CSI Mars: How Murder Investigations and Policing Would Work On a New Planet

Monday, 17 September 2018 - 12:32PM
Monday, 17 September 2018 - 12:32PM
CSI Mars: How Murder Investigations and Policing Would Work On a New Planet
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Image Credit: Pixabay Composite
No matter the time or place, if there's one thing that history has taught us it's that human beings are dirtbags. We have been killing each other since the dawn of time, and it's a fair assumption that we will continue that pastime long after we leave Earth and settle on a new planet. But how will space cops hold the "thin blue line" on the Red planet or elsewhere? In a recent article for The Atlantic, Geoff Manaugh spoke with archaeologists, science fiction authors, planetary scientists, martial artists, and law professors to consider the ways that a space police force would deal with murder and other forms of criminality on the Red Planet. As it turns out, pretty much everything we know about policing will have to be adapted to the new environment.


According to University of California at Davis archaeologist Christyann Darwent, bodies would not be as easy to dispose of on Mars because of the frigid temperatures. Comparing the new world to the frozen landscape of the Arctic, Darwent described animal carcasses that were unevenly preserved on one side and completely mangled by the elements on the other. For investigators though, there would be new challenges. DNA would age differently due to colder air and increased sun exposure, and blood spatter patterns would change because of the lower gravity, which would make it harder to determine factors like murder weapon or physiology of the murderer. It would also be harder to date crime scenes because of the chemical differences in Mars' atmosphere compared to Earth's.

The law itself would also be a challenge. Either an entirely new set of laws would have to be enacted for colonies on Mars, or the rules would have to be set well in advance, according to Elsbeth Magilton, the executive director of the Space, Cyber, and Telecommunications Law program at the University of Nebraska's School of Law. Magilton says that the question of jurisdiction is based on citizenship. Unless all astronauts on a mission are from the same country, there would have to be an agreement as to which nation's laws the collective is operating under. 

Mars PD won't be able to fire normal guns either, not unless they want to risk damage to expensive equipment or the lives of innocent bystanders. A fourth-degree black belt in aikido, Josh Gold told Manaugh that he has been working on a martial art specifically for space that uses the movement of the body. "From a law-enforcement or security perspective a lot of our best practices fundamentally break down in zero-G and there are significant implications for them in low-G, as well, for environments like Mars and the moon," Gold said. "Most of our fundamental movement tactics need to be completely revisited." We would basically need an elite force of Bruce Lees to take down criminals instead of trigger-happy gunfighters aiming for, but often missing, targets.

The article in The Atlantic is fascinating and presents a lot of problems (and potential solutions) that we never even considered. One of the major takeaways is that these are conversations that need to be had before astronauts pack up and head to their new home, because once they're there it will be too late.