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International Space Station Astronaut Participates In French Election: Here's How Astronauts Vote While In Orbit

8 May 2017, 8:27 pm EDT By Allan Adamson Tech Times
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ESA's Thomas Pesquet, who has been at the International Space Station since November 2016, was able to participate in the French presidential election this year. How do astronauts in space cast their votes?  ( Paolo Nespoli-ESA/NASA | Getty Images )

The European Space Agency's astronaut Thomas Pesquet was able to participate in the French presidential election despite being in orbit at the International Space Station since November 2016.

Power Of Attorney To Participate In French Presidential Election

Voting from space can be tricky and far more complicated compared with when a person is just on Earth, but Pesquet managed to exercise his suffrage. How was he able to do it? Pesquet's colleague, who was in France at the time of the election, voted on his behalf on April 23, a move that was made possible by a power of attorney, an authorization to act on another person's behalf.

Several NASA astronauts who were assigned at the orbiting laboratory also managed to vote during elections, albeit they went through procedures that were different from what Pesquet did.

Last year, two NASA astronauts voted in the U.S. presidential election. Shane Kimbrough cast his vote from space as well as Kate Rubins, who made a cautious and crucial move to file a ballot before returning to Earth in case her journey from the space station would get delayed.

"I think it's pretty amazing," Rubins said. "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."

One Person's Vote Counts

The so-called Rule 81.35, which was passed by the Texas legislature in 1997, made it possible for astronauts working at the ISS to exercise their voting rights from space. Thanks to this law, technical procedures are put into place so scientists in orbit can still cast their vote and get their political voices heard even if they are far from home.

The law in essence puts emphasis on the importance of one person's vote. It was in fact born after Texas State Senator Mike Jackson, who won his first election by a mere seven votes, expressed concerns that astronauts who are assigned to work in space have no means to cast their vote.

In 1997, David Wolf became the first astronaut to enjoy the perks of voting in space when he was able to cast his vote from the Russian Mir space station.

"It's something that, you know, you might or might not expect it to mean a great deal. But when you're so removed from your planet, small things do have a large impact," Wolf said.

How Astronauts Vote From The International Space Station

NASA astronauts are able to vote from space through an absentee ballot that gets transmitted using a secure electronic connection. Six months before the elections, astronauts are given the "Voter Registration and Absentee Ballot Request - Federal Post Card Application" form. The address of the astronauts voting from the ISS indicates that they are in "low Earth orbit."

The Mission Control Center at the Johnson Space Center beams a digital version of absentee ballots up to the ISS crew members who would cast their votes. The astronauts would then fill these absentee ballots out and send them back on Earth. The ballots from Mission Control then go to the voting authorities.

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