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Getting married in outer space--the ultimate love trip

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In July of 2005, Virgin Galactic founder Sir Richard Branson presented Loretta and George Whitesides with pins recognizing the couple's intent to honeymoon in outer space. ***Please note small file size: 1735 x 1917 pixels*** (Courtesy of Loretta Whitesides)

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Mitch Walling and his fiance Cindy Cashman want to be the first couple to be married in outer space. ***Please note small file size: 1332 x 3196 pixels*** (Courtesy of Cindy Cashman)

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Mitch Walling and his fiance Cindy Cashman want to be the first couple to be married in outer space. (spacephotographer.com)

Two years ago, Cindy Cashman was meditating in her home in Austin, Texas, when she was struck by an idea that was totally out of this world--62 miles above Earth to be exact. Cashman, a 48-year-old author, motivational speaker and marketing expert, wanted to get married in outer space.

“The idea just popped out of nowhere,” Cashman said. “I thought it was so hilarious, I called up my 25-year-old son and asked him if this was possible, and he looked it up for me.”

Recently, space tourism has entered the public lexicon as more and more people look up at the stars for an adventure. For example, the American entrepreneur Anoush Ansari became the first female tourist in space last September when she went aboard a Russian space capsule bound for the International Space Station. Such an experience has only been available to the very wealthy. Ansari reportedly paid around $20 million for her trip.

Even if everyone could pay the enormous sum, the average person is still a long way from reaching a form of safe commercial space travel.

“I can’t picture orbital flight as ever being anything but moderately dangerous and very expensive,” said Charles Eastlake, a professor of aerospace engineering at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. “I don’t see re-entry ever being a routine, absolutely safe experience. The technology to do it obviously exists, but safety issues in the FAA approval process for public flights terminating in re-entry seem like a staggering challenge."

Despite this, couples are already making plans for the ultimate form of space tourism: destination weddings in space.

Cashman is planning her wedding through Rocketplane Limited in Oklahoma, which says it is committed to making access to space as safe, convenient and commonplace as commercial air travel by designing and building state-of-the-art reusable spacecraft. The company says it intends to train people for their spaceflight, taking them to sub-orbital space and beyond.

The idea has also inspired the billionaire founder of Virgin Airlines, Richard Branson, who began Virgin Galactic, which dubs itself the world’s first “spaceline.” The company is aiming to give average people the opportunity to become the first nonprofessional astronauts.

The flights offered by Rocketplane and Virgin Galactic are designed to go just out of the Earth’s atmosphere, or suborbital space, which significantly decreases the cost compared with NASA missions. Cashman says her wedding will cost about a half million dollars--the cost for her seat and her fiance's. Virgin Galactic says it plans to sell its tickets for $200,000 each for its initial flights and then reduce the price to allow thousands of other people the chance to experience space.

Both Rocketplane and Virgin Galactic are in the process of testing flights. They say they hope to give the public access to these flights within the next two or three years.

Cashman says she doesn’t mind the wait. In fact, when she first dreamed up the idea she didn’t even have a husband-to-be yet.

She was in a middle of a dating blitz and wanted to find a relationship. So with her space wedding in mind, Cashman embarked on “an intense and exciting 12-month period of dating 33 different men.” She finally met Mitch Walling, a 55-year-old pilot from San Antonio, on a dating Web site.

“After two months of dating, he asked me to marry him while we were going 70 miles per hour on his motorcycle,” Cashman said. “A few weeks later, I told him I wanted to get married in outer space, and he said, ‘Yeah, right. Whatever.’ He wasn’t taking it seriously.”

But Walling soon fell in love with the idea, too.

"This will be the high point of my life, and I am looking forward to it,” he said.

Cashman and Walling say they will be funding some of the expenses themselves, but they are also looking for sponsors and are hoping to get their wedding televised. Cashman says she became a millionaire after her book, “Everything Men Know About Women,” was published under the pseudonym Dr. Alan Francis and sold more than a million books worldwide. The novelty of the book was that it was filled with blank pages.

According to Rocketplane, the couple’s total flight is expected to last approximately one hour and will include four passengers: the pilot, Cashman and Walling and an observer to perform the ceremony. Once in space, the passengers on board will be able to experience about four minutes of microgravity in which they can float about.

For George and Loretta Whitesides, three years was too long of a wait to get married, but they had no problem deciding to wait that long to be the world’s first couple to honeymoon in space.

George is a 33-year old executive director of the National Space Society, a nonprofit organization in Washington dedicated to the creation of a space-faring civilization. Loretta works for the Zero-G Corp., which helps flight crews experience weightlessness.

The couple became engaged in February 2005, and Branson announced the couple’s plan to celebrate their honeymoon in space the following July at the Experimental Aircraft Association’s AirVenture show in Oshkosh, Wis. The Whitesides were married in 2006 in the Valley of the Moon, Calif.

Loretta, who said she knew she wanted to travel in space since she was 6 years old, launched the Web site spacelove.org as a gift for George this past Valentine’s Day to document the progression of their goal of honeymooning in space.

The flight on Virgin Galactic is expected to last approximately two and a half hours and reach a maximum speed of 2,500 mph to reach the height of 360,000 feet above Earth. There will be two pilots on board and six passengers who will be able to experience four to five minutes of zero gravity.

“We’ll be able to float around the cabin, hang around upside down and just marvel,” Loretta said.

According to Loretta, the honeymoon in space will cost them $400,000, which the couple will be paying for themselves.

“It was a stretch for us,” said Loretta, who declined to provide more details about how the couple would pay for the trip.

For the Whitesides, the money will be worth being able to travel to a frontier few people have been able to cross.

"Space is a frontier, and we want that frontier to continue to represent the best of humanity: love, family and peace,” George said.

Loretta is already fantasizing about the possibilities when she and her husband will be old enough to retire.

“I’d like to take a cruise around Saturn,” she said.

E-mail: mpd2115@columbia.edu