October 21, 2009
— As a new major motion picture about famed female pilot Amelia Earhart prepares to launch onto movie theater screens this weekend, a scarf she wore is being readied for its own liftoff, flying on the space shuttle with the astronaut grandson of her personal photographer.
Randy Bresnik, whose grandfather Albert was recruited by Earhart in 1932 to be her only authorized photographer, is set to take the scarf on shuttle Atlantis when it departs with supplies and spare parts for the International Space Station (ISS) in November.
"We are flying Amelia Earhart's favorite scarf that she unfortunately did not take with her on her final mission," revealed the STS-129 astronaut during an interview with collectSPACE. "Fortunately, she also decided not to take her photographer with her otherwise I might not be here today."
As the film "Amelia" starring Hilary Swank in the title role recounts, Earhart, who made the first transatlantic solo flight by a woman in 1933, and her navigator Fred Noonan disappeared while flying over the Pacific Ocean during an attempt in 1937 to become the first female to fly around the world.
Scarves in space
Earhart's scarf accompanying Bresnik on STS-129 is on loan from the Museum of Women Pilots in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, which displays the history of the Ninety-Nines, the international organization of female aviators founded in 1929 by 99 women pilots led by Earhart as president.
"It has the Ninety-Nines' symbol, the intertwined nines in the center of it," described Carolyn Smith, chairman of the Ninety-Nines' Board of Trustees for the museum, of the red and white scarf.
"We know that she wore the scarf," continued Smith. "We don't have any pictures of her wearing that exact scarf but it was given to us either by her mother or her sister when they gave us a number of other items of Amelia's. So we know that it was her scarf and she wore it, but we do not know exactly when."
Amelia Earhart's scarf and bracelet as displayed at the Museum of Women Pilots. (The Ninety-Nines)
The Ninety-Nines have at least one other of Earhart's worn scarves and it too has been carried into space. The first American woman to pilot and command the space shuttle, Eileen Collins, flew that scarf on her first mission in 1995.
Yet another scarf — a brown, gold, and orange silk square belonging to Purdue University — flew on the 1990 mission to deploy the Hubble Space Telescope. And a watch that Earhart wore is slated to launch to the space station with astronaut Shannon Walker in the spring of 2010.
Completing the journey
So for the Ninety-Nines, it is less this time that the scarf is flying to orbit than it is who is taking it there.
"It is interesting and maybe a little bit completing a story," explained Smith.
"Why we're really interested in Randy taking the scarf up into space is because of his unique relationship to Amelia through his grandfather," said Smith. "It's very unique that his grandfather took all of these pictures and that we have these pictures, and that the grandson of that photographer is actually an astronaut who is going to be taking it up into space. That's where the real unique connection is, Randy taking it up into space."
That connection will be doubly represented on Atlantis, as Bresnik is also flying one of his grandfather's photographs for the Earhart Birthplace Museum in Atchison, Kansas, which is also operated by The Ninety-Nines.
According to Smith, once Bresnik returns the scarf, it will be part of a new display at the Museum of Women Pilots dedicated to his grandfather's photographs.
STS-129 mission specialist Randy Bresnik. (NASA)
For his part, Bresnik is also planning to capture a special photo of his own.
"The other thing he told us is that he has the coordinates for Howland Island," shared Smith, referencing the island that Earhart was trying to find and land at when she disappeared. "He is going to try to take a picture of [the island] as they overfly it in the space shuttle."
"He said, 'If nothing else, some part of Amelia will have finished her around the world trip.' I thought that kind of neat," said Smith.
"Wherever she is, wherever she ended up on that final flight, we'll be within 200 miles of it," said Bresnik, "her scarf will be that much closer to her during this flight. That will be pretty neat."