Every four years, millions of American voters both abroad and at home US cast their ballot for president without going to the polls, mailing in absentee ballots to vote from afar. And a few ballots digitally make the 250-mile journey from the International Space Station to the Earth's surface.
This year, Shane Kimbrough, currently the only American in space, cast his ballot from the International Space Station (ISS) Monday. Kate Rubins also voted early, submitting her ballot before returning to Earth last week after a four-month stint on the ISS. For the purposes of voting, the astronauts’ address is listed as “low-Earth orbit.”
The "voting process starts a year before launch, when astronauts are able to select which elections (local/state/federal) that they want to participate in while in space," NASA officials said recently in a blog post. "Then, six months before the election, astronauts are provided with a standard form: the 'Voter Registration and Absentee Ballot Request – Federal Post Card Application.' "
Johnson Space Center sends a digital version of the classic absentee ballot to the ISS and when crewmembers have filled them out the ballots are sent directly to voting authorities, according to Johnson Space Center officials.
The first American to vote in space was David Wolf in 1997, who voted from the Russian Mir Space Station. Since most astronauts lived near Houston, Texas passed a law allowing astronauts to vote while off planet in any local, state, or federal elections scheduled during their mission.
"I think it's pretty amazing," Dr. Rubins said in an October interview for NASA's weekly "Space to Ground" ISS update. "It's very incredible that we're able to vote from up here, and I think it's incredibly important for us to vote in all of the elections."
Their votes are particularly important because the two candidates have very different views on the future of America’s space program.
Donald Trump has said he will encourage joint projects between NASA and private space companies, such as SpaceX, Boeing, and Blue Origin, but that public money is more needed in infrastructure here on Earth than on Mars.
And while the Republican nominee has spoken highly of NASA, he has said that economic stability and military defense must come first.
"If we are growing with all of our people employed and our military readiness back to acceptable levels, then we can take a look at the timeline for sending more people into space," Trump told Mic.
Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton has said that she wanted to be an astronaut as a child and even wrote to NASA about what the requirements were only to be told that they were not currently accepting applications from women.
In addition to promising to declassify government information on UFOs, Clinton has said that she supports private space companies but feels that the future of cosmological discoveries lies with NASA and its funding should reflect that.