When we hear the words “the first space crime,” the first thing that comes to mind is “The Stainless Steel Rat“, space pirates, or at least the Sith. But with the first cosmic crime in the history of mankind, everything turned out to be much more unexpected: the matter is a child, a bank account and divorce on Earth, and the suspect is one of NASA’s best astronauts.
Painful divorce, controversial child and crime in orbit of the Earth
The New York Times wrote about the first possible crime in space on August 23, and it is not as impressive as one might think from the wording itself, but it is painful for the participants in the story.
40-year-old Ann McClain, a NASA astronaut, was accused of illegally accessing a bank account and stealing personal data while she was onboard the International Space Station.
McClain is the ex-wife of retired 44-year-old Summer Worden, a U.S. Air Force intelligence officer. A few months ago, she noticed that someone illegally entered her bank account, and turned to the bank. They confirmed that the entrance was carried out several times from a computer that is listed on the NASA network. McClain at the time participated in an expedition to the ISS, and Worden complained about a former partner in the US Federal Trade Commission. The Worden family filed a complaint with the NASA inspector general.
McClain returned to Earth in June and affirmed that she had indeed entered her spouse’s bank account without her knowledge with the password they used when they lived together. However, she does not consider that she has committed a crime. According to the lawyer of the astronaut, she logged in only to make sure that Worden had enough money to pay bills and take care of the child, whom they had been raising for four years. In addition, the ex-spouse did not prohibit McClain from entering the account and did not change the password.
In 2018, the marriage broke up: McClain accused Worden of assault, and she soon filed for divorce. The charge against Worden was subsequently dropped, and she herself claimed that her partner thus tried to get custody of the child. Earlier this year, the spouses spent much time in litigation, and in December, when the process was still in full swing, McClain went to the ISS.
Officially, two mothers have not yet decided who the child will remain with – the divorce proceedings should end by October. McClain went to court to arrange joint custody of the boy. She stated that she had been with the boy from his first steps, and her wife has a quick temper, and she had previously made unsuccessful financial decisions.
Worden did not want to publicize the case, but decided to do it, fearing that it was “going in the wrong direction,” and McClain could take her son away from her. The investigation is currently underway by NASA, and the Federal Trade Commission has not yet responded to the woman’s complaint.
Now the question is whether McClain would be responsible for the alleged crime or are there any laws that exist in space. Well, it turned out that yes, they do since 1967.
Space law: who owns the moon and judges crimes outside the earth
Space legislation began to take shape in parallel with the beginning of the development of near-Earth space, although there had been no chance to check how those laws work. Laws in space are similar to those in neutral waters.
In 1958, the UN Office for Outer Space Affairs appeared and in 1967, the United States, the USSR, and the United Kingdom signed a space treaty, or, if more extensively, the “Agreement on the Principles of the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies.” It established the basic legal framework in space. Following the Treaty, the Moon Agreement was adopted, as well as a series of space laws governing the launch of objects into space, liability for possible damage from launch, a register of such objects, assistance to astronauts in emergency situations and so on.
More than 120 countries, including all space states, have joined the Outer Space Treaty. It includes 17 articles that regulate the peaceful status of outer space and provide the freedom of its exploration. According to the agreement, all countries can equally explore space, the moon and other celestial bodies that cannot be appropriated, occupied or converted into a military base. Nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction are prohibited from being placed in orbit. The manned satellites and their crew are under the jurisdiction of the launching country.
The ISS belongs to several countries at the same time – the USA, Russia, Canada, Japan and the member states of the European Space Agency, but each of them owns the module that is sent there. Therefore, in 1998, countries jointly owning the station adopted a separate agreement to regulate legislation on the ISS.
Later, additional memoranda and codes were added to the agreement, and for the astronauts, onboard the station, a code of conduct for the ISS crew was developed.
The cosmonaut and property in space are subject to the laws of the country to which the property belongs and of which the astronaut is a citizen. That is, an American in space obeys the laws of his country, and for a crime, he/she will be judged by the American laws. If he attacks a crew member from another country or damages property of another country, he will be prosecuted under the law of the affected state.
The ISS Agreement also prescribes the procedure for extradition upon return to Earth if one of the countries decides to judge another citizen for a space crime.
In addition, if the suspect is a US soldier, as is often the case with many astronauts, he can be charged under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
The presence of specific legislation, however, does not stop the entrepreneurial earthlings who have already managed to “do business” in no man’s space objects. Branches of the ” Lunar Embassy ” are flourishing all over the world, which sells to those who wish (including many celebrities) plots on the Moon. They assure that the legislation says nothing about the ban on ownership of space objects for private individuals. Embassy founder Dennis Hope, who was one of the first to think of claiming the rights to the solar system, blessed more than 6 million people with extraterrestrial property.
First Space Crime: Conclusion
The space treaty will surely have to be revised and supplemented more than once as humanity assimilates in the solar system and beyond. For example, in order to “terraform Mars” at the suggestion of Elon Musk, there will have to detonate nuclear bombs, and this is strictly prohibited by the provisions of the treaty.
However, in the case of the “first space crime,” everything is quite transparent: if they prove McClain’s guilt, she will be brought to American justice. Although the issue of guilt is also controversial, as she did not conduct any operations with her estranged wife’s bank account, and, according to the lawyer, she simply checked the balance. In addition, the astronaut entered the account using a password that her ex-wife did not change, and did not crack it.
Whether this story will affect her brilliant career and the prospect of becoming a member of an expedition to the moon will be decided by earthly Themis.