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The Very Sensible Reason The Apollo 11 Astronauts Signed Loads Of Autographs And Left Them With Their Families.

In the 1960s, a time when the frontiers of space exploration were but nascent, the notion of insuring astronauts was met with palpable reluctance from the insurance industry. The paucity of empirical data regarding space missions rendered it an insurmountable challenge for actuaries to accurately assess and quantify the attendant risks. Neil Armstrong, with characteristic optimism, estimated his chances of survival at ninety percent; however, this was speculative at best, as certainty eluded even the most seasoned experts.

The preceding decade bore witness to a sobering statistic: approximately fifty percent of all launched rockets met with catastrophic failure. This stark reality underscored the perils intrinsic to space travel. In 1961, when the Mercury Seven, America's pioneering astronauts, sought to procure life insurance, they were met with unanimous refusal from insurers. The unprecedented nature of their endeavour, coupled with the formidable risks involved, rendered them uninsurable by conventional standards. As James Donovan puts it in his book Shoot for the Moon:

“Even Lloyd’s of London, renowned for insuring almost anything, from Marlene Dietrich’s legs to a yo-yo champion’s fingers, would not cover these seven men.”

They were men with families to support, yet they did not possess great wealth. Neil Armstrong, for instance, earned a salary of $27,401 by 1969—a respectable sum, but hardly sufficient to secure his family's financial future in the event of his untimely demise. NASA did proffer an insurance scheme; however, in the nascent days of space exploration, this policy conspicuously excluded coverage for the actual space flight.

A handful of insurers did offer to extend coverage to the Apollo 11 crew, but the premiums were prohibitively expensive. Moreover, the potential payouts were markedly insufficient to ensure the financial security of the astronauts' families. In the face of these challenges, the astronauts had to confront the grim reality that traditional insurance solutions were inadequate for the extraordinary risks they faced. Consequently, they devised an ingenious alternative: they signed hundreds of autographs, which their families could later sell to collectors if the mission ended in tragedy. This unique form of "insurance" reflected both the perilous nature of their venture and their deep commitment to providing for their loved ones, despite the formidable obstacles.

In the absence of adequate life insurance, the Apollo 11 astronauts resorted to a unique and inventive solution: signing autographs known as “insurance covers.” As they entered their pre-launch quarantine, Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins meticulously signed hundreds of these autographs. They entrusted them to a friend, who would then post them to their families.

As space historian Robert Pearlman put it, the crew knew.

“that there was a market for such things. There was demand. If they did not return from the Moon, their families could sell them — to not just fund their day-to-day lives but also fund their kids’ college education and other life needs.”

As it transpired, reaching the Moon proved to be the least perilous part of the mission. The greater dangers lay in the unknown challenges of departing from the lunar surface. Michael Collins, orbiting in the command module, faced the intricate task of docking—a process fraught with potential complications.

Additionally, the mission was vulnerable to the possibility of a computer malfunction or a failure of the ascent engine. Such technical issues could have dire consequences, leaving Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin stranded on the Moon. Another considerable concern was the risk posed by lunar dust. The astronauts feared that the interaction between the lunar dust and the oxygen within the module could lead to a catastrophic combustion of their spacesuits.

Given the immense risks involved, numerous parties meticulously planned and scripted responses for the potential delivery of bad news. However, the stark reality was that there was no Plan B. If the mission encountered insurmountable difficulties, there was no way to rectify the situation, and this grim truth was known to all involved. As Christopher Klein put it,

“Under the worst-case scenario, NASA planned to end communication with the [Apollo 11 crew], leaving them to either run out of oxygen or commit suicide with no further earthly contact.”

William Safire, a White House speechwriter, was tasked with preparing a statement for President Richard Nixon in the event of a tragic outcome. Though thankfully never needed, the speech remains a beautifully crafted and poignant testament to the bravery of the Apollo 11 astronauts.

It ended with the lines:

“For every human being who looks up at the Moon in the nights to come will know that there is some corner of another world that is forever mankind.”

The line resonates profoundly, partly because it intentionally mirrors one penned by Rupert Brooke during World War One in his poem "The Soldier." Brooke, an English officer who passed away in Skyros, Greece shortly after writing the poem, spoke of England. In contrast, Safire's words encompass all of humanity. The 1969 Apollo 11 mission exemplified the indomitable human spirit. It was a shared moment of triumph and a celebration of human intellect. However, as we've noted, it also highlighted the extraordinary bravery of the astronauts, who embarked on their journey without the backing of any life insurance company.



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