Cosmonaut plans to tie the knot in space

Wednesday, August 6, 2003

MOSCOW -- How do pre-wedding jitters feel in zero gravity?

Cosmonaut Yuri Malen-chenko may be about to find out: The International Space Station crewman plans to get married while in orbit this weekend, jilting superiors on Earth who accused him of showboating and advised him to wait.

Malenchenko has retracted a promise to put his wedding off until his scheduled return in October and plans to tie the knot Sunday -- possibly linking up to the ceremony in Texas with a special phone, Russian Aerospace Agency spokesman Sergei Gorbunov said Tuesday.

'Movie star' behavior

Malenchenko told officials of his plans to marry Ekaterina Dmitriev after reaching the space station in April, flouting Soviet-era rules requiring military officers to get permission to marry foreigners and angering the air force chief, Col. Gen. Vladimir Mikhailov, who reportedly said a "cosmonaut mustn't behave like a movie star."

After officials told the cosmonaut the wedding would present legal complexities back home, Malenchenko promised to wait, according to Gorbunov. But on Tuesday, Gorbunov said Malenchenko had changed his mind -- and that the space agency was not going to argue.

"He wants it, and he will have it -- that's his problem," Gorbunov said.

Malenchenko will be at the space station during the ceremony and will be represented by a lawyer. The cosmonaut and his fiancee were issued a marriage license last month in her home state of Texas, which allows weddings in which one party is not present.

While the groom won't be at his own wedding -- a circumstance that normally leads to tears -- he intends to call his bride on a special phone from the space station, Gorbunov said.

However, Gorbunov said the call must be placed during time allocated for contacts between the crew and their relatives, and that it was unclear whether a slot would coincide with the wedding. NASA runs the International Space Station.

While the communications system allows in some cases for one-way video communication -- those on Earth can see what is happening on the station but not vice versa -- Gorbunov did not specify whether Malenchenko was planning a video linkup.

But there was a hint: 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 ship that arrived in June.

Malenchenko, a Russian air force colonel, has not given a reason for wanting to get married at such a distance, but some observers believe the couple is seeking publicity.

Gorbunov said the unusual wedding might create problems for registering the marriage with Russian authorities. He would not comment on its potential effect on Malenchenko's career.

He said the Russian space agency's chief, Yuri Koptev, had received an invitation to the wedding from Dmitriev, who left Russia for the United States with her parents when she was 3 and lives in Houston. He said Koptev was not planning to attend the reception at a Houston restaurant.

Malenchenko and Dmitriev met at a social gathering five years ago and began dating in 2002.

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