28 July 2016 press releases

There's been a murder in space - now what?

Press Release

Credit: BBC America
Credit: BBC America

Space tourism could soon be a popular way for humanity to take a holiday but legal experts are concerned that criminality in outer space now needs some serious attention.

Human spaceflight can vary in size of the crew and mission – in the next few years we could see anything from near-Earth orbit tourist flights to long-term missions to Mars. The engineering, technical and biological problems have been well discussed but there is a real challenge in how to regulate numbers of people with contrasting temperaments who are travelling in space.

Writing in the latest issue of ROOM - The Space Journal, Dr Christopher J.Newman, reader in law at the University of Sunderland in the UK, said: “There has been little discussion on the way in which human behavior should be regulated in outer space and what should happen when an individual commits a crime in space.

“Some form of criminal code may not only be desirable, it may be critical to the success of the mission - and the lives of all crew members.”

The Tokyo Convention of 1963 – a convention of offences and certain other acts committed on board an aircraft – could be used as a backdrop as it applies to offences and acts prejudicial to good order along with Article 22 of the Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA). This article contains specific provisions relating to crimes committed by astronauts during long visits to the International Space Station (ISS).

Questions also need to be asked about who would administer any punishment and, indeed, what the punishment would be because the value of ‘people power’ is high on any space mission and confining ‘space criminals’ in an already confined environment might prove problematic.

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