In November of 2007, Clayton Anderson participated in the most ordinary of elections—voting on a handful of local ballot proposals for his Houston suburb. But Anderson cast his ballot in an extraordinary fashion. He was traveling at 17,000 miles per hour, floating in microgravity at more than 200 miles above Earth.
The vote made Anderson one of a handful of astronauts who have voted from beyond the reaches of Earth's atmosphere, both on the International Space Station and Russia's Mir station.
"To be able to hit the button and send it and know that it was coming from outer space to go to somebody down on the Earth through that process—that was pretty cool," Anderson said.
For Anderson, the process held special meaning. His wife, Susan Anderson, was the NASA leader who headed the 1997 effort to allow astronauts to vote from space—a year before her husband was chosen to be an astronaut and a decade before he went into orbit. "We could only dream that I would be able to use that capability," he said.
In the 1990s, American astronauts began making trips to Mir, a departure from the short-duration space shuttle flights that had defined the decade before and preparation for the soon-to-launch ISS. One astronaut, John Blaha, launched to Mir in September of 1996, long before absentee ballots were sent out. As the election date neared, he realized he would have no way of casting a vote. He couldn't hop down for Election Day, and the Post Office couldn't exactly bring him a mail ballot.