Outer-space romance has been getting a bad rap lately, thanks to an astronaut love triangle that has generated enough data traffic to draw the attention of extraterrestrials if they're watching. But all that bad press hasn't deterred a few couples from trying to score final-frontier firsts for love and marriage. "You're always going to have the positive side, and you're always going have the negative side, in space just like you do on Earth," said Cindy Cashman, a motivational speaker who is angling to become the first bride in space.
Cashman and her intended, airline pilot Mitch Walling, have made reservations to take their vows in the back seats of Rocketplane Kistler's suborbital spaceship - a yet-to-be-built rocket-jet hybrid plane that is currently slated to enter service in the 2008-2009 time frame. The other spots in the four-seat cabin will be taken up by the pilot (front left seat) and the minister (front right).
"Anybody can be ordained within five minutes on the Internet," Cashman told me today. "Maybe we'll have a reality-TV show where the winner would be able to marry us in space."
The plans for the ceremony are an odd mix of traditional Valentine's Day romance and commercial chutzpah. Weddings nowadays are always expensive, but this one would be right up there with a Donald Trump affair. It'll take $750,000 just to buy the three seats in the spaceship. Cashman - who is the author of a "Life Lessons" book series as well as a somewhat less serious tome, "Everything Men Know About Women" - hopes sponsorships and media deals will help defray the cost.
Cashman is definitely in charge of the arrangements: "My fiancé is very wonderful and open," she said. "He'll laugh and say, 'I'm just along for the ride.'"
And what a ride it would be: At a peak altitude above 62 miles (100 kilometers), the couple should be able to see the black sky of space spreading over a curving Earth. The roller-coaster rise to weightlessness, and the acceleration experienced on the way down, would put any relationship to the test.
Cashman is dealing with all the traditional worries surrounding a wedding - for example, finding the right gown for zero-G. "We'll have to definitely find one that won't float up over my head," she said. But the biggest frustration has to do with working around a flight schedule that's still up in the air, so to speak.
"It's important to remember to enjoy the process," she said. "I'm focusing on enjoying the moment, even though I know it's going to be a long way away."
Delayed gratification is also a factor in the plans being laid by George Whitesides, executive director of the National Space Society, and his wife, Loretta Whitesides. The couple unveiled their "Honeymoon in Space" Web site today to coincide with Valentine's Day.
The two had considered actually getting married on Virgin Galactic's suborbital spaceship. But the Whitesides eventually decided that they couldn't wait until 2009, when Virgin's first rocket plane is scheduled to enter service. The couple tied the knot last September, and now they've shifted gears to lay claim to the first honeymoon in space.
"You have to set a line between doing something interesting and also making sure you're building a family, regardless of what's cool," George Whitesides told me today. "Loretta felt, and I think rightly, that she wanted to get married now. So waiting a couple years for the honeymoon ... I'm OK with that. 2009 is going to be here before you know it."
Between now and then, the Whitesides will be working together on a variety of earthly space ventures, such as next month's Yuri's Night celebrations and the annual International Space Development Conference. George doesn't see any connection between his own space-based relationship and last week's astronaut romance gone wrong - other than to observe that as more people go into space, we're likely to see the same sorts of buildups and breakdowns that earthbound lovers have experienced for millennia.
"The exciting thing is that we're going to have all kinds of private citizens going into space, of all stripes and flavors, and you're going to have a bigger diversity of human relationships," he said. "Taking it beyond the astronaut corps makes all that possible."
And just to demonstrate that astronaut love stories can have happy endings as well, let's revisit the story of Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko and Kat Dmitriev, his Russian-born, American-raised wife. The two were married three and a half years ago in what could be considered the world's first space wedding. (Some might quibble about that title, because even though Malenchenko was aboard the international space station, Dmitriev was stuck on Earth alongside the spaceman's proxy in Houston.)
At the time, the wedding stirred up an international controversy. Some questioned how long the relationship - and Malenchenko's space career - might last. But by all reports, both are still going strong. Dmitriev gave birth to a baby girl last June, and just this week, NASA said Malenchenko would be returning to the space station this fall as part of Expedition 16.
Are you thirsting to read more about love, sex and motherhood in outer space? If so, revisit this story about sex in space, plus the follow-up on Cosmic Log. Laura Woodmansee, the author of "Sex in Space," has even created a whole Weblog of her own on the subject.