By Betsy Dolan
At a restaurant in Clear Lake just before Christmas, a group of people assembled to reconnect after making history together nine years ago. And this time, everyone’s feet were firmly planted on Earth.
On August 10, 2003, Russian cosmonaut, Yuri Malenchenko married Ekaterina Dmitrieva, in a wedding “first” that made headlines around the world. While the bride was at NASA’s Johnson Space Center during the ceremony, Malenchenko was 240 miles above the earth inside the International Space Station making him the first person in space to marry.
Fort Bend County Clerk, Dianne Wilson, remembers that day. She played a major role by issuing the couple’s marriage license after the Harris County clerk said she was unable to do it.
“She said she didn’t want to issue a license to someone who wasn’t on Earth,” Wilson remembers. “But by law you can have a proxy to stand in for you. Yuri had a friend act as his proxy and it fulfilled all of the state statues and I saw no reason not to issue the license.”
Wilson also went toe to toe with the Russian government when they questioned her authority to issue a marriage license to a Russian citizen. But state statues didn’t prohibit that either, she said.
Wilson remembers the huge amount of media interest in the wedding and recalls the ceremony as “being like a tennis match” because while the bride was standing before the guests, the groom and his best man, space shipmate Ed Lu, appeared on a video linkup from the ISS.
“You’d watch her and then you’d turn to watch him watching her”, Wilson said.
In the nine years since the out-of-this-world wedding, Wilson has kept in touch with the Malenchenkos who, in 2004, had a Russian wedding and now live in Moscow with their six year old daughter, Camilla. Malenchenko continues with missions aboard the ISS.
“I hadn’t seen them since the wedding and I had never seen them together in person”, Wilson said. ” When they emailed to say that they were coming to the U.S. to celebrate Yuri’s birthday I was so excited to see them again.”
That reunion happened on December 21. Along with about 40 friends, were several ISS crew members who returned in mid-November with Yuri from the International Space Station. People from eight different countries were there that night.
“Each person sang “Happy Birthday” in their native language and then everyone sang ‘Happy Birthday in English,” Wilson said.
She is hoping a trip to Russia with her husband, Bob, will happen in 2015 and she plans to include a visit with the Malenchenkos.
“They are very special people to us. I’m glad to call them my friends,” Wilson said.