It’s sort of easy to forget that before he landed on the moon, Neil Armstrong was just a regular guy, albeit with an awesome job. As were his Apollo 11 crewmates Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins. And they had some regular guy problems like buying life insurance.
The problem was that for men about to fly to and walk on the moon, life insurance cost a fortune. All three men had families, and before setting off to the Moon in July 1969, they took some unconventional methods to protect the ones they loved.
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In looking for affordable life insurance, the Apollo 11 crew had one thing going for them most people didn’t: they were famous and about to become figures in history. People really wanted their autographs. These guys been signing autographs since the day they were announced as astronauts, and they knew there was a market for their signatures. Particularly for signed covers — envelopes signed by crews and postmarked on important mission dates.
In the month before the mission’s July 16, 1969 launch, the crew spent spare moments signing hundreds of covers. Two hundred and 14 were flown on the mission. These pieces — featuring images of the Apollo 11 mission emblem, the Project Apollo Dow-Unicover, or the NASA Manned Spacecraft Center Stamp Club cover featuring astronauts working in a colorful moonscape under the Apollo 11 emblem — are signed in the center by the crew. This left them enough room to write a dedication, personalized to the recipient.
All of the flown covers have a six-cent postage stamp depicting either the Apollo 8 Earthrise with the words “In the beginning God…” or the US flag over the White House. These covers were all canceled in Webster, Texas on August 11, the day items from the mission were released from quarantine.
Another thousand or so covers were left on Earth during the mission. These were signed such that the signatures took up all the available space. The crew gave them to a friend who, on important days like launch day or the day they landed on the moon, took them to the post office and had them postmarked. They were then divided among the astronauts’ families.
These became known as the insurance covers. Signed and cancelled on important days, they were extremely valuable to collectors and were like currency to the families. If the crew didn’t return, the families could sell them. These became known as insurance covers; they gave the crews’ families a life insurance policy made of autographs.
Of course, we know the families never had to sell their covers. Armstrong and Aldrin walked on the moon on July 20 and all three men returned home safely four days later.
Apollo 11 wasn’t the only crew to sign these so-called insurance covers. The crews of Apollos 12, 13, 14, 15, and 16 all signed insurance covers as well. These missions also spawned a series of what collectors call “insurance-type” covers. These are covers stamped and canceled but without signatures.
All of these items have slowly found their way into the personal collections of die-hard Apollo fans. In the 1990s, the insurance autographs started showing up in space memorabilia auctions with Apollo 11 items selling for as much as $30,000. The flown covers have surfaced from time to time, too, selling for anywhere between $20,000 to $46,000.
These covers may have been intended as an insurance for the crews families, but with this kind of price tag they might end up as insurance policies for collectors in the future.
Image credit: NASA/public domain