HOUSTON (AP) -- The bride blew the groom a kiss. He
blew one back -- from about 240 miles above terra firma.
Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko didn't let the
fact that he's living aboard the International Space Station stop him from
marrying his earthbound bride, Ekaterina Dmitriev, in the first wedding ever
conducted from space.
The couple wed Sunday before family and friends in a
private ceremony at Johnson Space Center in Houston, where Malenchenko took part
via video. Texas law allows weddings in which one of the parties is not present.
"It was very sweet," said Joanne Woodward, the
A life-size cutout of the groom greeted guests at the
wedding reception, at a restaurant decorated with silver stars and mannequins
dressed as astronauts.
The honeymoon will have to wait until after
Malenchenko, who wore a bow tie with his blue space suit, returns to Earth in
late October. They plan a Russian Orthodox wedding sometime next year.
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Dmitriev, who wore a cream-colored wedding dress,
said the two had grown closer during their time apart, making them want to marry
as soon as possible.
"As Yuri was further away, he was closer to me
because of the communication we have,'' said Dmitriev, who turned 27 Friday. "It
was a celestial, soulful connection that we have."
The two met at a social gathering five years ago and
began dating last year.
He is a Russian air force colonel who stayed aboard
space station Mir for four months in 1994. She left Russia for the United States
with her parents when she was 3 and lives in Houston.
After their relationship began, Malenchenko, 41,
returned to Russia to train for his upcoming space mission, but the two
continued their courtship via telephone. The cosmonaut proposed in December.
Because Malenchenko was preparing for his mission and
there was no time to plan a wedding, they decided to get married while he was
still in space. The couple was issued a marriage license July 17.
Malenchenko, who blasted off to the station in late
April with American astronaut Edward Lu, quietly arranged to have his tail coat
and wedding ring flown to him aboard a cargo ship that arrived at the station in
June. Lu served as his best man during Sunday's ceremony, and even performed the
wedding march on a keyboard in the space station.
Officials with the Russian Aerospace Agency had tried
to convince Malenchenko to delay the wedding until he returned to Earth, citing
legal complexities and Soviet-era rules requiring military officers to get
permission to marry foreigners.
The air force chief, Col. Gen. Vladimir Mikhailov,
reportedly said a ``cosmonaut mustn't behave like a movie star.''
Russian officials ultimately gave their blessing but
said other cosmonauts won't be able to do the same and such rules will be
included in future preflight contracts.
In Russia on Sunday, Malenchenko's father, Ivan, told
the state-run television channel Rossiya that the space wedding had made the
cosmonaut's mother, Nina, cry and said ``what is this needed for -- a sensation
for the whole world?" His parents are pensioners in a Ukrainian village.
But Malenchenko's brother laughed and said his
sibling will now be nearly as famous as cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, the first person
to orbit the Earth.