In place of life insurance, the astronauts who landed on the moon left behind autographed envelope covers that their loved ones could sell if they died in space. Half a century later, the so-called Apollo insurance covers produced for missions 11 through 16 are coveted collector's items, and actual liability insurance for space travel is a product slowly coming into its own.
Insuring space technology is now close to standard. In 2019, The Aerospace Corporation researchers Lindsay Chaney and Nicholas Hirano noted that in the prior year "roughly two-thirds of launched satellites globally carried some form of insurance." But insuring private space travelers is as new as, well, private space travel.
The American travel insurance company Battleface began offering space travel insurance underwritten by Lloyd's of London in 2021. Some of the policy criteria described by Battleface co-founder and CEO Sasha Gainullin, such as age and health status, are insurance boilerplate. Others are far more specific: "distance into space, the duration of the flight, and what type of space craft will be used."
In some ways, buying insurance for space travel is no different from buying a specific policy for other high-risk activities. You pay more because you're risking more. But as Gainullin notes, "Earth-based adventure activities have a known risk frequency, amassed by the millions of thrill seekers who have taken part and the small percentage who have, unfortunately, been injured or worse. Those statistics are not yet available for such a new risk."
Space travel insurance premiums will eventually reflect the success rate of launches and landings. Assuming a workable space tourism model emerges, the need for insurance will go up as ticket prices come down—especially if carriers are able to avoid taking on liability. A working parent headed to space for leisure will want a policy for death or disability, Gainullin notes, since "most insurances will void coverage if you are undertaking a more hazardous activity than that contemplated and declared on the application."
While pricey and hard to come by now, "there hasn't been a situation where insurance markets haven't stepped up," Neil Stevens, a vice president in charge of space products at the insurance broker Marsh, told The New York Times in 2021.
That's a bold claim, but it is backed by history. "During the constantly recurring epidemic visitations of the middle ages, anything depending upon the duration of human life could but be a lottery," the English actuary Cornelius Walford wrote in 1884. "Life insurance, except as a bet or hazard between two or more individuals, was therefore impossible. And yet it was practised to an extent of which we can only judge by collateral circumstances—one of these being the existence of forms of contract exactly adapted to the nature of the business."