Leroy Chiao holds a special distinction: Not only did the American astronaut fly on three shuttle flights and serve as the commander of the tenth expedition to the International Space Station; he is also the first person ever to vote for president from space.
Chiao cast his ballot from the International Space Station during the 2004 campaign. And that makes him not just the first person to vote for president from zero gravity, but also one of only a handful of people ever to vote from beyond Earth's borders. In 1997, David Wolf became the first person to cast an absentee ballot from space; he voted in a Texas municipal election from the Mir space station. In 2008, Michael Fincke and Gregory Chamitoff used electronic ballots to vote in both local and national elections. As for yesterday's election, the two Americans aboard the ISS for the 2012 cycle -- Suni Williams and Kevin Ford -- took care of voting before they launched: They made their choices via terrestrial absentee ballot while they were stationed in Russia.
Chiao and his fellow space-voters benefitted from a bill passed in 1997 by Texas legislators, which established a procedure for astronauts -- most of whom reside in Houston -- to vote from space. (The bill was signed by then-governor George W. Bush.) The system uses the same email-based procedure employed by U.S. residents who live overseas at the time of an election. In Chiao's case, an electronic ballot, generated by the Galveston County Clerk's office, was emailed to his secure account at NASA's Johnson Space Center. Mission Control then transferred that email to the space station, and to Chiao within it, using a high-speed modem via satellite -- the same way astronauts receive all their emails while they're aboard the ISS.