An American astronaut is at the centre of what could be the first allegation of a crime in space after she admitted to accessing her estranged wife’s bank account from the International Space Station.
Decorated NASA pilot Anne McClain, who was on a six-month mission aboard the ISS at the time of the incident, acknowledges accessing the account but denies any wrongdoing, according to a report from The New York Times.
McClain insisted through a lawyer that she was merely shepherding the couple’s still-intertwined finances, the newspaper reported.
Her estranged wife, Summer Worden, a former Air Force intelligence officer living in Kansas, filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. Her family also lodged one with NASA’s Office of Inspector General, accusing McClain of identity theft and improper access to Worden’s private financial records.
Investigators from the inspector general’s office have since contacted Worden and McClain, the Times said.
McClain, now back on Earth, submitted to an under-oath interview with the inspector general last week.
In a statement to CTVNews.ca, NASA defended McClain’s record but refused to elaborate on the case.
“Lt Col. Anne McClain has an accomplished military career, flew combat missions in Iraq and is one of NASA’s top astronauts,” NASA spokeswoman Brittany Brown said.
“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.”
McClain’s lawyer Rusty Hardin contends that the bank access from space was an attempt to make sure that there were sufficient funds in Worden’s account to pay bills and care for the young boy they had been raising.
“She strenuously denies that she did anything improper,” Hardin told The Times, who added that the astronaut “is totally cooperating.”
The couple’s dispute revolves largely around Worden’s son from a previous relationship.
Worden, who had previously worked at the National Security Agency, resisted allowing McClain to adopt the child even after they were married at the end of 2014, the Times reported.
McClain is a West Point graduate who became a commissioned Army officer and flew more than 800 combat hours in Operation Iraqi Freedom before joining NASA in 2013.
As of yet, no criminal charges have ever been laid against a person in outer space. But as space tourism edges closer to becoming reality, a new legal framework may have to be put in place to deal with off-world criminality.