Can a crime be committed in outer space? asks John David

Posted by News Express | 26 May 2020 | 1,395 times

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It’s a fact that where humans exist, crimes as well sojourn there. If we must be truthful to ourselves, humans are carriers of various criminal activities, intentionally or unintentionally and the sea and the outer space where humans exist are not excluded.
Why it might seem strange to many, humans are presently in space and soon enough mass space tourism is going to open up the possibility for many. So, what exactly happens if someone does commit a crime in space, say murder, and go scott-free since no one watches the few astronauts who are in space?

(1) Does crime happen in space?

(2) Are there laws which regulate those in space?

(3) Who has jurisdiction to entertain criminal activities in space?

(4) Who investigates such crimes?

Does crime ever happen in space?

To begin with, while you might think it can't actually be possible to commit a crime in space or you can possibly escape from your wrong, unlike the earth, you’re wrong. Much like the myth that you can do whatever you want in international waters because no country holds sway when a crime happens in space, you get arrested when you eventually return. NASA is currently investigating what could be considered the first crime perpetrated in space, after one of the agency’s astronauts were accused of illegally accessing his wife’s bank account during her stay on the International Space Station (ISS).

Summer Worden accused his estranged wife, NASA astronaut Anne McClain, of accessing Worden’s bank account without permission from the ISS, where McClain was living for six months. McClain claims that it was a routine occurrence, to make sure that the couple had enough money to pay their bills.

The legal dispute is still murky and seems to be wrapped up in a deeply personal separation that McClain didn’t want to be disclosed to the media.

Investigators have yet to decide if the event actually constitutes a crime, but this case does raise questions about how we should handle criminal activity in space in the future.

Are there laws which regulate those in space?

There are five significant international treaties which serve as laws, namely:

• Outer space treaty

•The rescue agreement

•The liability convention

• The registration convention

• The moon agreement.

All these come under the United Nations Office of Outer Space Affairs. Among them, the Outer space treaty is more important in terms of crimes committed to outer space.

Who has jurisdiction to entertain criminal activities in space?

It is to be noted that no country owns the outer space, so if crimes are committed, then Articles VIII of the Outer Space Treaty Act 1967 will be activated.
Article viii of that treaty states:

“A state party to the treaty on whose registry an object is launched into outer space is carried shall retain jurisdiction and control over such object and over any person’s thereof, where in outer space or on a celestial body.”

One of the world’s leading space lawyers, Joanne Gabrynowicz, outlines such scenario for people on the international space station.

So, in case you even renounce your citizenship and be aboard your own vessel that has no ties to any nation, you won’t still escape freely; most especially, if you did anything serious against someone who still has citizenship with some nation, you would face prosecution for any crime, perhaps, via the International Criminal Court. But if such crime is committed on international space station, then the place of the space station where the crime is committed can define the jurisdiction.

The outer space treaty is very clear that governments are responsible for what their commercial companies and private entities do in space. The document notes that each nation has “jurisdiction and control” over any registered object launched into space, as well as any personnel. 

Who investigates space offences?

When crimes are committed on land, security agencies and bodies investigate such crimes being committed. This is unlike the outer space where no country or political entity owns space. State lines and political boundaries do not extend past the planet’s atmosphere. So, then, what jurisdictions would come into play to investigate allegations of a space crime or handle a conviction, should evidence show that a crime in space had, in fact, been committed? 

In other words, if a crime is committed on a craft belonging to a specific nation, that nation would have legal jurisdiction in the case and, therefore, investigate the person who committed the crime. For example, the United States will investigate a crime committed by a NASA  Astronaut, Russia will investigate a crime committed by Russian Cosmonauts and Nigeria will investigate a crime committed by NASRDA Astronaut.


Crimes occur at every point and situations humans find themselves because we live in a world of desperation. Therefore, when such circumstances happen in outer space, certain laws are enacted to deal with it.

•John David can be reached on:;

Source: News Express

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