Written in the Stars
NASA astronaut Doug Hurley says goodbye to his wife, astronaut Karen Nyberg, 2011 ( Smiley N. Pool / Houston Chronicle )

Written in the Stars

10/02/2021Written by Alex Thompson

Where did you meet your significant other? Work? School? How about whilst training to leave planet Earth?

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Even with the pressure of undertaking one of the world’s most intense training programmes, love can still find a way to blossom. Here we take a look at some of the most notable couples in human spaceflight history.

NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Megan McArthur. Photo via The Washington Post

In 2020 NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley made history by becoming the first astronauts taken to the International Space Station (ISS) by the SpaceX Dragon Crew craft, and the first people to launch from American soil since the retirement of the Space Shuttle.

But did you know that both men are each married to accomplished astronauts as well?

Bob Behnken is married to NASA astronaut Megan McArthur, who was a member of the STS-125 mission to service the Hubble Space Telescope. McArthur was the ascent and entry flight engineer and was the lead robotics crew member for the mission. In her own words Megan was “… the last one with hands on the Hubble Space Telescope.”

She is currently Deputy Chief of the Astronaut Office and is set to return to space this year as part of SpaceX Crew-2, meaning two of the first ten astronauts that SpaceX will deliver to the ISS will be husband and wife.

Former NASA astronaut Karen Nyberg, who spent a total of 180 days in space across two missions in 2008 and 2013, is married to Doug Hurley.

Karen first flew in the crew of STS-124 to the ISS in May 2008. In 2013 she served as a flight engineer on ISS Expedition 36 and Expedition 37, having launched on Soyuz TMA-09M.

All four met after being selected in the same astronaut class in 2000 and have been friends ever since.

Jan Davis and Mark Lee Credit: NASA

As of writing, there has only been one married couple together in space – and it probably wouldn’t have happened if NASA had been aware that the two had secretly tied the knot.

Jan Davis and Mark Lee launched as part of STS-47, the 50th mission of the space shuttle programme.

The two had developed a relationship during training and, knowing that NASA had an unwritten rule on not allowing married couples on the same mission in case of ‘disrupting in-flight morale’, wed in secret a few weeks prior to launch.

They only informed the space agency of their marriage shortly before the launch, knowing that NASA would not have enough time to train substitutes to replace them.

The couple were divorced by the end of the decade and NASA’s unwritten rule became written, prohibiting married couples on missions and meaning Davis and Lee will likely hold this unique distinction for the foreseeable future.

Rhea Seddon and Robert “Hoot” Gibson.

In June 1963 Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman in space and a few months later became one half of the world’s first cosmonaut husband and wife, marrying Andriyan Nikolayev who flew on Vostok 3 and Soyuz 9.

It would take America another twenty years to send their first woman into space, with Sally Ride, who was married to fellow astronaut Steven Hawley.

Sally Ride was the third woman in space overall, after USSR cosmonauts Valentina Tereshkova (1963) and Svetlana Savitskaya (1982). Ride remains the youngest American astronaut to have travelled to space, having done so at the age of 32. After flying twice on the Orbiter Challenger, she left NASA in 1987.

They weren’t America’s first astronaut couple however – Rhea Seddon and Robert “Hoot” Gibson were married in May 1981. Four decades later, they’re still together and have three children and eight missions between them.

These eight missions are only topped by the nine undertaken between NASA astronauts Tammy Jernigan and Peter Wisoff, who married in 1999. This was the same year Jernigan was part of the crew for the first docking with the ISS.

And let us not forget current ISS crew member Shannon Walker, with an astronaut spouse back on Earth awaiting her return, fellow astronaut Andy Thomas, who himself is a veteran of four space shuttle missions.