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ATLANTA – There has never been a murder in space. But Detective Zack Kowalske conducts research to investigate the first zero-gravity murder, not if, but when it happens.

“Where humanity goes, human behavior will go,” said Kowalske, a crime scene investigator (CSI) for the police in Roswell, Georgia, a suburb north of Atlanta. “That’s why it’s really important to understand how best to reconstruct these crimes.”

On Earth, CSIs examine blood spatter to determine the position of an attacker in relation to a victim. But Kowalske became curious about how these calculations would change if gravity were removed from the equation.

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He worked with researchers at the University of Louisville in Kentucky and Staffordshire University and the University of Hull in England to study spatter patterns created in microgravity. They conducted their research aboard a parabolic plane, an aircraft that performs a series of steep, controlled descents to create brief periods of weightlessness in the cabin.

During these zero-gravity periods, one of the researchers used a syringe to spray simulated blood onto a target in a glove compartment that resembled a pediatric incubator.

Kowalske and his colleagues knew that without the downward force of gravity, the simulated blood would follow a straight trajectory. But when it hit the targets, researchers were surprised to find much smaller spatter patterns than they would see under normal gravity conditions.

Det. Zack Kowalske holds a sample of simulated blood spatter in his hand. (Fox News)

“When you remove gravity, surface tension becomes the dominant factor,” Kowalske said. “So it actually inhibits the spread of that blood, which creates an inaccuracy in your calculation.”

The first murder in space not only requires new investigation procedures, but is also likely to raise questions about who is responsible for the investigation.

“The jurisdiction will be difficult,” space lawyer Michelle Hanlon told Fox News in an email. “Space objects remain under the jurisdiction and control of the state that launched the object.”

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However, in addition to the country that owns the territory or facility where the launch took place, this may also include the nation that requested the launch.

“So if you have a modular space station operated by a Japanese company whose modules were manufactured in Germany and then launched by the United States, all of those states can claim jurisdiction,” explained Hanlon, who serves as CEO of For All Moonkind . a nonprofit space policy advocacy group. “The next question, of course, is what happens if the crime occurs on an object made in space? The jurisdiction is becoming even more complex!”

The main international agreement governing space activities, the Outer Space Treaty, holds nations liable for damage caused by their citizens in space. For this reason, Hanlon predicts that victims or their survivors will also want to have a say in the investigation.

While traveling aboard a “reduced gravity” aircraft, researchers sprayed fake blood to simulate a crime scene in space. (Zack Kowalske)

Although becoming an astronaut for a government space agency like NASA remains highly selective, Detective Kowalske said the future growth of private “space tourism” increases the risk that a less professional person will wreak havoc on the final frontier. However, his research also has potential applications for accident reconstruction.

“Suppose we have a ship in orbit and a catastrophic event occurs,” Kowalske said. “Using bloodstain patterns, we can reconstruct where crew members were and what position they were in during this catastrophic failure.”

Kowalske and his colleagues published their study in the journal Forensic Science International: Reports. For the suburban Georgia detective, it was part of his ongoing doctoral research and the culmination of a “crazy idea” that began.


“Research is cool, right? Science is great,” Kowalske said. “You never know where asking a question will lead. But you can find out.”

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