NASA is reportedly investigating the first ever allegation of a crime committed in space.
Is someone accused of assault or murder? Did an officer breach quarantine safety protocols on a mysterious, facehugger-filled planet?
Alas, this isn’t the world of Alien; the alleged criminality is less severe, albeit serious.
Anne McClain is accused of accessing her estranged spouse’s bank account from the International Space Station (ISS).
McClain, a decorated NASA astronaut on a six-month mission, acknowledged accessing the account but insists there was no wrongdoing. According to McClain’s lawyer, Rusty Hardin, she was simply checking her family’s intertwined finances were in order.
As reported by The New York Times, Hardin said ‘she strenuously denies that she did anything improper’, adding that McClain was checking there was sufficient funds in the account to pay bills and care for the child the couple had been raising.
McClain had been using the same password she’d previously used and had never heard from her estranged spouse that the account was now off limits. She says she’d been doing the same thing throughout the relationship with her former spouse’s full knowledge.
She’s now back on Earth and ‘totally co-operating’ with the investigation.
However, Summer Worden, a former Air Force intelligence officer living in Kansas, disagrees. She filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission and her family lodged one with NASA’s Office of Inspector General, accusing McClain of identity theft and improper access to Worden’s financial records.
The pair got married in 2014, and Worden filed for divorce in 2018.
Worden gave birth to her son a year before she met McClain, and although McClain claims to have a ‘deeply parental relationship’ with the young child, Worden resisted allowing her to adopt him.
While they were still married in 2018, McClain went to a local court to ask a judge to grant shared parenting rights and ‘the exclusive right to designate the primary residence of the child’ if the parties could not reach a mutual agreement, The New York Times reports.
Later that year, Worden filed for divorce after McClain accused her of assault. The case was dismissed but Worden says it was part of her spouse’s bid to get control of the child.
Tensions mounted between the pair as McClain left for the International Space Station and it was at this time Worden became aware of the banking activity.
It’s said McClain portrayed no outward signs of trouble on the space station and only fired off an email to Worden about the situation when NASA officials contacted her about what was going on on Earth.
McClain was then accused of identity theft by Worden despite no evidence of the funds in the account being moved or made use of.
While NASA say they aren’t aware of any crimes committed in the space station, the impending reality of space tourism will only give way to more complex legal issues.
Mark Sundahl, director of the Global Space Law Center at Cleveland State University told The New York Times:
Just because it’s in space doesn’t mean it’s not subject to law… the more we go out there and spend time out there, all the things we do here are going to happen in space.
Space isn’t a lawless abyss. There are legal frameworks set out by the five regions that own the ISS: US, Russia, Europe, Japan and Canada.
If a Canadian national were to commit a crime, they would be subject to Canadian law, as well as Russian law. There are also provisions in place for extradition back on Earth should a country wish to prosecute someone for criminal activity.
More recently, Michael Mataya, an investigator specialising in criminal cases with NASA’s Office of Inspector General, has been investigating the issue.
Neither Mr Mataya, a spokeswoman for Mr Mataya or the trade commission chose to respond to The New York Times for comment.
McClain was about to make history recently, set to feature in NASA’s first all-female spacewalk. However, her role was scrapped last minute – not due to the allegations, but because of a problem with availability of correct suit sizes, NASA said.
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After graduating from Glasgow Caledonian University with an NCTJ and BCTJ-accredited Multimedia Journalism degree, Cameron ventured into the world of print journalism at The National, while also working as a freelance film journalist on the side, becoming an accredited Rotten Tomatoes critic in the process. He’s now left his Scottish homelands and took up residence at UNILAD as a journalist.