NASA investigating possible first allegation of criminal wrongdoing in space

NASA is reportedly investigating an allegation that an astronaut aboard the International Space Station improperly accessed the bank account of her estranged spouse, marking what could be the first allegation of criminal activity from space. 

The New York Times reported Friday that NASA astronaut Anne McClain told investigators she accessed her spouse’s bank account during her six-month mission aboard the International Space Station in preparation for NASA’s first all-female spacewalk.

McClain’s spouse, former Air Force intelligence officer Summer Worden, brought a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) that McClain had committed identity theft, though Worden said she did not notice any funds having been moved or spent.

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Worden’s parents later brought a second complaint to NASA's Office of Inspector General, accusing McClain of improperly accessing private financial records to conduct a “highly calculated and manipulative campaign” to win custody of Worden’s son.

"Lt Col. Anne McClain has an accomplished military career, flew combat missions in Iraq and is one of NASA’s top astronauts," a statement from NASA read. "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."

Rusty Hardin, McClain's lawyer, told the Times that “she strenuously denies that she did anything improper” and “is totally cooperating" with the investigation. Hardin said McClain was monitoring the account out of concern for Worden’s son, whom the two had been raising together, by using the password to access the account they had used during their relationship. 

“I was pretty appalled that she would go that far. I knew it was not OK,” Worden told the Times, adding that the FTC has yet to respond to her claim.

Investigators from NASA’s Office of Inspector General have spoken with both women, according to the Times. McClain reportedly claimed in an interview with the watchdog under oath last week that she is continuing behavior that Worden had approved to handle the family’s finances, the paper reported.

McClain and Worden filed for divorce in 2018 after about four years of marriage, separating after McClain accused her spouse of assault. Worden told the Times that she believed the allegation was part of a longstanding attempt to gain custody of her son. Worden denied committing assault, and the case was later dismissed.

Worden did not discover the bank account access until a few months after the assault claim, after McClain had already gone to space.

NASA told the Times that the accusations against McClain played no role in the agency’s decision to cancel the historic spacewalk, adding that the agency did not know of any crimes that had been committed on the International Space Station.