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Crime in space: Which treaties govern conduct of astronauts beyond Earth?

Crime in space: Which treaties govern conduct of astronauts beyond Earth?
By Emma Beswick
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Crime in space: What treaty governs conduct of astronauts beyond Earth?


When Summer Worden, who is locked in a bitter divorce deal, alleged she found her ex-partner had accessed her bank account, she may have been more surprised than others in this situation.

Her estranged spouse is Anne McClain, a NASA astronaut who was on a six-month mission aboard the International Space Station (ISS).

The women are battling over custody of a 6-year-old son who Worden says she conceived through in vitro fertilization and carried by a surrogate, KPRC in Houston cited her as saying.

Read more: A top NASA astronaut is accused of hacking her estranged spouse's bank account from space

McClain acknowledged accessing the account from the ISS but denies any wrongdoing, according to a New York Times report.

"She strenuously denies that she did anything improper," said a lawyer representing McClain, Rusty Hardin, adding that Ms McClain was "totally co-operating".

Euronews contacted Hardin for comment but had not received a response at the time of writing.

The space agency said in a statement to NBC News that McClain, who has since returned to Earth, is "one of NASA's top astronauts" but that "NASA does not comment on personal or personnel matters.

What is the law in space?

The International Space Station Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) of 1998 governs the ISS.

It is an international treaty signed by the fifteen governments involved in the Space Station project.

"Each partner shall retain jurisdiction and control over the elements it registers and over personnel in or on the Space Station who are its nationals," Article 5 of the agreement states, so a country's laws back on Earth apply to its astronauts on the ISS.

The Outer Space Treaty of 1967 forms the basis of general international space law.

As of June 2019, 109 countries were party to the treaty, including the US, UK and Russia, while another 23 have signed the treaty but have not completed ratification.

The treaty's main points prohibit the placing of nuclear weapons in space, limit the use of the Moon and all other celestial bodies to peaceful purposes only, and establish that space shall be free for exploration and use by all nations, but that no nation may claim sovereignty of outer space or any celestial body.

It does not, however, ban military activities within space or the weaponization of space, with the exception of weapons of mass destruction.

While the dispute concerning an ISS astronaut could be the first such incident of its kind, it is unlikely that it will be the last.

With more and more astronauts heading into orbit and rapid advancements in the field of commercial space travel, the subject of crime beyond the Earth's surface is sure to come up again.

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