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Astronauts cast their votes 220 miles above Earth

Astronauts aboard the International Space Station have had the option to vote for their local county elections from orbit. The ballots are prepared by county officials and beamed up from Mission Control.

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This image provided by NASA shows parts of Europe and Africa very easily recognizable in this night time image shot by one of the Expedition 25 crew members aboard the International Space Station flying 220 miles above Earth on Thursday Oct. 28.


NASA/AP

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

NASA's astronauts live in or around Houston and the three Americans on the space stationU.S. Army Col. Douglas Wheelock, physicist Shannon Walker and Navy Capt. Scott Kelly – have had the option to vote for their local county elections from 220 miles (354 km) above Earth.

To help space station crewmembers stay involved with their local politics, NASA has made arrangements with county officials that allow astronauts to vote from space. The ballots are prepared by county officials and beamed up from Mission Control.

"I voted on Sunday through an electronic e-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. citizens from the International Space Station."

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

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

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

Kelly confirmed that, indeed, all three of the Americans on the space station are voting in today's elections.

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Once the astronauts vote, the ballots are then beamed back to Mission Control and delivered to their respective county clerk's office. The three astronauts on the 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 first crew at the International Space Station. The station has been inhabited continuously by rotating crews of astronauts and cosmonauts ever since. [10 Years of Astronauts on the Space Station]

There's also another group of astronauts that has taken steps to ensure that today's elections don't pass them by.

The six-astronaut crew of space shuttle Discovery is poised to launch toward the International Space Station tomorrow (Nov. 3). The shuttle astronauts are in Florida today preparing for tomorrow's planned blastoff, so that means they are missing their local elections.

Discovery commander Steve Lindsey said last month that he and his crew planned to take advantage of early voting and absentee ballot opportunities to make sure they voted before leaving the planet.

NASA shuttle launch officials also urged the flight controllers and engineers who were going to be working today to do the same.

Discovery is scheduled to launch Nov. 3 at 3:52 p.m. EDT (1952 GMT). The shuttle will fly an 11-day mission to deliver a new storage module and humanoid robot to the International Space Station.

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

NASA is retiring its three-shuttle fleet in 2011 to make way for a new space plan aimed at sending astronauts to visit an asteroid — and eventually, Mars.

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


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