Life Insurance for astronauts – insuring the uninsurable!

Life Insurance for astronauts

At its heart, the Life Insurance business is about risk. An insurance providers job is to properly assess that risk and make educated decisions about how a person’s lifestyle might affect their risk of mortality, before factoring that into their premiums.

Some insurers, even nowadays, ask probing questions about your hobbies, and view perfectly healthy everyday pursuits like bungee jumping, skydiving and scuba diving as cause for concern. Here at Beagle Street, we just don’t think that’s very sporting of them.

What you do on your own time, quite frankly, is none of our business. So, as long as you take the proper safety precautions, we want you to enjoy life, safe in the knowledge that you’re protected. We won’t hold it against you if you are a hang glider pilot, bungee jumper or scuba diver [1] … but what about an astronaut?

This raises an interesting point – what might happen if someone wanted to get insured to go into space? Well, in 1969, such a question reared its head, and the story paints an interesting picture of how far Life Insurance has come in nearly 50 years.

Insuring the Apollo 11 mission

With the Space Race in full swing, the US Government were eager to beat their Soviet rivals to the one great milestone which had, thus far, eluded them both; putting a human being on the moon, and returning them safely home.

Nowadays, the names of Neil A. Armstrong, Michael Collins and Edwin ‘Buzz’ E. Aldrin, Jr. echo in legend throughout history. Back then, however, they were just three federal employees, earning a reasonable wage from Uncle Sam. That didn’t leave much left over at the end of the month for Life Insurance premiums at the best of times.

Footprint on Moon

Now take into account the idea that these men were going to be loaded into a 110-metre high rocket ship weighing nearly three million kilograms, fully loaded with refined kerosene. They were going to spend three days flying through space, perform a perfect landing on the Moon, turn around and fly back for another three days, through the Earth’s atmosphere before landing in the sea.

…well, you could see why insurers back then weren’t exactly chomping at the bit.

Busting the Apollo 11 insurance myth

At this point, we need to take a quick detour from the myths surrounding the Apollo 11 flight, which claims that Armstrong and his crew flew without insurance, because they weren’t able to afford it.

It’s true to say that they couldn’t afford it on their salary, but they didn’t actually ever fly without insurance. US regulations forbade NASA from paying for the insurance out of their budget, but it wasn’t long until an insurer came to the rescue. The Travellers’ Insurance Company, based in Hartford, Connecticut, offered to insure the Apollo 11 astronauts, with premiums being paid for by the Austral Oil Company and the Cullen Central Bank.

Astronaut in space
Space rocket

Doubtless both the insurers and the sponsors thought this might be a stunning PR move, being the names behind protecting America’s heroes of the hour. However, Neil Armstrong had other ideas, and reportedly blocked any publicity surrounding the deal.

This makes finding exact details of the policy difficult. Armstrong’s modesty may have rendered a key piece of Life Insurance history lost to the ages, although, given the circumstances, we’ll cut him some slack there.

Even with cover provided, this was entirely down to third parties, certainly the astronauts themselves had little say in the matter. We’re not even sure how long before take-off this cover was finalised. What we do know is that the American government also encouraged the crew to provide for their families in more ingenious ways…

The Apollo insurance covers

Here’s where the legend kicks in. In the time leading up to the launch of Apollo 11, the crew spent a month in quarantine to cut their risk of picking up any illness which might keep them from their mission. During this period, they signed hundreds of postal covers to work as insurance.

In one of those neat little coincidences of language, ‘postal covers’ as we use it here doesn’t refer to Life Insurance cover, but to the exterior of a letter or a package. With hundreds of these signed, the crew left them in the hands of a trusted colleague and duly blasted off to the Moon.

First Man On The Moon stamp

Given that these were limited edition covers, printed by MSCSC Covers and Bishop Covers to commemorate the lunar mission, being signed by the crew themselves might add incredible value to them. However, should the team fail to make it back to Earth following their mission, that value might shoot up, and the crew’s families could be provided for with the sale of the covers.

Life Insurance Astronaut!

The crew also took other memorabilia with them on board. Armstrong took some pieces of wood from the Wright Brothers’ plane which made the world’s first powered flight in 1903, for example. All of these were to serve a similar purpose, to be sold at auction in the event of the crew’s death.

Thankfully, none of that was required. The crew made it back safely, and the covers remained with the astronauts for a long time. Some began to appear at auction from the 1990s, selling for around $20,000 to $46,000 [2] – according to space historian, Howard C. Weinberger.

Footprint on Moon

Insuring the later Apollo missions

With the Apollo 11 mission a success, and America enjoying victory in the Space Race, subsequent missions became marginally easier to insure, with more details available. Despite the lack of PR fanfare surrounding insuring the Apollo 11, backing was found to insure the crew of the Apollo 12 mission for $50,000 each. Accounting for inflation, that’s around $316,000 per astronaut as of February, 2017.

Of course, the practice of signing covers continued as well. Apollo missions 12, 13 and 14 were all encouraged to sign covers by the government, by now working in association with the US postal service. As with their predecessor, a small number have appeared at auction over the years and sold for predictably high amounts.

When the time came for Apollo 15 to launch, however, the plot thickened…

The Apollo 15 controversy

By now, covers were being sent up on the mission along with the astronauts, the reasoning being that something which has been into space is going to be worth even more still. NASA authorised 243 covers to go up with this 15th mission, but the astronauts themselves had other ideas.

The crew smuggled an extra 400 covers on board the flight alongside the authorised ones. Upon return, 100 of these were sold to Hermann Sieger, a stamp dealer, for $21,000 (around $124,000 today). Sieger bought these on the understanding that he wasn’t to start selling them until after the Apollo missions had ended, but greed got the better of him.

When the American government got wind of the crew of the 15 trying to make a little extra on the side, you could imagine how well it went down. To some, it constituted simply profiteering from government work. To a more practical mind, it was just a bit of extra protection for their loved ones; the money was intended to serve as a college tuition fund for the astronaut’s children.

Neil Armstrong
Life Insurance prices

For down to Earth Life Insurance prices, contact Beagle Street

We understand that your life’s ambitions may not involve walking on the moon any time soon, but we’re still committed to helping you get the best deal on a Life Insurance policy that fits your lifestyle.

That means providing cover that’s built around your own unique circumstances. To get a glimpse of how Life Insurance could work for you use our fast online Life Insurance quote tool, or call our friendly impartial team of experts today to discuss your options.

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Appendix

  1. Beagle Street Life Insurance – Insurance for Extreme Sports & Hobbies
  2. Space Flown Artifacts – The Flown Apollo 11 Covers – Howard C. Weinberger

Sources

  • BBC News – Apollo 11: A few thoughts – 15th July 2009
  • Business Insider – Neil Armstrong Couldn’t Afford Life Insurance, So He Used A Creative Way To Provide For His Family If He Died – 30th August 2012
  • Mail Online – How Neil Armstrong autographed cards to provide money for his family if he died on the way to the moon… because he couldn’t afford life insurance – 31st August 2012
  • Planet Money – What The Apollo Astronauts Did For Life Insurance – 30th August 2012
  • Today I Found Out – The Fascinating World Of Apollo Astronaut Life Insurance Policies – 31st December 2015
  • Geek.com – Neil Armstrong’s Apollo 11 life insurance was autographs – 30th August 2012
  • The Hook – The Apollo 11 Astronauts Had A Clever Way Of Protecting Their Families If They Died
  • Space Safety Magazine – Neil Armstrong’s Insurance Policy – DATE
  • Gizmodo – The Apollo 11 astronauts couldn’t obtain life insurance. Here’s what they did instead. – 9th August 2012
  • Bonhams Auctions
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