Space-Crime: Apparently It’s a Thing Now.

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Allegations of First Space-Crime Committed May Be Overhyped but Raise Good Questions about Legality.

[Sighs] First of all, I hate that I have to write this story. It involves the personal lives of an astronaut, her estranged spouse, and their child, and I don’t like reporting on people’s personal issues. I would not want my dirty laundry aired all over the internet, so I’m going to try and respect their privacy as much as possible while still telling the story. The story should be told, however, because it brings up questions of law and order in space, and space-crime. The imminent exploitation of the final frontier is sure to bring with it new ways for a new generation of robber-barons, pirates, and space outlaws. 

Here’s What Happened… Allegedly

NASA astronaut Anne McCain is accused of illegally accessing her estranged souse’s financial information online while aboard the ISS. If true, the act would constitute the first crime committed from space. For her part, McCain admits to accessing the information but denies any wrongdoing. As such, it is important to remember that McCain is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.

Per reports filed with the FTC, McCain’s estranged spouse, Summer Worden alleged that McCain accessed her personal bank account without permission. According to the report, no evidence exists of funds being transferred to or from Worden’s account. The incident allegedly occurred while McCain was on a six-month mission aboard the ISS. McCain’s attorney told the New York Times that she did access Worden’s account. However, she claims that Worden did not tell her to stop accessing the account. McCain insists that she only accessed the account to ensure that there were sufficient funds to care for the couple’s child and that she used the same account login information that she’d used throughout the relationship.

Worden’s parents also filed a complaint with NASA’s Inspector General’s office. They claim McCain accessed Worden’s account as part of a “highly calculated and manipulative campaign” to win custody of the couple’s child. 

For her part, McCain said the following in a tweet:

What Happens in Space?

So why is this story even a thing? Because space law; that’s why. Of course, none of us have all of the facts of the case, so we should all reserve judgment. However, it seems fairly clear that McCain thought she had permission to access the account. Whether or not she did, and whether or not she committed a space-crime is up to the courts to decide. The reason I’m covering this story is because one would think that what happens in space stays in space. After all, wouldn’t it be like international waters? You know… because of the implication

Not International Waters…

Turns out… not so much. In this case, there is a framework in place that provides guidance for such circumstances. According to the BBC, people and property in space are under the jurisdiction of their country of origin. In other words, if McCain is convicted of a crime, it will be under the laws of the United States of America.

That framework only applies to incidents aboard the ISS, however. Questions of legality and international space law also exist within the context of plans to build space stations and bases on the Moon, Mars, and beyond. Fortunately for McCain and Worden there is a framework to follow, and theoretically justice will be served when this is all over. Future colonies in space—which could exist by the end of the next decade—however, may not have such stability at first. Currently, there are no such laws, and given the state of our present “diplomatic” efforts, there’s not a lot of reason to hope for a good framework to be in place to define space-crime before we get there. 

Meanwhile, it’s unfortunate that McCain’s and Worden’s relationship issues are in the public spotlight. I hope this passes soon and that they can both move on from this incident as quickly and painlessly as possible.

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Brandon Humphreys

Brandon Humphreys

I'm a wizard. I write stuff and it goes from my head into yours - Magic! Apart from that, I am the Senior Editor for Space Porn, a veteran, a rock guitarist, and a teacher.

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