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MARRIED ASTRONAUTS PREPARE TO BLAST OFF INTO THE SUNSET ABOARD THE SHUTTLE ENDEAVOUR

Mark Lee and Jan Davis promised to have and to hold - for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health.

There was no mention of on Earth or in space.But if all goes according to schedule, Lee and Davis this month will become the first husband and wife to leave the planet together. They are scheduled for a weeklong tour on the space shuttle Endeavour, starting Sept. 12.

Still, amid all the talk about conjugal history being made, amid all the sniggering remarks about sex in space, one fact is often overlooked - Lee and Davis will hardly see one another during their week in the heavens.

They will work opposite 12-hour shifts during the mission. That means separate breaks, separate meals, separate sleep times, separate everything.

"I'd probably see more of her if I was down in Mission Control watching it on TV than I will be on the same mission," Lee said.

Even if they were working the same shift, business would come first and stay first. "Once you start working in the lab, it's almost like the other person doesn't exist," said Lee, payload commander of the Spacelab mission.

Don't be fooled - Lee and Davis are thrilled about flying together.

"Just sharing the experience of preparing for a space flight, and flying in space, it's a major benefit being able to do that together," Davis said. There's another bonus, at least for Davis. Thanks to Lee, who has flown in space once before, she knows exactly what to expect on her first shuttle ride. He's briefed her on such intimate subjects as space motion sickness and using a bathroom in weightlessness.

"There are maybe some questions you wouldn't ask just anybody in the office," Lee said, smiling.

The two have known each other for eight years, since about the time when Lee - a mechanical engineer and Air Force lieutenant colonel - became an astronaut. Davis too is a mechanical engineer; she became an astronaut in 1987 after working eight years at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center.

He's 40, and from Viroqua, Wis.; she's 38, and from Huntsville, Ala. Like NASA's 90 other astronauts, they live in Houston.

They wed in January 1991 after notifying their supervisors of their intentions; they already had been assigned to the mission, and they knew that one of them might be bumped because of their marriage.

NASA policy, then and now, prevents married couples from flying together because they may treat each other with favoritism, upsetting the crew's chemistry, and because their children could lose both parents in an accident.

Officials spent nearly two months mulling over the situation before relenting. Lee and Davis have no children. If they did, they said, they wouldn't be going up together.

"That would be fairly irresponsible," Lee said.

"We don't have that many couples involved, and I guess that's why it just hasn't been that big of an issue" until now, said Robert "Hoot" Gibson, commander of the Endeavour flight. He is married to astronaut M. Rhea Seddon.

"I think NASA would prefer just not to have to face up to the press line of questioning that usually comes up when you mention that," Gibson said.

"That" is sex.

Though reporters from around the world have besieged NASA for interviews with Lee and Davis since the couple announced their marriage, the couple - reluctant to overshadow the scientific goals of the mission - have refused interviews that dwell on the personal.

"It's a little disappointing when you've really worked your whole life to prove your education and you've worked so hard to train for the flight and all that kind of goes out the window," Davis explained. "They don't want to know about that. They want to know about your personal life."