What happens if a crime is commited in outer space?

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Have you ever wondered what would happen if, for some reason, a crime was committed in space?

Could the criminal be judged and convicted for their actions?

There is no "interplanetary court," but space agencies around the world have been preparing for such situations for decades. In 1967, the Outer Space Treaty was established, which outlines what would happen if someone committed a crime in space:

Basically, if someone commits a crime in space, they will be arrested and tried upon their return to Earth.

This is similar to what happens in international waters. Although technically not belonging to any country, it does not mean that one can act freely and commit crimes without consequences.

Let's imagine for a moment that an astronaut kills another during a space mission: Who would judge them?

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In this situation, it is assumed that the nation to which the spacecraft or vehicle belongs, along with the individual's own nation, would be responsible for judging them for the crimes committed.


Post image : Getty images
Getty images

At least known, in 2022, the first crime in space was recorded, involving a cybercrime beyond Earth's borders.

The accused in question is Anne McClain, an astronaut, and the case is related to her divorce from Summer Worden, a former intelligence officer in the United States Air Force. They both disputed custody of their child.

According to Worden, McClain accessed his personal bank accounts from space.

But how did he find out? Worden consulted with his bank to determine from which networks his accounts had been accessed and discovered that one of the networks belonged to NASA.

She has admitted to accessing the accounts but claims that it was something she used to do when they were married and that Worden had also provided her with the passwords.

Now, both the astronaut and Worden are facing a trial not only for their divorce and custody dispute but also for the events that took place on the ISS.

The matter has not only drawn the attention of NASA but McClain herself has filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, accusing McClain of identity theft and unauthorized access to her private financial records.


On January 27, 1967, the Outer Space Treaty was signed. Currently, there are 107 signatory countries, initially there were 65. Ref image: British Paté Some of the most important legal points of the Treaty are:

  • The militarization of space is prohibited, but only partially as it specifically mentions types of weapons that cannot be used, such as weapons of mass destruction.
  •  In space, investigations, military tests, and reconnaissance missions are allowed, as long as they are not on celestial bodies. Anti-satellite weapons and ballistic missile defense systems can also be used, as well as the establishment of military space stations.
  •  Prohibition for any country to claim territory or resources in space. "Outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies, shall be free for exploration and use by all States without discrimination of any kind, on a basis of equality and in accordance with international law, and there shall be free access to all areas of celestial bodies."
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