- NASA Watch
- November 29, 2023
What Laws / Ethics Rules Govern Astronaut Behavior In Space?
Nasa said to be investigating first allegation of a crime in space, BBC
“So if a Canadian national were to commit a crime in space, they would be subject to Canadian law, and a Russian citizen to Russian law. Space law also sets out provisions for extradition back on Earth, should a nation decide it wishes to prosecute a citizen of another nation for misconduct in space. As space tourism becomes a reality, so might the need to prosecute space crime, but for now the legal framework remains untested. Nasa officials told the New York Times that they were not aware of any crimes committed on the space station.”
A NASA Astronaut’s Divorce Has Sparked Claims of a Crime in Space: Report, Space.com
“According to Worden, her bank account was accessed without her permission from a NASA-affiliated computer network, prompting her to file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. A family member also filed a complaint with NASA’s internal Office of Inspector General.”
Keith’s note: Strangely if you search for “Astronaut Code of Professional Responsibility” Google shows you this link http://www.jsc.nasa.gov/Bios/AstronautCodeEarthFinal.pdf that redirects to the JSC home page and not to the document. Searching the NASA.gov website does not show any results. Oddly Google has a description of this link that says “It directs us in the performance of our professional duties and expresses the basic tenets of ethical and professional conduct. Adherence to this code calls for a constant commitment to honorable behavior and ensures the continued privilege of participation in our Nation’s space program.” But if you use the Internet archive you can find this file that contains a picture of the code. We’ve also had it online since 2008. Alas, all this powerpoint chart says are happy words you’d expect to see in some sort of recruiting brochure for clean cut wholesome aw shucks Astronauts. Nothing is mentioned about what the rules are about adhering to laws in space and what happens when someone breaks a law while in space.
But you can find 14 CFR § 1214.403 – Code of Conduct for the International Space Station Crew here. The NASA Office of General Counsel Ethics Rules page points you to a 21 December 2000 Federal Register notice. We posted it too. There does not seem to be any mention of which laws apply to an astronaut’s behavior in space in this document. This NASA LEO Economy FAQs page mentions the CFR as well but nowhere is there any mention of what happens if a NASA or commercial astronaut is accused of doing something illegal. FYI this astronaut code of conduct was developed when NASA and the ISS partners discovered that they had no rules to govern Dennis Tito’s behavior on the ISS. Spolier: he did not break anything – including any laws.
BTW the The NASA OGC link to Multilateral Intergovernmental Agreement — United States, Canada, European Space Agency, Japan, Russia (January 1998) is broken (security issue or something) as are the links to all of the bilateral agreements. I found another page that lists the original 1998 bilateral agreements. I searched through them and can’t seem to fin anything about which laws apply to astronauts while aboard the ISS.
I read through all of the United Nations treaties affecting activities in outer space. Unless I missed something or did not understand what I was reading (likely) I do not see anything in these treaties about astronaut behavior being governed by terrestrial law. I am not a lawyer. But you’d think that NASA would make the basic agreement available to the public to read – especially now that there is a story in the news about alleged illegal behavior in space. And if there are specific rules about legal aspects of living and working in space you’d think that NASA would want to find them and add them to whatever rules the place of public-facing websites. Just sayin’
– Shh! The Astronaut Code of Professional Responsibility is Online, (2008), earlier post
– Evolving Traditions Aboard the International Space Station (2003), earlier post