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Russian Cosmonaut Marries in 1st Space Wedding - 2003-08-10


Cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko has become the first person to be married in space. Sunday's ceremony was still be very much earthbound, however. The bride, Yekaterina Dmitriyeva, spoke her vows from Houston, Texas. But the event has not been without controversy.

Plans for the wedding were announced only after Yuri Malenchenko arrived at the International Space Station in April, along with his best man-to-be, American astronaut Edward Lu.

The 41-year-old space groom had everything worked out in advance. He even had a ring and tuxedo flown up in a Progress cargo ship in June, along with the regular supplies for the station.

The bride is a 26-year-old U.S. citizen of Russian descent, who has lived in the United States since she was a child. The two have been dating since last year.

Texas law allows for a wedding to be legal, even if one party has a valid reason for not being physically present. Texas officials say that being in space is such a reason.

However, the wedding plans raised more than a few eyebrows in Russia. Since Mr. Malenchenko is a military officer, the commander of the Russian Air Force protested that the cosmonaut needed special permission to marry, especially if the bride is a foreigner.

Officials at the Russian space agency tried to talk Mr. Malenchenko into postponing the ceremony. They finally gave in, after he insisted on going ahead with the plan.

Perhaps anticipating some criticism, Mr. Malenchenko sent agency director Yuri Koptev a wedding invitation. Mr. Koptev declined.

However, an agency spokesman says that, technically, Mr. Malenchenko did not have the right to make personal use of the space station. This was the reason the cosmonaut was restricted to talking with his bride during the time slot already allocated for him to phone relatives on earth.

Among those most caught off guard were Mr. Malenchenko's parents. Speaking with reporters from her home in Ukraine, his mother said she did not understand "how Yuri could do this, when he could not attend his own wedding in person."

Nina Malenchenko was also worried that people would think her son decided to take the unusual move just for publicity. Still, she says, she wished him well when she last spoke to him by phone on Saturday.

Russian space officials have now taken a move of their own. From now on, cosmonauts will have to sign a contract, agreeing not to get married during space flights.

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