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Life Insurance Held Available for Astronauts

January 30, 1986|BRUCE KEPPEL | Times Staff Writer

The insurer that gave a free $1-million policy to schoolteacher Christa McAuliffe before she boarded the ill-fated Challenger space shuttle predicted Wednesday that coverage for those involved in space flights will remain available despite the deaths Tuesday of McAuliffe and her six crew mates.

In fact, spokeswoman Gail Granato of Corroon & Black Inflight, the Washington firm that presented the policy to McAuliffe as a good-will gesture, said that similar policies underwritten at Lloyd's of London could have been taken out by any crew member. None had applied.

"I'm sure that Lloyd's will continue to offer coverage," she said.

Higher Premiums

Astronauts--or anyone in a high-risk profession--must pay a higher premium for life insurance coverage than other persons of similar age and health. However, once insured, policyholders cannot lose their life insurance as long as they continue paying the premiums, regardless of changes to a more hazardous occupation or hobby, according to the Life Insurance Council of America.

But, even before Tuesday's tragedy, astronaut duty was considered hazardous.

"There have been astronauts killed in training on the ground," Ed Murphy of Metropolitan Life noted. "Many hazards occur in training these crews."

Thus, he said, special coverage entails a hefty surcharge. United of Omaha said it would charge an extra $15 per $1,000 of coverage.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration provides no special flight protection for its astronauts, but the federal government provides limited group insurance for all of its employees, a spokesman for the agency said.

Group-Type Policy

The program--similar to group policies offered by private employers--offers life insurance coverage based on a formula keyed to an employee's salary level, the spokesman said. NASA would not disclose, on grounds of privacy, whether any of Tuesday's crew members carried personal policies or long-term life insurance policies.

Corroon & Black provided free coverage for the crew of the first shuttle mission in April, 1981, Granato said. Policies for the crew of the second mission were apparently paid for by the National Space Club Scientific and Educational Foundation, according to Travelers Insurance, which participated in a consortium of eight insurers that underwrote the coverage.

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