'Columbia' astronauts' families are paid $26.6M

Published April 16, 2007

ORLANDO - NASA paid $26.6-million to family members of the seven astronauts who died on the space shuttle Columbia in 2003, a newspaper reported Sunday, citing recently released documents.

Documents obtained by the Orlando Sentinel show that former FBI director William Webster helped negotiate out-of-court settlements with the families.

NASA obtained money for the settlement through a congressional appropriation in 2004, NASA spokesman Allard Beutel said.

The U.S. space agency had never before disclosed the settlement to protect the privacy of the Columbia families, Beutel told the Associated Press on Sunday.

Webster said the families did not wish to discuss the matter after it was settled.

"The members of the families wanted this to be a private matter," he said. "They were healing, and they were ready to discuss, properly, their rights. ... Everyone felt it had a better chance of coming together without seeing their name in lights."

The documents did not note how much money each family received, but Jon Clark, husband of Columbia astronaut Laurel Clark, said: "It wasn't a lot of money. A few million (dollars) isn't much. We had to prove our loved ones were worth something."