Decorated US astronaut Anne McClain had been accused of committing the first crimes in space. McClain is going through an acrimonious divorce and her spouse, Summer Worden, has alleged that McClain committed financial improprieties by accessing financial records while serving aboard the ISS (International Space Station) and has filed a complaint with the FTC and NASA’s Office of Inspector General, accusing McClain of identity theft and improperly accessing records.
The claims of financial harm are now being investigated by NASA, but McClain is strongly denying any intent or wrongdoing:
There’s unequivocally no truth to these claims. We’ve been going through a painful, personal separation that’s now unfortunately in the media. I appreciate the outpouring of support and will reserve comment until after the investigation. I have total confidence in the IG process.
— Anne McClain (@AstroAnnimal) August 24, 2019
The question of jurisdiction in space is a complex one. The five space agencies that operate the space station — US, Russia, Japan, China, and Europe — have agreements in place to hammer out issues that might occur while aboard, but to the best of anyone’s knowledge, this is the first time there have been allegations of any kind of illegal activity occurring in space (at least, as far as something an astronaut might personally do). The New York Times points out that with the advent of space tourism, these kinds of questions are going to be raised on a more regular basis. What does legal discovery look like, for example, when it impacts a NASA network? In any kind of scenario in which individuals from more than one nation are involved in a dispute, how should said dispute be adjudicated, and under what auspices?
These sorts of questions are esoteric at the moment because we have no serious space-tourism industry. At present, seven space tourists have made eight spaceflights. From 2001-2009, the Russian Space Agency provided space flights, but they ceased doing so after 2009 because the expanded crew capabilities of the ISS require the Soyuz to carry more passengers to and from the station. On June 7, 2019, NASA announced that it would allow private astronauts to return to the ISS using either SpaceX’s Dragon2 module or Boeing’s Starliner. Bigelow Aerospace wants to launch an inflatable space habitat, the BA 330, into LEO by 2022.
McClain was scheduled to take part in the first all-female spacewalk earlier this year, but she had to back out due to a spacesuit sizing issue (NASA has two medium-size spacesuit available on the ISS, but only one was properly outfitted for spacewalking and it was already scheduled to be in-use by her astronaut partner). NASA opted to change the spacewalk roster rather than spend hours fitting the other suit for simultaneous operation. The complaint filed against McClain accuses her of identity theft but acknowledges that funds had not been moved out of the account.