Space isn’t Las Vegas, so what happens in space doesn’t necessarily stay there …
Decorated NASA astronaut Anne McClain — who’d been slated to take part in NASA’s first all-female spacewalk before it was cancelled — learned this lesson the hard way after she reportedly logged into her estranged wife’s bank account earlier this year while aboard the International Space Station.
McClain now stands accused by the estranged wife, former Air Force intelligence officer Summer Worden, of committing what appears to be the first-ever space crimes — namely, accessing Worden’s account without authorization and stealing her identity. And all allegedly in a bid to obtain custody of her son.
So uhhh, a lesbian couple of an astronaut and a retired pilot are going through divorce proceedings and apparently one of them accessed the other’s bank account from space and its being treated as possibly the first crime committed in space? https://t.co/sW8ch8zTAM
— Lucifer Saracen, Bride-To-Be (@CatkinsLap) August 23, 2019
“The couple’s dispute revolved largely around Ms. Worden’s son, who was born about a year before the two met,” The New York Times reported Saturday. “Ms. Worden, who had previously worked at the National Security Agency, resisted allowing Ms. McClain to adopt the child, even after they were married at the end of 2014.”
Then in early 2018, before Worden had filed for divorce, McClain reportedly asked a judge in Houston to grant her shared parenting rights over the unnamed boy, as well as “the exclusive right to designate the primary residence of the child” if she and Worden couldn’t reach an agreement.
In her filing, she claimed that Worden had a temper problem.
“She contended that Ms. Worden had an explosive temper and was making poor financial decisions, and she wanted the court to ‘legally validate my established and deep parental relationship’ with the young boy,” the Times’ report continues.
It remains unclear whether any of these allegations are true. However, the same appears to be true of Worden’s allegations regarding McClain’s improper access of her account.
She and her family have reportedly filed complaints with the Federal Trade Commission and NASA’s Office of Inspector General accusing McCain of improper access to her account (true) and identity theft (unconfirmed). But as noted by the Times, she’s seen “no sign” (or evidence) “that anyone had moved or made use of the funds in the account.”
McClain’s attorney, Rusty Hardin, has for his part claimed that her intentions had been noble.
“Mr. Hardin said the bank access from space was an attempt to make sure that there were sufficient funds in Ms. Worden’s account to pay bills and care for the child they had been raising,” the Times reported.
“Ms. McClain had done the same throughout the relationship, he said, with Ms. Worden’s full knowledge. Ms. McClain continued using the password that she had used previously and never heard from Ms. Worden that the account was now off limits, he added.”
The fact that McClain apparently didn’t mess with Worden’s money does suggest this is indeed the truth, though it doesn’t similarly excuse McClain’s still-potentially illegal actions.
“I was pretty appalled that she would go that far. I knew it was not O.K.,” Worden said to the Times.
She believes all these actions by McClain are part of a plot to impugn her credibility and reputation — and thus make it easier for McCain to obtain custody of her son. In their letter to NASA’s IG, Worden and her family specifically wrote of a “highly calculated and manipulative campaign.”
As of Saturday, the FCC had not yet responded to any requests for comment.
The Times did reach confirmation, though, that an investigator who specializes in criminal cases has been assigned to review the matter.
What makes the case extraordinary is that it’s the first-ever case involving a crime committed in space.
“Mark Sundahl, director of the Global Space Law Center at Cleveland State University, said he was not aware of any previous allegation of a crime committed in space. NASA officials said they were also unaware of any crimes committed on the space station,” the Times reported.
Granted, Sundahl is confident there will eventually be many more cases.
“The more we go out there and spend time out there, all the things we do here are going to happen in space,” he said.
This does raise a question, though: What would happen were an astronaut to be credibly accused of committing a crime in space? It depends.
According to the rules of the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, in the simplest of circumstances, the astronaut would simply be arrested as per the criminal justice laws of his or her country.
“A State Party to the Treaty on whose registry an object launched into outer space is carried shall retain jurisdiction and control over such object, and over any personnel thereof, while in outer space or on a celestial body,” the treaty reportedly reads.
But what would happen if multiple nations were involved?
For instance: “What happens if it’s been a long hard day at the American lab, and a European astronaut punches a Canadian in the American module, but then runs over to the Japanese module? Who has jurisdiction over that?” Joanne Gabrynowicz, space lawyer and professor emerita at the University of Mississippi, said to Vice for a report four years ago.
In that case, the rules of the ISS Intergovernmental Agreement, which was first signed in 1988 and later signed again in 1998, would apply. According to Vice, these rules basically state that astronauts “are always subject to their own nation’s laws,” except in cases where the victim is from another country. Then the astronaut “will be prosecuted according to the laws of the affected country.”
In McClain’s case, both she and her alleged victim are Americans, so that should make things significantly less complicated.
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