Space odyssey: How astronauts cast their ballots from orbit

Texas lawmakers made voting from space reality


SAN ANTONIO – The long lines or forgetting to bring an identification card aren’t problems astronauts on assignment are worried about.

For them, voting hundreds of miles above their polling location is simply a matter of making sure everything else works.

In basic terms, a digital version of the ballot is beamed up to the International Space Station by the Mission Control staff at NASA’s Johnson Space Center. The secure ballot is then sent back to earth directly to voting officials.

Texas played a big part in the voting process for astronauts. In 1997, lawmakers in the Lone Star State passed a bill to make it possible for the space travelers to participate in the electoral process. Nearly all of NASA’s astronauts live in or around Houston.

David Wolf was the first astronaut to be able to vote in a local election the same year by this unique absentee ballot. He was aboard the Russian Mir Space Station at the time.

It was Leroy Chaio who voted for the first time from space in a presidential election. He was on the ISS on the Expedition 10 mission.

“There’s some fantastic folks on the ground that get me an absentee ballot before I launched,” Rubins said during an interview with NASA TV from space. “It got sent to my home address. The absentee ballot address is ‘low-earth orbit.’ It’s incredible we’re able to vote from up here, and I think it’s incredibly important for us to vote in all of the elections.”

County clerk staffers in Texas send an email with credentials specific to the crew member in space. The crew member then makes their selections and sends the ballot back to the county clerk’s office by email to be officially recorded.

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Astronauts like Rubins believe if they can vote hundreds of miles above earth, people on earth should exercise their right as well.