"Use your vote" says Belgian astronaut
The European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Frank De Winne on Wednesday beamed a message from space to call on fellow Europeans to vote in the 4-7 June European elections.
The astronaut's six-month mission on board the International Space Station (ISS) shows "what Europeans can achieve when all they work together", said Belgium's De Winne.
He added: "Europe looks united from up here".
This first-ever election message from a European astronaut in space was a joint initiative by the European Parliament, the European Space Agency, and De Winne himself.
"I have arranged to vote by proxy, so I won't miss out on the next European elections while I'm up here. I hope you will also vote, wherever you are and whatever political views you have," said De Winne, who was launched last week from Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan.
Voting is compulsory in Belgium. It's debatable whether a Belgian court would have accepted the excuse "I was in space". By voting by proxy the astronaut also avoided a nasty fine.
De Winne is no Euro sceptic
De Winne will be the first European Space Agency astronaut to command the permanently-manned ISS, from October until his return to Earth in November.
"The fact that I will become the European commander of the International Space Station is a perfect example of what Europeans can achieve when they all work together," said De Winne.
Mr De Winne is no Euro sceptic. The elections matter, he continued, "because Europe improves so many parts of our daily lives from environmental protection to consumer rights, from transport safety to the free movement of people - Europe is about the well-being of its citizens".
During his six months in orbit, De Winne will lead a cutting-edge European science programme with experiments to push back the frontiers of knowledge in a variety of fields.
Europeans will vote from 4 to 7 June 2009. These are the biggest trans-national elections in history, with about 375 million voters in 27 EU Member States choosing from around 9,000 candidates. 736 Members will be elected to the only directly elected institution of the European Union.