If you live in America and hopped online today, you probably saw the long lines of people going to vote at their polling place. You might’ve even been one of the people who got in line. (If you managed to get through the line, you’re really patient.)
Of course, some American voters couldn’t reach a physical polling location today. They might’ve voted early. Or they didn’t have transportation. Or they’re in the military and deployed overseas. Or they might be zooming over your head at an altitude of 460 kilometers (about 260 miles). Really.
Americans who are overseas can vote using the Federal Post Card Application. NASA astronaut Josh Cassada used this form to vote from a bunk on the International Space Station. He is a member of Expedition 68, an International Space Station crew that typically spends its time doing maintenance and science experiments on the station.
Other eligible voters on Expedition 48 include Nicole Mann, Frank Rubio, Jessica Watkins, Bob Hines, Kjell Lindgren, and Loral O’Hara. NASA did not confirm whether or not they voted, saying that the information would have to come from them.
Kate Rubins previously voted from the International Space Station in 2020. A NASA spokesperson confirmed that the process was nearly identical.
The International Space Station will keep going, but international conflicts can complicate things.
President Joe Biden confirmed NASA’s plans to keep the International Space Station going until at least 2030 with the CHIPS Act despite Russia’s (mostly empty) threat to bring it down in an uncontrolled reentry using thrusters in the Russian modules. NASA also received a 2023 budget of $23 billion and a commitment to reach Mars by 2040.
Russia had also threatened to destroy U.S. commercial satellites that might be able to “see” Ukraine with their cameras – a greater concern, considering that previous anti-satellite tests conducted by Russia and China created uncontrollable debris that could threaten other assets in space. The International Space Station has had to maneuver to dodge space debris that old rocket stages that haven’t fallen back through Earth’s atmosphere yet.
The good part is that NASA no longer has to rely on Russia to send crews to the International Space Station. SpaceX’s Crew Dragon has already flown several crewed missions to the International Space Station, starting with the “Demo-2” mission in May 2020. Boeing is still working on its somewhat-similar Starliner, but pushed its first crewed flight back to spring of 2023.
Other space agencies and private organizations had to reshuffle their launch contracts to account for being cut off from Russian rockets. The ESA selected a few alternatives that include American, Indian, and Japanese rockets to supplement Europe’s own heavy-duty Ariane 5 rockets.
OneWeb tapped SpaceX to launch its Internet-providing satellites after a deal with Russia fell through. OneWeb and SpaceX’s Starlink are competitors, but OneWeb considered adding capacity for its satellite constellation to be more important than past disagreements and SpaceX said it would treat OneWeb like any other customer of its satellite-launching service.
Of course, all of this space activity might not have been on the top of people’s minds during this midterm election cycle. However, it’s cool that Americans can vote from almost anywhere, including from a space station orbiting at a 460-kilometer altitude.
I’m sure a lot of us are glad that we’ll get at least a bit of a break from campaign ads, though.