By: Mike Wall
Published: 11/05/2012 10:11 AM EST on SPACE.com
Call it the ultimate absentee ballot. NASA astronauts aboard the International Space Station have the option of voting in tomorrow's (Nov. 6) presidential election from orbit, hundreds of miles above their nearest polling location.
Astronauts residing on the orbiting lab receive a digital version of their ballot, which is beamed up by Mission Control at the agency's Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston. Filled-out ballots find their way back down to Earth along the same path.
"They send it back to Mission Control," said NASA spokesman Jay Bolden of JSC. "It's a secure ballot that is then sent directly to the voting authorities."
This system was made possible by a 1997 bill passed by Texas legislators (nearly all NASA astronauts live in or around Houston). It was first used that same year by David Wolf, who happened to be aboard Russia's Mir space station at the time.
"You think about being in a foreign country and voting -- he was actually on a foreign space station," Bolden told SPACE.com.
Wolf participated in a local election in 1997. The first American to vote in a presidential election from space was Leroy Chiao, who did it while commanding the International Space Station's Expedition 10 mission in 2004. (The first crew arrived at the $100 billion orbiting lab in November 2000.)
The station's current Expedition 33 counts two Americans among its six-person crew -- commander Sunita Williams and flight engineer Kevin Ford. But both of them have already had their say in Tuesday's presidential election, voting from Earth just like the rest of us.
"They actually both did it while they were stationed in Russia, before they launched," Bolden said.
Williams and Ford both rode to orbit aboard Russian Soyuz spacecraft, which launch from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Williams blasted off in mid-July, while Ford launched Oct. 23.
Williams is slated to return to Earth on Nov. 12. When she departs, Ford will become commander of the new Expedition 34 mission, which runs through March 2013.
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"The internet is not something you just dump something on. It's not a truck. It's a series of tubes." -Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), 2006 The "series of tubes" phrase subsequently became a pop cultural catchphrase--it even has its own <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Series_of_tubes" target="_hplink">Wikipedia page</a> and mentioned in the <a href="http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=a series of tubes" target="_hplink">Urban Dictionary</a>.
"And sometimes these dollars go to projects that have little or nothing to do with the public good, things like fruit fly research in Paris, France. I kid you not." - former Gov. Sarah Palin (R-Alaska), 2008 The common fruit fly is one of the most commonly used organisms in genetic research. Discoveries such as sex-linked inheritance and techniques such as gene mapping are a result of such research.
"Information is moving--you know, nightly news is one way, of course, but it's also moving through the blogosphere and through the Internets." - President George W. Bush, 2007 The former president went on to use the word "Internets" two more times in public.
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"Scientists all over this world say that the idea of human-induced global climate change is one of the greatest hoaxes perpetrated out of the scientific community. It is a hoax. There is no scientific consensus." - Rep. Paul Broun (R-Georgia), 2009, at a debate over the Clean Energy and Security Act. Many researchers point to a decline in Arctic sea ice, an increase in droughts, and changing rain and snow patterns as signs of climate change.
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"If it's legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down." - Rep. Todd Akin (R-Missouri), 2012 In fact, women can become pregnant from rape.
"All that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and the big bang theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of Hell." -Rep. Paul Broun (R-Ga.) 2012 Broun, a member of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, is a doctor, and would have been taught many of the generally accepted principles of evolution and embryology in medical school.