Up to four American astronauts plan to vote in orbit in the general election this year, continuing a long tradition of people casting their ballots from space.
The first female astronaut to come to the ISS before the elections is Kate Rubins, who will launch a Russian Soyuz rocket with two Russian cosmonauts on October 14th. Rubins told the Associated Press she plans to cast her vote in orbit. "I think it's really important that everyone votes," Rubins told the AP. "If we can do it from space, I think people can do it from the ground too."
"We all plan to vote from space."
She will be joined by three other American astronauts – Mike Hopkins, Victor Glover and Shannon Walker – who will be on the second flight of SpaceX's Crew Dragon on October 31, along with the Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi. They also plan to vote from orbit.
"We all plan to vote from space," Walker said during a press conference. "NASA works very well with the various electoral organizations because we all vote in different countries. But it was easiest for us to say that we were going to vote from space, so we will." Walker already has on theirs first trip to the International Space Station in 2010 from orbit.
NASA astronaut Kate Rubins in her flight suit before takeoff.
Casting a ballot from space is a fairly straightforward process. NASA has had a permanent presence on the International Space Station for 20 years, so the agency has a lot of experience helping astronauts coordinate. Before the flight, the NASA astronauts fill out an application for a federal postcard. This is the same form that members of the military use to vote by post while on duty.
Once approved, the district clerks overseeing the elections in each astronaut's home district will send test votes to NASA, which will be secure PDFs. The agency then uses a training computer to check whether the ballot papers can be filled out from space. If this works, NASA's Mission Control Center will send the astronauts an email with their ballot papers on election day. The astronauts select the candidates they want and email them to NASA, which sends the ballots to the various district clerks' offices.
"I think we can all agree that 2020 was definitely a challenging year."
Of course, tuning in space depends on the astronauts being in space and launches are prone to delays. But as of now, all four Americans could be out of the world for a controversial election in a controversial year. As a nod to how tough this year was, the astronauts flying SpaceX's Crew Dragon even named their vehicle Resilience.
"That means functioning well during times of stress or dealing with adverse events," Hopkins said of the name. "I think we can all agree that 2020 was certainly a challenging year: a global pandemic, economic hardship, unrest, isolation."
And now there is a choice to top it off. But at least four Americans will be as far from it as they can get.