Humans have been in space for 58 years and during this time, it has remained a relatively crime-free zone. But that could change.
This weekend, The New York Times reported domestic troubles have sparked allegations of what could be the first crime committed in space if those charges are proved correct.
Anne McClain is a decorated astronaut and one-half of the now-canceled all-female spacewalk (more on that later). She recently spent six months aboard the International Space Station (ISS), where it is reported she logged on to her estranged spouse's financial accounts.
McClain has admitted she accessed a bank account belonging to Summer Worden, who she married in 2014 and is currently in the process of divorcing. But told the Times (via a lawyer) that she was only checking to see that the family's finances were healthy for the benefit of Worden's son, who the couple had raised together before the split.
Worden has accused McClain of identify theft and improper access to her financial records. Meanwhile, Worden's parents claim McClain had accessed the accounts as part of a calculated and manipulative campaign to win custody of Worden's son.
There does not appear to be any sign of funds being taken or moved from the account, but investigators from NASA's Office of Inspector General have spoken to both parties to try to find out exactly what happened.
These allegations may be a first but the advent of extraterrestrial travel raises issues around criminal activity in space (and how to prosecute those activities back on Earth) – particularly as space tourism edges closer towards reality.
As of right now, there are five space agencies connected to the ISS (the US, Russia, Canada, Japan, and Europe), each of which is subject to its own national (or, in the case of Europe, international) laws. However, there is a framework established for extradition processes, which technically allows a country to prosecute citizens from another country for any wrongdoing they commit in space.
NASA told the Times it does not know of any crimes committed in space and so, at least for now, these legal structures haven't been tried out in practice.
McClain was expected to be one half of the first all-female spacewalk, planned for earlier this year. However, this had to be canceled "in part" because there weren't enough suitably sized suits. Instead, Christina Koch made the trip with Nick Hague, while McClain remained inside the ISS (although she did perform a spacewalk on March 22).
A spokesperson from NASA told the Times the cancellation had nothing to do with Worden's allegations and declined to comment any further on the case.
[H/T: The New York Times ]