which covers all military personnel. (The Apollo-nauts were all active duty military). IIRC, at the time, this was a fairly low payout ($40,000)

    1. Not only that, but weren’t most of the astronauts at this time nominally Air Force officers? It’s been too long since I read The Right Stuff. One assumes that even at the time, this included a pension, and I believe military pensions stay with a widowed spouse.

      of course, I’m no astronaut (or military) expert; it just seems absurd that the US wouldn’t take care of the families of some of the most high profile government employees around at the time. On the other hand, I remember that it was only rather recently that Presidential pensions were provided for after one nearly died in poverty.

  3. The idea of collectible stamps has been around for a really really long time now. Commemorative post cards, and first day covers, have been around for a while now. Not sure why it’s such a huge leap of intuition to think that maybe this is a good idea to help your family out.

    Military insurance payout is horrible. Even today. Very high risk people have always had a hard time getting insurance. Impossible? Maybe not, but certainly prohibitively expensive.

    Ok, everyone’s permitted to go back and call everyone else a liar, no matter how plausible their idea. That’s what the internet’s for, isn’t it?

  4. In The Right Stuff quite a lot is made of the fact that most of the early astronauts were on pretty low salaries, and so the exclusive Life magazine contract was important to them for financial reasons as well as protecting them from the rest of the press.

    Nearly but not all the astronauts were military officers, though not only Air Force – John Glenn was a Marine, for instance, and people like Jim Lovell (Apollo 13) Gene Cernan (last man on the moon) were in the Navy.

    Famously, Neil Armstrong was a civilian (though he had previously been an air force officer) and so was Jack Swigert on Apollo 13, so they weren’t all all active duty military.

    As for kneeling, I don’t know if the flight plans called for them to kneel, but certainly at some point some of them tripped up, like in this shot of Jack Schmitt falling over on Apollo 17:

    .

    1. Thanks! I only read The Right Stuff in high school, and for class at that, so my memory of it was none too clear, obviously.

      I think it can be assumed that even if these astronauts were covered by insurance, it would have been a good idea for them to leave memorabilia like this with their families.

  5. Swigert had also been an air force officer before his flight- though he was only active duty for 3 years, then worked as a test pilot for 8 years while serving in the Air National Guard before leaving the Guard to join NASA.

    Harrison Schmitt (LMP, Apollo 17) was the only Apollo-program astronaut never to have served in the military. His training group, Astronaut Group 4, was the first to be selected for experience as scientists rather than pilots.

  6. One of my favorite astronaut stories is that they had to submit travel reports like any number of other people in a bureaucracy, in order to get recompensed for miscellaneous expenses, and in one of the columns, for destination, they simply put “Moon.”

  7. not strictly apollo related, but in mike mullane’s book _riding rockets_, he mentions getting three separate insurance policies with letters from each company stating in no uncertain terms that they would pay out if the shuttle killed him.

    the book is a fabulous read, btw…all men are from planet AD…lol

  8. I work in life insurance. It’s a brutally pragmatic industry. Insuring an astronaut planning to go to the moon would be prohibitively expensive.

    Imagine, in 1969, trying to estimate the risk involved in sending a human a quarter-million miles away from Earth inside a tiny little can of air, when no one had ever done it before. What would you estimate that person’s chances of survival were? Back then I’d have taken a hipshot at maybe 10%. I.e., nine-tenths of this group will make ONE premium payment and then die. (Cue the sound of actuaries tearing out their hair.)

    My company was in negotiations to insure a professional skydiver a few months ago. In the end, nothing worked out; even that was too dangerous to be insurable.

  9. I should clarify: It was too dangerous for us to insure him. If you are a professional skydiver, please do not despair that you’re uninsurable.

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