USHow a Bitter Divorce Battle on Earth Led to Claims of a Crime in Space
Scientists say this massive asteroid definitely won’t destroy Earth… yet
If the thought of an asteroid careening toward Earth keeps you up at night you can breathe a little easier today, as scientists have now ruled out a potential impact from the space rock known as 2006 QV89. The rock, which was discovered in 2006, was only visible for a few months after astronomers spotted it, and that wasn't nearly enough time to forecast its threat potential at the time. Now, after spotting it once again this month, its course has been plotted for the foreseeable future, and researchers have declared the rock poses no threat to Earth for at least the next century.
Summer Worden, a former Air Force intelligence officer living in Kansas, has been in the midst of a bitter separation and parenting dispute for much of the past year. So she was surprised when she noticed that her estranged spouse still seemed to know things about her spending. Had she bought a car? How could she afford that?
A huge asteroid hurtling toward Earth will fly by us next month
Some astronomers have suggested that Earth is overdue for a large asteroid impact, and that we're living on borrowed time until we can shore up our planetary defenses to protect us from a true "planet-killer" space rock. With a potentially mile-wide asteroid headed to our neck of the woods in September, that notion may be enough to make your palms sweat, but it seems luck is on our side once again. The object known as 467317 (2000 QW7) may lack a flashy nickname, but it more than makes up for it in size.
Ms. Worden put her intelligence background to work, asking her bank about the locations of computers that had recently accessed her bank account using her login credentials. The bank got back to her with an answer: One was a computer network registered to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
Ms. Worden’s spouse, Anne McClain, was a decorated NASA astronaut on a six-month mission aboard the International Space Station. She was about to be part of NASA’s first all-female spacewalk. But the couple’s domestic troubles on Earth, it seemed, had extended into outer space.
Divorce dispute leads to accusation of crime in space
This is one spaceflight milestone that NASA isn't about to celebrate. Former Air Force intelligence officer Summer Worden and her family have filed complaints accusing Worden's estranged spouse, astronaut Anne McClain (above), of committing a crime while in space. When McClain appeared to know of Worden's spending habits despite an ongoing separation battle, Worden found that McClain had accessed their still-linked bank account while aboard the International Space Station -- supposedly committing the crimes of identity theft and improper access to private financial records.
Ms. McClain acknowledged that she had accessed the bank account from space, insisting through a lawyer that she was merely shepherding the couple’s still-intertwined finances. Ms. Worden felt differently. She filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission and her family lodged one with NASA’s Office of Inspector General, accusing Ms. McClain of identity theft and improper access to Ms. Worden’s private financial records.
Investigators from the inspector general’s office have since contacted Ms. Worden and Ms. McClain, trying to get to the bottom of what may be the first allegation of criminal wrongdoing in space.
“I was pretty appalled that she would go that far. I knew it was not O.K.,” Ms. Worden said.
The five space agencies involved in the space station — from the United States, Russia, Japan, Europe and Canada — have long-established procedures to handle any jurisdictional questions that arise when astronauts of various nations are orbiting Earth together. But Mark Sundahl, director of the Global Space Law Center at Cleveland State University, said he was not aware of any previous allegation of a crime committed in space. NASA officials said they are also unaware of any crimes committed on the space station.
The Air Force’s secret space plane sets a new record: 718 days in orbit
The U.S. Air Force's X-37B space plane has been orbiting Earth since September 7th, 2017, crossing the 718 day mark and breaking its previous record of 717 days, 20 hours and 42 minutes in flight. While little is known about the classified X-37B, we do know that it's able to stay in operation for such long stretches of time thanks in part to its solar panels and a lack of a human crew. The Air Force began putting the space plane through its paces in 2010, with the first "Orbital Test Vehicle" (OTV) mission, which lasted 224 days.
Ms. McClain, now back on Earth, submitted to an under-oath interview with the inspector general last week. She contends that she was merely doing what she had always done, with Ms. Worden’s permission, to make sure the family’s finances were in order.
“She strenuously denies that she did anything improper,” said her lawyer, Rusty Hardin, who added that the astronaut “is totally cooperating.”
Mr. Hardin said the bank access from space was an attempt to make sure that there were sufficient funds in Ms. Worden’s account to pay bills and care for the child they had been raising. Ms. McClain had done the same throughout the relationship, he said, with Ms. Worden’s full knowledge. Ms. McClain continued using the password that she had used previously and never heard from Ms. Worden that the account was now off limits, he added.
A complaint involving bank access from the space station is just one of a number of complex legal issues that have emerged in the age of routine space travel, issues that are expected to grow with the onset of space tourism.
In 2011, NASA organized a sting operation targeting a space engineer’s widow who was looking to sell a moon rock. In 2013, a Russian satellite was damaged after colliding with debris from a satellite that China destroyed in a 2007 missile test. In 2017, an Austrian businessman sued a space tourism company, seeking to recover his deposit for a planned trip that was not progressing.
SpaceX's Dragon completes record-setting third Space Station resupply mission
A SpaceX Dragon capsule that set down in the Pacific Ocean on Tuesday after having been docked at the International Space Station since late July became the first such vehicle to do three of those trips. SpaceX uses its Dragon cargo capsule to ferry experiment materials, supplies and more to and from the ISS, and it also refurbishes and reflies these capsules when possible as part of its ongoing mission to make spaceflight more reusable, and therefore more economical. After it splashed down yesterday, SpaceX recovered the capsule from the ocean and returned it to shore.
“Just because it’s in space, doesn’t mean it’s not subject to law,” Mr. Sundahl said.
One potential issue that could arise with any criminal case or lawsuit over extraterrestrial bank communications, Mr. Sundahl said, is discovery: NASA officials would be wary of opening up highly sensitive computer networks to examination by lawyers, for example. But those sorts of legal questions, he said, are going to be inevitable as people spend more time in outer space.
The couple’s dispute revolved largely around Ms. Worden’s son, who was born about a year before the two met.
Ms. Worden, who had previously worked at the National Security Agency, resisted allowing Ms. McClain to adopt the child, even after they were married at the end of 2014.
In early 2018, while the couple was still married, Ms. McClain went to a local court in the Houston area to ask a judge to grant her shared parenting rights and “the exclusive right to designate the primary residence of the child” if the parties could not reach a mutual agreement, according to records. She contended that Ms. Worden had an explosive temper and was making poor financial decisions, and she wanted the court to “legally validate my established and deep parental relationship with” the young boy.
Around the same time, Ms. McClain apparently posted official NASA photos — now deleted — on her Twitter account, showing herself in her astronaut suit smiling alongside Ms. Worden’s son. “The hardest part about training for space is the 4 yr old I have to leave behind every time I walk out the door,” she wrote at the time.
Pair of asteroids make early-morning passes of Earth
If you're reading this, the Earth is intact. That's good news, since a pair of asteroids made some reasonably close approaches to our planet this morning. The rocks, named 2019 QS and 2019 OU1, both safely sped past Earth on their way around the Sun. Of the two rocks, QS is the smallest, measuring between 30 and 60 meters in width. OU1 is quite a bit larger, and is estimated to be as large as 170 meters across. Neither object meets the “planet-killer” criteria, but both of them could do a fair amount of damage depending on where an impact took place. NASA does a really good job of keeping track of all potentially hazardous objects that enter our neck of the cosmic woods.
The social media attention aggravated Ms. Worden further, as she did not want Ms. McClain to claim to be the mother of the child. Later in 2018, Ms. Worden filed for divorce after Ms. McClain accused her of assault — something Ms. Worden denies and says she believes was part of Ms. McClain’s bid to get control of the child. The assault case was later dismissed.
A few months later, after Ms. McClain launched to the space station, their dispute continued to escalate. Ms. Worden noticed the bank issue. And when word of her concerns reached NASA, officials there immediately raised the issue with Ms. McClain, who fired off an email to Ms. Worden.
“They specifically mentioned threatening emails from orbit, and accessing bank accounts — not sure where that info comes from,” Ms. McClain wrote in an email to Ms. Worden.
Despite the turmoil, Ms. McClain portrayed no outward signs of trouble on the space station. The Spokane, Wash., native was an acclaimed leader with a decorated past — 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.
In the days after Ms. McClain’s email to Ms. Worden, Ms. Worden filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, accusing Ms. McClain of committing identity theft — though she saw no sign that anyone had moved or made use of the funds in the account.
Ms. McClain, meanwhile, was gaining national attention for another reason. NASA was promoting the upcoming milestone of an all-female spacewalk, with Ms. McClain set to do work outside the space station with her fellow astronaut Christina Koch. But in a sudden switch a few days before the spacewalk, NASA scrapped Ms. McCain’s planned role, explaining that there were not enough suits available in the two women’s size.
The Morning After: Galaxy Note 10 review
Hey, good morning! You look fabulous. Welcome to your weekend! As our US readers get ready for a Labor Day break, we'll check out all of Friday's news and some highlights from the last week. But first, you should see our review of the standard Galaxy Note 10 and find out why some Apple Watch owners could be in for a free screen repair. Good size, bad price.Samsung Galaxy Note 10 review The Galaxy Note 10 squeezes a 6.3-inch screen and S Pen into a phone that's about the same size as an iPhone XS. But, as Cherlynn Low explains, it makes tradeoffs to shave off those millimeters with less RAM, no microSD slot and a lower resolution display.
Saturday Night Live, with actress Aidy Bryant portraying a disappointed Ms. McClain with her dreams crushed by poor NASA planning.
A NASA spokeswoman, Megan Sumner, said the decision about the spacewalk was not influenced by any allegations about Ms. McClain. Ms. Sumner declined to comment about the other issues raised by Ms. Worden.
In the days before Ms. McClain returned from space in June, Ms. Worden’s parents sent a lengthy letter to NASA’s Office of Inspector General, outlining what they described as Ms. McClain’s “highly calculated and manipulative campaign” to win custody of the child. In the letter, they included the allegation of the bank account intrusion.
In recent days, Michael Mataya, an investigator specializing in criminal cases with the NASA Office of Inspector General, and another official have been exploring the issue, said Ms. Worden and her mother. Mr. Mataya declined to comment, as did a spokeswoman. The trade commission has not responded to the identity theft report, Ms. Worden said.
The domestic dispute in space may be the first such investigation, but it is unlikely that it will be the last.
“The more we go out there and spend time out there,” Mr. Sundahl said, “all the things we do here are going to happen in space.”
The ISS' spherical robot helper has returned to Earth.
Humans are one step closer to having robot assistants in space. The IBM- and Airbus-made CIMON (Crew Interactive Mobile Companion) robot returned to Earth on August 27th after successful testing aboard the International Space Station. The spherical machine demonstrated both its AI skills (such as recognizing astronauts and offering instructions) as well as its ability to float through the ISS. Don't think this is the end to the experiments, though -- this is really just the start. The partners have been working on a successor that should build on the lessons learned from the first-generation robot.
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