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NASA astronaut Kate Rubins and her orbiting voting booth. Photo: NASA

One vote in the 2020 U.S. presidential election wasn’t cast from a voting booth or by mail, but from 250 miles up aboard the International Space Station.

The big picture: NASA astronaut Kate Rubins is far from the first person to exercise her civic duty from orbit. Cosmonauts and astronauts have voted from space for decades.

  • "I think it's really important for everybody to vote, and if we can do it from space, then I believe folks can do it from the ground, too," Rubins told the AP last month.

How it works: Astronauts in space can vote by receiving an encrypted ballot from mission control. They then fill out the ballot and send it back to Earth, where it's sent to a registrar who converts the electronic ballot and counts the vote.

  • That process is possible because Texas passed a law making it legal for residents of the state to vote from orbit.
  • No other states have this law on the books, but all active NASA astronauts need to live near Houston, so the Texas law is effectively a catch-all for Americans heading to space right now.

Background: The first people to vote from space were Russian cosmonauts aboard the space station Mir, according to space historian Robert Pearlman.

  • "Yury Usachov and Yuri Onufrienko were aboard Mir with American astronaut Shannon Lucid. In June of 1996, the two of them voted in the Russian presidential election that year," said Pearlman, who runs the website Collectspace.com.
  • NASA astronaut David Wolf then voted in a local election from Mir in 1997.
  • And NASA's Leroy Chiao became the first American to cast a vote for president from orbit aboard the ISS in 2004.

What's next: Eventually, space voting laws might have to be adopted elsewhere in the U.S., if private astronauts are going to be living and working in space for the long haul.

Go deeper

Miriam Kramer, author of Space
Jan 26, 2021 - Science

What to know about the Moon rock in Biden's Oval Office

The Moon rock now in the Oval Office. Photo: NASA

President Joe Biden hasn't revealed much about his space policy priorities yet, but space fans can take heart that space is on his mind, thanks to an Apollo Moon rock that now decorates the Oval Office.

Why it matters: The Moon rock — loaned to the White House by NASA — is on display "in symbolic recognition of earlier generations’ ambitions and accomplishments, and support for America’s current Moon to Mars exploration approach," according to a statement from NASA.

Updated 18 mins ago - Sports

MLB enters first lockout since '95 as deal expires

Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred (L) and Major League Baseball Players Association executive director Tony Clark. Photo: Matt King/MLB via Getty Images

Major League Baseball's collective bargaining agreement expired at 11:59 p.m. ET Wednesday without a new deal in place.

Why it matters: With no CBA, the MLB is in a management lockout — the first work stoppage since a 1994-95 strike led to the cancelation of the World Series for the first time in 90 years.

Media giants back Bannon's bid to release Jan. 6 documents

Former Trump adviser Steve Bannon at the FBI Washington Field Office in Washington, DC., in November. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

A coalition of news outlets including the Washington Post is supporting Stephen Bannon's campaign for the release of documents related to his contempt of Congress charges, WashPost confirmed Wednesday.

Why it matters: WashPost, the New York Times, CNN, NBC, the Wall Street Journal's parent company and others filed a motion arguing that a proposed protective order seeking to prevent the documents from being released violates the First Amendment, per the Daily Mail, which first reported on the news.