Four American astronauts plan to vote from space this year

Up to four American astronauts plan to vote in the general election from orbit this year, continuing a long tradition of people casting their ballots from space.

The first astronaut slated to arrive at the ISS ahead of the election is Kate Rubins, who is launching on a Russian Soyuz rocket on October 14th along with two Russian cosmonauts. Rubins told the Associated Press she plans to cast her ballot while in orbit. “I think it’s really important for everybody to vote,” Rubins told the AP. “If we can do it from space, then I believe folks can do it from the ground, too.”

She’ll then be joined by three more American astronauts — Mike Hopkins, Victor Glover, and Shannon Walker — who will be on the second flight of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon on October 31st, along with Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi. They also plan to vote from orbit.

“All of us are planning on voting from space,” Walker said during a press conference. “NASA works very well with the different election organizations, because we’re all voting in different counties. But it was easiest for us just to say we were going to vote from space, so that’s what we’re going to do.” Walker actually has voted from orbit before, during her first trip to the International Space Station in 2010.

NASA astronaut Kate Rubins in her flight suit ahead of launch.
Image: NASA

Casting a ballot from space is a fairly straightforward process. NASA has maintained a continuous human presence on the International Space Station for the last 20 years, so the agency has a lot of experience with helping astronauts vote. Before flying, NASA astronauts fill out a Federal Post Card Application, which is the same form members of the military use for absentee voting while deployed.

Once that’s approved, the county clerks who oversee elections within each of the astronauts’ home counties send test ballots to NASA, which are secure PDFs. The agency then tests out if the ballots can be filled out from space, using a training computer. If that works, then NASA’s Mission Control Center emails the astronauts their ballots on Election Day; the astronauts select the candidates they want and then email it back to NASA, which then sends the ballots to the various county clerks’ offices.

Of course, voting while in space is contingent on the astronauts being in space, and launches are prone to delays. But as of now, all four Americans could be off-world for what has shaped up to be a contentious election during a contentious year. As a nod to how rough this year has been, the astronauts flying with SpaceX’s Crew Dragon even named their vehicle Resilience.

“That means functioning well in times of stress or overcoming adverse events,” Hopkins said about the name. “I think all of us can agree that 2020 has certainly been a challenging year: a global pandemic, economic hardships, civil unrest, isolation.”

And now there is an election to top it all off. But at least four Americans will get to be as far away from it as they can possibly be.

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