Voting From Space: American Astronauts Cast Ballots In Orbit

Three American astronauts flying on the InternationalSpace Station may be far from home, but they're not left out of today'sElection Day fervor. They still get to vote from space.

NASA's astronauts live in oraround Houston and the three Americanson the space station ? U.S. Army Col. Douglas Wheelock, physicist ShannonWalker and Navy Capt. Scott Kelly ? have had the option to vote for their localcounty elections from 220 miles (354 km) above Earth.

To help space station crewmembers stay involved withtheir local politics, NASA has made arrangements with county officials thatallow astronauts to votefrom space. The ballots are prepared by county officials and beamed up fromMission Control.

"I voted on Sunday through an electronice-mail system," Kelly told reporters via a video link today (Nov.2). "I think Texas actually passed a law where we could vote from space,and it felt like an honor and privilege to exercise our rights as U.S. citizensfrom the International Space Station."

American astronauts have been able to vote from spacesince 1997 due to a Texas law passed to grant them the ability. The firstAmerican to vote from space was astronaut David Wolf, who was living onRussia's Mir Space Station at election time in 1997.

In order to give the astronauts time to vote when theirbusy schedules allow, the ballots for today's election have been available forthe station crew since last week.

"Planswere in place to make it available for the crew and we believe all three aregoing to vote," NASA spokeswoman Nicole Cloutier-Lemasters told SPACE.com.

Kellyconfirmed that, indeed, all three of the Americans on the space station arevoting in today's elections.

Oncethe astronauts vote, the ballots are then beamed back to Mission Control anddelivered to their respective county clerk's office. The three astronauts onthe space station live in Texas' Galveston and Harris Counties,Cloutier-Lemasters said.

By coincidence, today is also the 10th anniversary of the arrival of the firstcrew at the International Space Station. The station has been inhabitedcontinuously by rotating crews of astronauts and cosmonauts ever since. [10Years of Astronauts on the Space Station]

There'salso another group of astronauts that has taken steps to ensure that today'selections don't pass them by.

Thesix-astronaut crewof space shuttle Discovery is poised to launch toward the InternationalSpace Station tomorrow (Nov. 3). The shuttle astronauts are in Florida todaypreparing for tomorrow's planned blastoff, so that means they are missing theirlocal elections.

Discoverycommander Steve Lindsey said last month that he and his crew planned to takeadvantage of early voting and absentee ballot opportunities to make sure theyvoted before leaving the planet.

NASAshuttle launch officials also urged the flight controllers and engineers whowere going to be working today to do the same.

Discoveryis scheduled to launch Nov. 3 at 3:52 p.m. EDT (1952 GMT). The shuttle willfly an 11-day mission to deliver a new storage module and humanoid robot to theInternational Space Station.

Themission will be the 39th and final flight of Discovery, as well as the 133rdshuttle mission for NASA's fleet.

NASAis retiring its three-shuttle fleet in 2011 to make way for a new space planaimed at sending astronauts to visit an asteroid ? and eventually, Mars.

Discoveryis one of NASA's two final scheduled shuttle missions before the fleet isretired, though the space agency is hoping for final funding approval to fly anextra mission in 2011 to deliver more spare parts and supplies to theInternational Space Station.

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