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A question that has to be asked: how will we insure space travelers?

Posting in Aerospace

Zipping around the earth's atmosphere, or even to the moon, may require a different kind of insurance.

No question about it, we're on the verge of an era of commercial space travel. As reported a few months back, the Obama administration wants the private sector to pick up the slack for NASA, our cash-strapped public space agency by facilitating commercial flights. The administration proposes to spend $6 billion over five years in the development of commercial human space flight vehicles.

And there are a number of private-sector companies ready to launch, including Space Exploration Technologies Corp (SpaceX), Virgin Galactic, United Launch Alliance (a joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin), Alliant Techsystems Inc., Orbital Sciences, EADS Astrium, XCOR Aerospace, Rocketplane Limited, Space Adventures, Blue Origin, and Armadillo Aerospace. Virgin Galactic -- which has adopted Burt Rutan's successful SpaceShipOne model, winner of the Ansari X Prize for achieving suborbital flight -- says it will begin active test flights of the WS-Eve mothership, with SpaceShipTwo attached, sometime early this year. (An artist's conception of SpaceShipTwo in flight shown above.)

Now, Ara Trembly asks about a financial consideration that hasn't been thoroughly thought through: how will we insure the folks that go blazing past the stratosphere in this new mode of travel?  As he puts it:

"So now we would have a completely new kind of vehicle that would transport humans through extremely dangerous and lethal environments. How do we deal with such new and uncharted risks from an insurance point of view? To be sure, we could certainly draw on aviation insurance as a start, but zipping around outside the Earth’s atmosphere is another kettle of fish altogether. One would assume that commercial space flight could easily involve trips to the moon, perhaps to develop and tap into the natural resources there. While I have no actuarial tables on this, I would suggest that the chances of being killed on such a flight are much greater than, say, being in a plane crash (interesting problem for you life insurers)."

Insuring the hardware and spacecraft are another area to consider.

Hmm. Come to think of it, were Captains James T. Kirk or John-Luc Picard adequately insured for their constant life-threatening exploits?  Well, Kirk had Dr. "Bones" McCoy with his hand-held medical devices to patch him up when the going got rough -- that's insurance enough.

Space travel insurance... Perhaps we'll soon see the birth of a new industry sector in the near future.

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Joe McKendrick

Contributing Editor

Joe McKendrick is an independent analyst who tracks the impact of information technology on management and markets. He is a co-author of the SOA Manifesto and has written for Forbes, ZDNet and Database Trends & Applications. He holds a degree from Temple University. He is based in Pennsylvania. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure