NEW YORK — The Americans who died aboard the space shuttle Columbia were eligible for the standard life insurance offered to military personnel and federal employees, but NASA carried no special coverage specifically for astronauts, officials say.
"There is a limit on what type of benefits the federal government provides," said NASA spokeswoman Eileen Hawley.
"We look at this as larger than a monetary issue," she said. "We are committed to helping these families and we have a support network. They are ... going to be part of the NASA family."
Five of the astronauts were members of the U.S. military and eligible for coverage under service members group life insurance, which has a standard death benefit of $250,000. The monthly premium ranges from $20 for the maximum coverage to 80 cents for a reduced coverage of $10,000. There is no increased payment for military members if the death is work-related.
NASA and military officials would not disclose if the five had elected coverage and at what level.
The military does provide the surviving spouse $935 a month, plus an additional $234 per child until age 18. It also provides other benefits such as $6,000 in cash for immediate needs and up to $6,900 for burial costs and housing allowances. These benefits are provided regardless of how the service member died.