After months of bureaucratic confusion, two star-crossed lovers overcame all obstacles from men and nature and were triumphantly married Sunday afternoon. The bride was in Texas and the groom was in outer space, but their “celestial, soulful connection” - in the bride’s words - brought them to a successful hook-up.
IN A COINCIDENCE perhaps symbolic of the ultimate coordination of events, at the precise moment that 26-year-old Ekaterina (“Kat”) Dmitriev walked down the aisle in the main hall of the Gilruth Center at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, the space station carrying her intended, 42-year-old cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko, emerged from Earth’s shadow just south of New Zealand and entered the sunny side of its orbit.
Malenchenko, contrary to expectations, wore a formal flight uniform, not a tuxedo. He and his best man, spaceshipmate Ed Lu, appeared on a video linkup between the station and the wedding hall. The transmission was officially categorized as a “Private Family Conference” and was not publicly broadcast over NASA TV.
The bride marched in to the music of David Bowie’s “Absolute Beginners,” and she then recited the lyrics. Following Texas law, they performed a proxy marriage ceremony (one of Yuri’s friends, a Russian flight surgeon, stood in for him in Houston) and then blew kisses to each other. As the bride left the altar, Lu played Mendelssohn’s traditional “Wedding March” music on the keyboard aboard the station, and it was clearly audible.
“It was very sweet,” said Joanne Woodward, the wedding planner.
The actual ceremony was professionally photographed and videotaped, and the world’s first views are set to be shown on NBC’s “Today” program Tuesday morning.
About two hundred people attended the 25-minute service. Ushers who talked with MSNBC estimated that the bride’s and groom’s friends were about equally represented. “About a third of the guests were speaking Russian,” one usher said.
At the reception at Villa Capri in nearby Seabrook, temperatures above 100 degrees popped all the outside balloons one by one, but inside the guests were treated to a combination of Italian and Russian delicacies. Guests were impressed with the giant fruit bowl featuring the forms of the space station, the space shuttle, and the two lovebirds.
A life-size cutout of the groom greeted guests at the reception.
Dmitriev’s family emigrated from Russia when she was four years old and settled in Texas. She met Malenchenko during a party on April 12, 2002, celebrating the anniversary of the first manned space flight by Yuri Gagarin. (Malenchenko, born the following December, was named after that Yuri.)
He is a Russian air force colonel who stayed aboard space station Mir for four months in 1994. After their relationship began, Malenchenko 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.
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. 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.
The couple will hold a religious wedding in Russia next June. They have chosen a church in Yaroslavl, a city north of Moscow with much traditional Russian church architecture. “The kids love it very much,” a Russian friend told MSNBC.
“An orbital wedding reflects mankind’s desire and need to go one step further” in expanding into space, Dmitriev later told reporters. She thanked everyone who had helped organize the extraterrestrial encounter, as well as all those who supported their wishes to perform the ceremony despite the disapproval of Russian space and military officials.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.