With a quick computer key stroke, space station astronaut Leroy Chiao (search) became the first American to vote for president from space, casting an encrypted ballot via e-mail and urging fellow countrymen to go to the polls Tuesday.

"It was just a small thing for me, but it is important symbolically to show that every vote does count," Chiao said from the international space station a few hours after the polls opened 225 miles below.

Chiao, 44, sent in his ballot Sunday night — "Halloween night and maybe that's kind of appropriate."

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"I thought long and hard about it over the weekend, made my final decision and Sunday night went ahead and cast the ballot and pushed the send button," he said in an interview with The Associated Press. "It was a neat moment."

His ballot traveled via a secure e-mail connection to Mission Control (search) in Houston, which forwarded it to the Galveston County clerk's office in Texas, where Chiao normally resides. He was living in Russia before his launch three weeks ago from Kazakhstan (search), training for this six-month space station mission.

Only one other American has voted before from space: astronaut David Wolf (search) aboard Russia's Mir space station in 1997, thanks to a state law signed that year by Texas' then-governor — President Bush. The 1997 ballot included the Houston mayoral race, other city offices and local issues.

Chiao said he considered all the issues facing the nation — not just the future of the space program — in deciding whom to vote for. He said the choice was private.

Both candidates seem to support space exploration, Chiao said. He expressed hope that regardless of whether Bush or Sen. John Kerry wins, the moon and Mars initiative announced by the president in January will keep going "and I'll be hoping to be a part of it."

The son of Chinese immigrants, Chiao feels too many Americans take the right to vote for granted.

"People in my ancestry haven't always had the right to vote and it's something that kind of hits home for me," he said.

The astronaut, who is sharing the space station with Russian cosmonaut Salizhan Sharipov (search), does not expect to learn the outcome of the election until he wakes up Wednesday morning. An early wake-up call usually conveys bad news, he said, "so this is something that can wait until the morning."

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