Marital dispute escalates in alleged first space crime

220 miles above the earth's surface apparently wasn't far enough to escape this argument.

August 25, 2019 03:04
3 minute read.
astronaut Anne McClain during training at the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory in Houston

astronaut Anne McClain during training at the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory in Houston. (photo credit: NASA/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)

Summer Worden was surprised when her estranged spouse asked her about a purchase that she hadn't discussed with her, reported The New York Times. When she asked her bank about the location of computers that had recently accessed her bank account, she received even more unusual news: her bank account had been accessed by a computer belonging to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Anne McClain, a NASA astronaut on a six-month mission aboard the International Space Station, was about to take part in NASA's first all-female spacewalk, but 220 miles above the earth's surface apparently wasn't far enough to escape their marital issues.
McClain admitted that she had accessed Worden's bank account while in space, but insisted that she was just dealing with the couple's interconnected finances. Worden filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission and her family filed a complaint with NASA's Office of Inspector General. They accused McClain of identity theft and improper access to Worden's private financial records. In the letter to the inspector general, the family described a “highly calculated and manipulative campaign” by McClain to win custody of the child.

“I was pretty appalled that she would go that far. I knew it was not OK,” said Worden.

The trade commission has not responded to the identity theft report. An investigator specializing in criminal cases with NASA's Office of Inspector General and another official are looking into the issue, according to Wordern and her mother.

The space agencies of the US, Russia, Japan, Europe and Canada have established procedures to handle any jurisdictional questions that come up when astronauts of multiple nations are in orbit together.

Mark Sundahl, director of the Global Space Law Center at Cleveland State University, said that he wasn't aware of any previous allegation of a crime committed in space, according to the Times. NASA officials stated that they were also unaware of any such crimes.

“The more we go out there and spend time out there,” said Sundahl, “all the things we do here are going to happen in space.”

McClain has since returned to planet Earth and underwent an under-oath interview with the inspector general last week. She claims that she was just making sure that her finances were in order, with Worden's permission.

“She strenuously denies that she did anything improper,” said her lawyer, Rusty Hardin. The lawyer added that McClain “is totally cooperating.”

The astronaut stated that she was just ensuring that there was enough money in the account to pay bills and care for the child they had been raising. McClain had continued accessing the account throughout the relationship and hadn't heard from Worden that the account was off-limits, according to the lawyer.

The couple's dispute was largely centered around Worden's son, who was born before they met. Even after they were married, Worden resisted allowing McClain to adopt the child. 
Eventually, Worden filed for divorce after McClain accused her of assault, which Worden denies and claims was part of attempts by McClain to get custody of the child. The assault case was later dismissed.

After the incident with the bank account, Worden's concern about the issue reached NASA who discussed the matter with McClain, according to the Times.

McClain then sent an email to Worden saying that NASA "specifically mentioned threatening emails from orbit, and accessing bank accounts" and that she was "not sure where that info comes from.”

The NASA astronaut and fellow astronaut Christina Koch did not, in the end, take part in the all-female spacewalk, as there were not enough suits available in their size.

Megan Sumner, a NASA spokeswoman, stated that the decision about the spacewalk was not influenced by allegations against McClain.

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