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Murder in Space: Experts Have Begun to Research the Future of Astroforensics

The gravity of these crimes could change the future.

A view of Earth from space, obscured by blood spatter.
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  • Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

As mankind expands out into the greater universe, exploring the depths of space and all it has to offer, it is the hope that they bring with them something beautiful. However, the expectation is that they will bring crime.

Every impressive innovation made by humanity is a double-sided coin. There is always going to be someone waiting for the chance to misuse it or take advantage of its lack of regulation.

But it seems that this time around, the powers that be are trying to get ahead of the curve. As it may not be long before we have to contend with murder in space, experts have already begun to contemplate how they might conduct criminal investigations in microgravity.

How Do You Solve a Murder in Space?

As far as we know, there has not yet been a homicide in space. But if one were to occur, it's safe to assume the lack of gravity would impact evidence in a way we don't see earthside.

Detective Zack Kowalske is a crime scene investigator in Roswell, Georgia, and he's not content to wait around for a space murder to happen before he knows how to solve it.

One of the key methods used to investigate murder scenes is blood spatter analysis. Blood spatter analysis helps determine not only the position of the attacker in relation to the victim, but also how many attacker's were present, what movements the attacker(s) made after the blood was shed, what kind of object or weapon was used in the attack, and beyond.

There is a very methodical process of science and mathematics that goes into analyzing blood spatter. If blood were to be shed in space, microgravity would throw a wrench in all of those calculations.

Kowalske came together with researchers from the University of Louisville, Staffordshire University, and the University of Hull to research how blood spatter behaves differently in crime scenes without gravity.

To conduct their research, they used a special plane—a parabolic aircraft—which generates periods of brief weightlessness through a series of steep descents.

As the plane mimicked zero gravity, a researcher in the cabin sprayed fake blood out of a syringe toward a target—a sheet of white paper—in a glovebox.

Kowalske and his fellow researchers knew this much: without a gravitational pull, the faux blood would shoot forward in a straight trajectory.  What they were shocked to find was that, upon hitting the targets, the spatter generated much smaller patterns than those found in typical gravity.

Concerns Over Space Piracy

Of course, while murder is one of the most heinous crimes, it's not the only crime we should be concerned about when it comes to space. The more comfortable humanity gets in venturing out into the stars, the more likely space piracy is to become a real problem.

While, admittedly, the phrase “space pirate” conjures a lot of very cool mental imagery, the crime itself is less than stellar (pun intended). Space piracy is not only damaging economically, but could pose a very large risk to national security.

Luckily, according to a news article from Space.com, great minds are already set to tackle this inevitable problem. The Center for the Study of Space Crime, Policy, and Governance (CSCPG) is set to hold the First Annual Space Piracy Conference early next year.

This symposium is going to take place over a two-day period, and will be an invite-only exclusive event. The CSCPG website proclaims attendees will “be among the first to discuss mitigating space crime and piracy, from the perspectives of investment, space law, space policy, intelligence, and the military.”

The Problem of Jurisdiction in Space

Figuring out new calculations and factors in space isn't going to be the only challenge in investigating off-earth crimes. In fact, the biggest obstacle of all may be determining jurisdiction.

Space attorney (yes, those exist) Michelle Hanlon explained in a conversation with Fox News that while jurisdiction may be a tricky subject, "space objects remain under the jurisdiction and control of the State that launched the object.”

The complications come with the fact that this can mean either the nation that requested the launch or the country that owns the facility where the launch occurred.

In short, if a craft is manufactured in one country, launched by a company owned by a second country, launched from a third country, and perhaps even piloted by astronauts from a fourth country, the waters get very murky.

Luckily, there's something in place that should at least help a little with the jurisdictional headache: the Outer Space Treaty. This is an international agreement that regulates space activities, holding nations accountable for the damages their citizens cause in space.