Former NASA astronaut Mark Kelly flips senate seat in Arizona
Kelly joins a growing line of former astronauts who have served in U.S. congress.
UPDATED: Nov 7, 2020 @ 8:20 a.m. EST
Former NASA astronaut Mark Kelly, a Democrat, has ousted Republican Sen. Martha McSally by a margin of 52.6 per cent to 47.4 per cent in the Arizona senate special election. According to The Los Angeles Times, Kelly’s win represents the second time the Arizona seat has gone to a Democrat since 1948.
Totals included in-person and mail-in ballots.
The Associated Press was among the first of the major news outlets to call the win on November 4, the day after election day, with some votes still left to be counted. Kelly thanked constituents for his win that same day.
Other news outlets followed suit Friday and Saturday, declaring Kelly the winner.
The Arizona poll was a a special election to complete McCain’s term, meaning Kelly could be sworn in as early as Nov. 30 when votes are certified, PBS reports.
Sen. Martha McSally was appointed to the seat following John McCain’s death in 2018.
During his time with NASA, Kelly participated in four shuttle missions, including the STS-134 shuttle mission in May 2011, in which he served as the commander. While Kelly did not emphasize space policy during his campaign, he did reiterate his experience as an astronaut and a U.S. Navy pilot.
“This mission does not end when the last vote is counted. It is only the beginning. When I was at NASA, we would train for two years for a space shuttle mission,” Kelly is quoted as saying in SpaceNews.
“Two years before we were on the launch pad ready to go, and then the work starts. And now, the work starts.”
In an interview with Business Insider in August, Kelly said he was inspired to get into politics because he hasn’t liked the “direction” of the U.S., “especially in the past couple of years.”
Kelly is married to Gabrielle Giffords, a former congresswoman and chair of the House space subcommittee. in 2011, Giffords survived an assissination attempt at a constituent event in Tucson.
Kelly isn’t the first former astronaut to enter politics. John Glenn, the first American to orbit the Earth, was the first astronaut elected to the senate in 1974, a seat he held for 25 years with the Democratic party.
He was followed by Harrison Schmitt in 1976, a Republican who is the only geologist to have ever walked on the moon. Jack Swigert, who flew on the Apollo Mission, won a Republican seat in Colorado in 1982 but died of cancer before assuming office.
Jake Garn and Bill Nelson, NASA payload specialists, won seats in 1985 and 1986, respectively.
In many countries, most policymakers are lawyers, but an increasing number of scientists are entering the political foray.
Alongside Kelly, chemist Nancy Goroff participated in the 2020 election. At the time of this writing, Goroff, who is running as a Democrat in the NY’s first district, is trailing Republican Lee Zeldin by a wide margin, with more than three-quarters of the votes counted.
In an interview with The Guardian, Goroff said she ran for a seat because “We need more scientists in office.”
“We have a lot of lawyers and business people and that’s fine, but you want people from diverse backgrounds when you are trying to make complicated policy decisions … As a woman in science, I know what it means to be an underrepresented group, and I think that will be helpful for making sure my constituents get their voices amplified.”