Due to COVID-19, voting in the 2020 election is different for many Americans than in years past. This election has not yet yielded a winner. It is a watershed moment in America’s political life but Did you know that astronauts hundreds of miles from the Earth’s surface can actually cast their vote in the presidential election United States.
Citizens situated on the international space station are sent a digital version of their ballot which is beamed up to them from NASA’s Mission control at the Johnson Center in Houstan Texas as a NASA spokesperson explains they send it back to Mission Control.
Voting from space starts with a Federal Postcard Application, or FPCA. It’s the same form military members and their families fill out while serving outside of the U.S. By completing it ahead of their launch, space station crew members signal their intent to participate in an election from space.
NASA’s astronauts come from all over, so those wishing to vote as residents of their home states can work with their counties to make special arrangements to vote from space. Once their FPCA is approved, the astronaut is almost ready to vote. Like many great things in space, voting starts with an experiment. The county clerk who manages elections in the astronaut’s home county sends a test ballot to a team at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. Then they use a space station training computer to test whether they’re able to fill it out and send it back to the county clerk.
It’s a secure ballot that is sent directly to the voting authorities the method of voting from Outer space was first put into operation by astronaut. These credentials allow the crew member to access the secure ballot.
The astronaut will then cast their vote, and the secure, completed ballot is downlinked and delivered back to the County Clerk’s Office by e-mail to be officially recorded. The clerk has their own password to ensure they are the only one who can open the ballot.
From the International Space Station: I voted today— NASA Astronauts (@NASA_Astronauts) October 22, 2020
— Kate Rubins pic.twitter.com/DRdjwSzXwy
Astronaut Kate Rubins, who has been on the International Space Station since Oct. 14, voted from space a week after she entered orbit. Rubins arrived in orbit for her second spaceflight on Oct. 14 and will remain on the space station for about six and a half months. It won’t be her first time Rubins also cast her vote from the International Space Station during the 2016 election.
Although it's not an official part of the process, Rubins created her own voting booth on board the space station. She closed the door on her crew quarters and put up a hand-written sign that said "ISS Voting Booth."
Kate Rubins was not a first person who voted in outer space. The first astronaut to cast a vote in space was NASA’s David Wolf, while he was aboard the Russian Space Station Mir in 1997. The process hasn’t changed much, though now ballots are sent to the International Space Station instead, where astronauts’ missions generally last about six months.