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NASA paid Columbia families about $27 million

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

Documents obtained by the Orlando Sentinel through a federal Freedom of Information Act request show that former FBI Director William Webster helped negotiate out-of-court settlements with the families. All seven astronuats aboard were killed in the explosion.

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 said Sunday.

“Everything has been done to help the families as much as can be done,” Beutel said. “It’s a public event but yet it’s very personal to them.”

Webster told the Sentinel that 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 released documents did not note how much money each family received, but Jon Clark, husband of Columbia astronaut Laurel Clark, said the figures were on the “low side” of what families were seeking.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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