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Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

[Science and the world of tomorrow] How would murder or other crimes be handled on a deep space mission?

Asked by Hypocrisy_Central (26821points) October 19th, 2016

The International Space Station has no brig or any such confinement quarters. If way in the future, deep space missions taking many years were dispatched to Neptune, Uranus, etc. (this is in the future where the method of propulsion and the food part is worked out to be feasible) someone commits a crime, like assault, rape, or even murder, even if it is the captain that gets to impose punishment or act as the law, what would they be ”locked up”? And if there are still many years left in the mission then what? What if the person who did the crime, say raping a female crew member (from the point of female equality on the mission) had a very critical job to the application or completion of the mission? What if it were the captain that did the crime? How would crimes on a deep space mission be handled? What if there was no need to foresee taking up space for a brig that might never be used?

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17 Answers

Zaku's avatar

As on a ship at sea, it’s up to the captain. The captain isn’t held accountable until after a ship reaches port, or he’s replaced either by protocol, mutiny, or incapacitation/death.

This is just one of many reasons spaceship crew are very well picked. In spaceflight so far, there is little room for such needs to be addressed with much – it’s far more effective to eliminate that risk by crew selection. Far lesser problems will abort a mission.

In the far future when we might survive ourselves and our frekin’ stupid environmental devastation and develop more advanced space travel, if our culture is still sufficiently backward that we think there’s a risk of such behavior from the people we put in space, more thought and possibly some resources might be assigned to mitigating those risks, but I think it would greatly vary by the parameters of the ship design, mission, technology, crew, etc., and it would also vary a lot based on the assessment of the perpetrator’s apparent risk and function.

Various ideas:

Sanctions.
Demotions.
Punishments/Disincentives/Revoking privileges.
Undesirable duty assignments.
Hazardous duty assignments.
Restraints.
Guards.
Drugs.
Suspended animation.
Dual-purpose spaces that can be used as confinement. (e.g. airlock)
Dual-purpose spaces that can be used as disposal (e.g. airlock)
Recycling as compost, food, fuel, or organ transplants.

Coloma's avatar

Toss ‘em into deep space to float aimlessly until they die. Simple. The eject hatch. lol

CWOTUS's avatar

Andy Weir, author of The Martian indirectly addressed this topic in an interview he gave with Jamie Savage (formerly of Mythbusters) regarding the too-frequent portrayal of astronaut crews on such a mission in movies. That is, in many popular movies these types of crew members are depicted as high-strung, on some kind of hair-trigger of offended honor and neuroses, brittle and monomaniacal when it comes to taking offense and holding a grudge, or coveting their fellow crew members’ possessions, higher office and awards.

In reality, one of the primary screening mechanisms would be, in fact, to subject the prospective crew members to exactly these kinds of “closed room” potentially abrasive and noxious environments to see how they would react to one another and resolve differences, or simply go-along-to-get-along, accept one another’s rough edges, and minimize their own hard edges. Because on long voyages in tight quarters – which these people would obviously have to endure, this is the first condition, overriding all others, to attain successful completion of any such mission. Crew members would essentially self-select into or out of a program that would make such demands; it’s unlikely in the extreme that someone could long hide their distaste for or inability to work with all other crew members in all other conditions.

Which is not to say that problems would never or could never develop, or that a crew member could snap for some reason and deliberately injure – that is, severely injure with intent to maim – or kill another. In that case, as in most other such cases of crime under duress, it’s a near certainty that the commander would have the power of summary judgment and execution, should that be necessary. Certainly there would be minor punishments for minor offenses – and which would probably never, ever be needed in reality – as there would probably be no “minor offenses” for which the other party would demand revenge or restitution, and no one would want to be remembered through posterity as “the first criminal executed in space for cause”.

kritiper's avatar

Keel haul the swab!

Buttonstc's avatar

In all likelihood, they would do what has historically been done on sailing ships on long sea voyages. Both scenarios are mostly parallel with the only exception being that on a sailing ship there is the possibility of leaving the undesirable on a randomly encountered island locale.

That wouldn’t work in deep space until we build more fully functional space stations similar to Babylon 5 or DS9 so for severe crimes like murder it would have to be out the airlock.

Darth_Algar's avatar

I quite imagine it would largely depend on the severity of the crime and the technological capabilities of the spacecraft. Lesser crimes would like be punished by demotion, extra work, etc, even short term confinement. But for crimes that would warrant years of incarceration a spacecraft isn’t likely to have the capabilities or the resources to squander on non-productive inhabitants long-term. If the technology is such that spacecraft could move quickly enough to where the perpetrator could be dropped off at the nearest planet or space station in a matter of days (without taking too much from the mission), the the confined would probably be dropped off to face trail and imprisonment elsewhere. If not, if the likely punishment would be death.

Zaku's avatar

Upon reflection, I think my answer above was the primitive answer. If we survive that far, I would think it would tend to imply that we have improved our culture as well. If not, go with the above, but increase the risk that we die due to ourselves before then.

So I think it’s more likely that if we’ve survived, we’re not as screwed up in terms of culture and mental health, and we have improved our skills for psychological diagnosis and healing, and such have become more mainstream and integrated into our culture, and certainly into our space crews.

That being said, I think the real space-age answer is likely to be that in the highly unlikely event that we fail to detect and prevent such behavior, that instead of relating to it in the primitive and backwards ways I described above, the mental health professionals aboard would interview the perpetrator and determine why this had happened, and then they would apply appropriate techniques to correct the problem without resort to such barbaric methods as I outlined, with the exception of short-term observation and limited freedom until re-certified as safe and healthy.

ragingloli's avatar

Agony Booth

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

@CWOTUS In reality, one of the primary screening mechanisms would be, in fact, to subject the prospective crew members to exactly these kinds of “closed room” potentially abrasive and noxious environments to see how they would react to one another and resolve differences, or simply go-along-to-get-along, accept one another’s rough edges, and minimize their own hard edges.
If the mission was not going to take forever, but a fairly long time, say 8 years to Neptune, a years of study of the planet, and an 8 year trip back to Earth, that would be a long, long time. How long would they need to sequester the mission team together to determine if they would work? Would they plan on getting them to gel long enough to the fact they would become like family on the trip up?

Which is not to say that problems would never or could never develop, or that a crew member could snap for some reason and deliberately injure – that is, severely injure with intent to maim – or kill another. In that case, as in most other such cases of crime under duress, it’s a near certainty that the commander would have the power of summary judgment and execution, should that be necessary.
As it has been said, a lot would do with the construction of the craft. If it were tight quarters, no extra or wasted space and a crew member assaulted and violently raped another crew member, and there was no suitable place to place him, if the captain felt to keep the victim and any other female crew member safe the person had to be jettisoned out the airlock, but that person had an important assignment like he was the only one who could navigate the craft or program a crucial system on the craft like climate control, or the air scrubbers, etc. Could he really be executed for the crime? If he can’t because the whole mission might fail and the entire crew will die, what can the captain really do?

@Buttonstc @Darth_Algar That wouldn’t work in deep space until we build more fully functional space stations similar to Babylon 5 or DS9 so for severe crimes like murder it would have to be out the airlock.
If the technology is such that spacecraft could move quickly enough to where the perpetrator could be dropped off at the nearest planet or space station in a matter of days (without taking too much from the mission), the the confined would probably be dropped off to face trail and imprisonment elsewhere.
If they are one of the first missions ”out there”, I don’t think they will have a space station or something to dump him off on

Setanta's avatar

Send them out to work the mines in an asteroid belt prison camp.

Sneki95's avatar

If such far away place is already developed enough for us to live, there probably are some laws there. If someone commited a crime, then they should be judged when they get there, and locked until they arrive, or get deported back to Earth.
If there are ships big enough tp travel so far, they probably have an extra room for the criminal to lock him in there.

JLeslie's avatar

My first thought was tie him up! Which is basically @RedDeerGuy1‘s answer, but his is better. Duct tape. LOL.

Then I also thought, maritime laws would apply.

If he is necessary to the mission then I guess he might have to be tolerated. I wonder how that works? What if someone dies while in space? I assume the astronauts have some crossover skills, maybe they can make it home if short a man? I have no idea. I do wonder how often do countries take people to and from the space station?

Seek's avatar

No single person is critical the functioning of the ship. It’s called cross-training.

“The only guy who can fly the plane is dead” is a trope of jungle cannibal movies, not any realistic concept of space travel.

MrGrimm888's avatar

I think it’s a good question. Maybe you could train one or several astronauts as a security force. Keeping a couple pairs of handcuffs wouldn’t take up as much space as a brig. Or maybe a room that could double as a brig.

As most have mentioned, the screening process should eliminate, or reduce the likelihood of such things. But anyone can crack.

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

@MrGrimm888 Keeping a couple pairs of handcuffs wouldn’t take up as much space as a brig.
Where one would be handcuffed too, by either hands or by one? What about sleeping, and bathroom breaks? If he were not handcuffed by both hands and he was feeling really vindictive because he felt he was wrong and go the way of some seeking to take himself out and as many as he could, who will watch him to make sure he doesn’t try and sabotage something? Even if the propulsion gets better to increase the speed of space travel, articles I have read in science mags, the crafts they illustrate always seem to go for just the essentials, I guess to save weight. If the craft was built in space, it might be able to be larger or space would open up as certain supplies were used up.

As most have mentioned, the screening process should eliminate, or reduce the likelihood of such things. But anyone can crack.
There has not been an organization or industry where someone has never cracked or ”gone postal”, be it the military, the CIA (where you think they would have the best shrink evaluations), law enforcement, the medical field, etc. Those who work those are not even under the burden of being trapped in the same environment with the same people for years, they can take vacations, have time off from work, etc. and some still snap. The screening process might weed out the most obvious but I don’t think you can ever bank on 100% certainty. Even if you train members to do duel jobs, they can’t be at two stations at once. Technically each member of the crew will have to wear at least ’three hats”; one they are expert in, and two others they can function at in case they have to step up do to illness or death, etc.

MrGrimm888's avatar

Propulsion is a waste of time. Our bodies can’t survive the inertia of the speeds required to accelerate or decelerate ,to and from the speeds required to cover reasonable distance.

Any real space travel will be done by manipulation of time,and space.

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