Amelia Earhart (b. Jul. 24, 1897- declared dead Jan. 5, 1939) was an American pioneer aviator as well as author who disappeared with her navigator, Fred Noonan, while flying her Lockheed Electra over the Pacific Ocean in her attempt to become the first female to fly around the world (the pair was deemed missing as of July 2, 1937). A woman of grand passion and imagination, did the adventurous aviatrix- the first president of The Ninety-Nines, a worldwide organization that now has more than 5,500 licensed women sky pilots- ever imagine that her watch and a few of her trademark scarves would orbit the Earth, 220 miles up?
Which Watch? A wristwatch worn by Ms. Earhart will soon end up in outer space. The daring airwoman strapped it on her wrist for two of her many record-setting flights- in 1928 as the first female passenger to cross the Atlantic Ocean; in 1933 as the first female aviator to pilot a plane solo, also across the Atlantic. The timepiece will be conveyed by astrophysicist and space sailor Shannon Walker when she travels on the Russian Soyuz TMA-19 spacecraft, as part of the Space Transportation System (STS)-123 mission, in the spring of 2010 to the International Space Station (ISS), where she will serve as the flight engineer for Expeditions 24 and 25.
The Watch Changes Hands. Amelia Earhart gave the historical wristwatch to retail magnate and founder of the British department store Selfridges, Harry Gordon Selfridge, Jr. (who in turn gave her a watch from one of his U.S. stores). Soon after Ms. Earhart disappeared, in 1937, Mr. Selfridge gave the historical watch to Fay Gillis Wells, a charter member of The Ninety-Nines, who kept it in her D.C. home. But thirty-nine years later, the watch was to change hands yet again.
In 1976, Ms. Wells founded the International Forest of Friendship, an arboretum memorial dedicated to men and women in the aviation field and located in Ms. Earhart’s hometown Atchison, Kansas. To fund the green memorial, Ms. Wells auctioned off the historical watch. Who bought it?- Joan Kerwin, director of The Ninety-Nines. And on October 22, 2009, at Ellington Field in Houston, Texas, she presented the watch to Astronaut Shannon Walker.
According to National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), Dr. Walker has said she is ‘very excited and honored to fly the watch’. She hopes that ‘by flying the watch, people will become interested in the continuing story of women in aviation, and perhaps draw some new pilots to the field’. She is scheduled to shuttle to the ISS in April or May of 2010. Her return to Earth, with Ms. Earhart’s watch, will occur six months thereafter. The Ninety-Nines Museum of Women Pilots in Oklahoma City will then exhibit the watch, which not only emanates Amelia Earhart’s mystique but will also emit the awe-inspiring aura of outer space. The timepiece will be a veteran time-traveler in a unique way.
Amelia’s Ninety-Nines Scarf. A favorite scarf of Amelia Earhart’s was carried on the Space Shuttle Atlantis to the ISS on November 16, 2009 by Astronaut Randy Bresnik, as part of the STS-129 mission. Lt. Col. Bresnik is the grandson of Ms. Earhart’s sole authorized photographer, Albert Bresnik. The scarf was loaned by the Museum of Women Pilots in Oklahoma City- which displays the history of The Ninety-Nines, founded in 1929 by ninety-nine aviatrixes. The museum received the scarf from an Earhart family member. The decorative cloth shows the symbol of The Ninety-Nines at its center- two red interlaced figure nines against a compass motif with white background amid a wide border with an outlined floral pattern in blue, red, and green. Along with the scarf, space sailor Bresnik carried a photo by his grandfather, from the Amelia Earhart Birthplace Museum in Atchison, Kansas.
A certain irony lies in Lt. Col. Bresnik’s role as the purveyor of Ms. Earhart’s scarf into outer space. Although Amelia Earhart did marry (George Putnam), she did not want to bear children and so she was childless. Lt. Col. Bresnik and his wife did not expect to have children since doctors had told them they were unable to. So, the Bresniks adopted (a Ukrainian boy). Yet, Mrs. Bresnik became pregnant. Her baby is due in any moment. And husband Randy Bresnik is at present time in the ISS orbiting 220 miles above Earth, with the Earhart scarf and an Albert Bresnik photo, as he counts down to their baby’s birth.
Still, the duration of Lt. Col. Bresnik’s mission is only eleven days. He is scheduled to return home on November 27, 2009- with the photo taken by his grandfather, along with the scarf worn by Amelia Earhart. According to Carolyn Smith, chairman of the Ninety-Nines‘ Board of Trustees for the Museum of Women Pilots, her museum will place the returned Earhart scarf in a new exhibit dedicated to the photography of Bresnik’s grandfather.
The Other Scarves. Another Amelia Earhart scarf, housed by the Ninety-Nines‘ Oklahoma museum was carried into outer space in 1995 by Eileen Collins. On this mission, her first, she was the first woman to pilot and command a space shuttle. Yet another notable Earhart scarf, belonging to Purdue University– a square of silk in brown, gold, and orange- was flown on the 1990 mission to deploy the Hubble Space Telescope.
Sources: nasa.gov; collectspace.com; en.wikipedia.org