For this November’s U.S. presidential election, NASA astronaut Kate Rubins plans to cast her ballot from the International Space Station, 322 km above Earth, effectively obliterating every excuse in the book for why American earthbound voters can’t make it out to the polls.
“If we can do it from space, then I believe folks can do it from the ground too,” Rubins said in an interview with the Associated Press on Friday.
“Is that even legal?”, I hear you ask. And yes, it is! But only if you’re from Texas.
Given that most U.S. astronauts live in Houston (the home of NASA’s Mission Control Centre), the state of Texas passed a law in 1997 establishing a procedure for them to vote from space should the occasion arise. It basically works like an extra-terrestrial mail-in ballot: Mission Control sends the space station an encrypted email containing the ballot, which is relayed back down to the county clerk’s office after the astronaut fills it out. Rubins and her fellow astronaut Shane Kimbrough cast their votes from the ISS for the 2016 presidential election as well.
“I think a lot of astronauts do this,” Rubins told the outlet. “It’s critical to participate in our democracy. We consider it an honour to be able to vote from space.”
Rubins is currently working with cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov in Star City, Russia to prepare for a launch in mid-October. After catching a ride on the Russian space vehicle Soyuz (no SpaceX rocket this time around), they’ll stay aboard the ISS for six months. Rubins, who in 2016 became the first person to sequence DNA in space, plans to “work on a cardiovascular experiment that builds on an investigation she completed during her first space mission,” according to NASA. While aboard the ISS, she and her crewmates will also celebrate the 20th anniversary of continuous human presence on the space station.
So if people are finding ways to vote when they’re not even on the planet, you can figure out a way to get to the polls this November. That’s not to ignore America’s long and sordid history of systemic voter suppression concerning people of colour, and especially Black voters, of course. But even as we acknowledge that injustice, we can champion mail-in ballots, early voting, and the various other methods that state legislatures provide so that you can make your voice heard this November if, like me, you’re unable or unwilling to set foot in a polling place.
Given the ongoing pandemic, me and my compromised immune system aren’t taking any chances with crowds this November, so I mailed in my ballot today. It was my first time not voting in person, and honestly it was pretty easy! You can check out how to do the same in your state too using this handy dandy guide.