The first crime committed in space may have recently occurred aboard the International Space Station (ISS), The New York Times reported on Friday (Aug. 23).
While "space crime" sounds like a charge someone might bring against Thanos or Dr. Evil, the reality here is far more pedestrian. According to the Times, NASA astronaut Anne McClain was accused by her estranged spouse, Summer Worden, of signing into Worden's personal bank account from a NASA-affiliated computer aboard the ISS. This alleged space invasion of privacy is being investigated by NASA's Office of the Inspector General.
McClain, who was stationed aboard the ISS from December 2018 to June 2019, acknowledged that she accessed Worden's bank account. She also acknowledged that she had previously used the same password to access Worden's account (from Earth) to make sure there was enough money to provide for their son. In a statement on Twitter, McClain denied any wrongdoing.
"There's unequivocally no truth to these claims," McClain tweeted. She added that she and her spouse, who were married in 2014 and filed for divorce in 2018, were in the midst of a "painful, personal separation that's now unfortunately in the media."
NASA, meanwhile, praised McClain's career and declined to weigh in on the allegations.
"Lt. Col. Anne McClain has an accomplished military career, flew combat missions in Iraq and is one of NASA's top astronauts," NASA officials said in a statement to Space.com. "She did a great job on her most recent NASA mission aboard the International Space Station. Like with all NASA employees, NASA does not comment on personal or personnel matters."
If McClain is found guilty of wrongdoing, what then? The founding nations of the ISS planned for such a contingency, setting a legal framework that gives each nation jurisdiction over their respective parts of the station. In other words, an alleged crime committed by a U.S. astronaut using a NASA computer would be prosecuted by the relevant U.S. authorities back on Earth.
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Originally published on Live Science.
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Brandon is the space/physics editor at Live Science. His writing has appeared in The Washington Post, Reader's Digest, CBS.com, the Richard Dawkins Foundation website and other outlets. He holds a bachelor's degree in creative writing from the University of Arizona, with minors in journalism and media arts. He enjoys writing most about space, geoscience and the mysteries of the universe.