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A WEDDING IN SPACE-FIRST TIME



Submitted by Arthur - N1ORC
Permission previously granted by the Houston Chronicle

July 18, 2003, 8:57AM

Cosmonaut's wedding will really be out of this world
By ERIC HANSON
Copyright 2003 Houston Chronicle

RICHMOND -- It is going to be a marriage made in heaven. Almost. 

For the first time ever, a person in space will be married when Russian
cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko, now orbiting Earth in the international
space station, weds Ekaterina Dmitriev, who will be firmly on the ground
in Texas. 

The couple was issued a marriage license Thursday by Fort Bend County
Clerk Dianne Wilson, who also handed the bride-to-be a bouquet of yellow
roses. They plan to marry Aug. 10. 

"This shows you that long-distance relationships do work," the
brown-eyed Dmitriev said with a grin shortly after receiving the
license. 

Dmitriev, 26, arrived at the county clerk's office a few minutes past 11
a.m. The first-floor room, normally a sea of computers and desks, had
been decorated with red, white and blue balloons and pictures of
Malenchenko. 

After filling out forms and signing her name several times, Dmitriev
raised her right hand, took an oath from Wilson and flashed a smile to
rousing applause from the office clerks as she was handed the license. 

As the woman was signing the forms for the $34 document, Malenchenko was
streaking across the sky more than 200 miles over the Pacific Ocean. 

"This is the first time a marriage license has ever been issued to
somebody who is not on this Earth," Wilson remarked. 

"This certainly is a first time. People have had birthdays. They have
been there when their kids were born, but never this," said space expert
and author Jim Oberg. 

Rob Navias, a space station spokesman, said NASA officials knew of
Malenchenko's plans. 

"We are aware of it. It is a private matter between Malenchenko and his
fiancée," said Navias. 

Navias said Malenchenko had no comment about the wedding plans. 

A few minutes after receiving the license, Dmitriev's father, Victor, a
professor of Russian language at Oklahoma State University, arrived. 

He and his daughter embraced, and he talked briefly but proudly about
his future son-in-law. 

"I am a very happy father. She found a man who is just great," he said. 

Dmitriev gets a telephone call from Malenchenko each day from a special
Internet phone on the space station, and Thursday was no exception. 

"He asked me about all the questions that were asked (by reporters). I
told him that somebody had asked if he was named after Yuri Gagarin, and
I said no," she said. 

But Malenchenko quickly corrected her, she said. 

"He told me he was born only a few months after Gagarin's flight, and
his parents did name him after Gagarin," Dmitriev said. 

On April 12, 1961, Yuri Gagarin became the first human to orbit Earth. 

Dmitriev, who left Russia for the United States with her parents when
she was 3 years old, first met the cosmonaut five years ago at a social
gathering in Houston. 

They did not cross paths again until April 2002, when they struck up a
conversation at a Clear Lake-area nightspot. 

"It was at Yuri Gagarin Night at the Outpost Tavern. We met again, and
this time it was serious," she said. 

But, Malenchenko had to return to Russia to train for his upcoming space
mission, so they continued their relationship via telephone. During a
routine conversation in December, the cosmonaut popped the question. 

"He asked me if I wanted to get married. I said I would love to," she
said. "Yuri is the most calm person in this whole world. I had no idea.
We were just talking, and it just happened." 

There was one small problem for the couple. Malenchenko was preparing
for an upcoming space shuttle mission. 

Then the Columbia accident happened Feb. 1. Shortly after, Malenchenko
and American astronaut Ed Lu were named as replacements for the crew
manning the space station. 

They arrived at the station April 28 on a Soyuz spacecraft and will be
staying there until late October. 

But Dmitriev and Malenchenko did not want to wait that long to get
married, said friend Harry Noe, a Houston lawyer who has helped them
negotiate some of the red tape that comes with getting a wedding license
in abstentia. 

At the county clerk's office, when asked why they wanted to marry before
the cosmonaut returns to Earth, Dmitriev turned to Noe and let him
answer. 

"Being a cosmonaut is not a low-risk job or profession. In the unlikely
event that something happens, they wish to be married as soon as
possible, and that is the only reason," said Noe. 

Texas law allows weddings in which one of the parties is not present. 

It is also one of the few states that does not require the prospective
bride and groom to obtain the marriage license together and in person,
said Wilson, the county clerk. 

"It is usually used by military people who are overseas and need to
marry for whatever reason and for people in jail -- things like that,"
Wilson said. 

The wedding is planned at the Villa Capri Restaurant in Clear Lake with
Justice of the Peace William Yeoman. 

Noe said Dmitriev and the wedding party hope to conduct the rites by
phone with Malenchenko, but if that fails, the couple will wed in a
proxy ceremony. Noe will stand in for the groom and recite the vows if
the telephone hookup does not work. 

Dmitriev, who became a U.S. citizen in 1995, will be in Russia in late
October for Malenchenko's and Lu's scheduled landing in Kazakhstan. 

After a honeymoon in Australia, the couple will reside in Moscow, where
Malenchenko will continue his aerospace career. Dmitriev plans to open a
vitamin store. 


Chronicle reporter Mark Carreau contributed to this story. 



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