CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — The more you talk with Santa Monica astronaut Randy Bresnik, the more opportunities you get to hear his amazing stories.
Bresnik is one of six NASA astronauts scheduled for launch today on STS-129 Atlantis. The 11-day space shuttle flight to the International Space Station will help outfit the outpost with critical spare parts in advance of the shuttle fleet’s retirement next year. Bresnik will participate in the second and third of the mission’s three spacewalks.
The first-glance appearance of a typical Marine Corps Lt. Col. belies Bresnik’s quiet sense of humor and penchant for the arts. Born in Fort Knox, Ken., he moved to Santa Monica with his Army officer father, Albert “Randy,” and mother, Mary Ann, when he was two weeks old.
What does Bresnik remember about growing up with his three sisters in Santa Monica?
“The phenomenal weather,” he remarks. “The smell of the sea breeze. The coastline.
“I’ve lived in many places. Still, it’s one of the few places on the planet that has everything.”
Bresnik lived five minutes from the beach and often rode his motorcycle on Pacific Coast Highway.
“You’ve got beaches; you’ve got the canyons of Malibu,” he said. “A couple of hours away, you’ve got the mountains and skiing and lakes.
“I wish I had more opportunity to go back.”
In his pre-flight NASA video interview, Bresnik confessed, “Aviation was always something that fascinated me.” He vividly remembers building with his father, at age 8 or 9, a model of the Gemini 4 capsule complete with a spacewalking Ed White attached by an umbilical. “That sat up there with the airplane models.”
Bresnik graduated from Santa Monica High School in 1985 (the same year as TV actor Chad Lowe) and started studying mathematics at The Citadel on a military scholarship. He attended flight school, got selected to fly F/A-18 jets as a Marine Corps pilot, and eventually qualified for test pilot school.
NASA chose Bresnik as one of two pilot astronauts in the class of 2004, nicknamed the Peacocks. But he showed such talent in the Neutral Buoyancy Lab, revealed STS-129 astronaut Mike Foreman, that NASA switched Bresnik to mission-specialist status. The tradeoff? He will not fly the space shuttle, but he will get to walk in space.
Bresnik lists music and photography among his hobbies. Did he learn any tricks from his grandfather, a professional photographer, or did he just inherit the family’s artistic bent?
“Inherited the gene,” he said.
Then, with characteristic astronaut understatement, the grandson drops the bombshell news.
“He was actually Amelia Earhart’s personal photographer from 1932 to 1937.”
Albert Louis Bresnik was selected by Earhart and her husband, publisher George P. Putnam, to photo-document her flights. The elder Bresnik was even slated to accompany the renowned lady pilot and her navigator, Fred Noonan, on their ill-fated equatorial trip around the world. But when it was determined that his camera equipment was too heavy, Bresnik was not flying with Earhart and Noonan when they disappeared in the Pacific on July 2, 1937.
“So, the amazing link to today,” narrates the astronaut grandson, “is that I’m flying Amelia Earhart’s favorite scarf on the (space shuttle) flight.”
Bresnik says that the staff at the Ninety-Nines Museum of Women Pilots, located in Oklahoma City, loaned him the multicolored scarf for its ride aboard Atlantis.
“If you go to that museum and see a picture of Amelia Earhart wearing her lucky scarf, that’s a picture my grandfather took,” he said. “Wherever she ended up on that final flight, we’ll be within 200 miles of it. Her lucky scarf will be that much closer to her at some point in the flight. So that’s pretty neat.”
The astronaut and his father, a longtime resident of Santa Monica, granted permission to Air & Space/Smithsonian to showcase some Earhart photos on the magazine’s Web site. By sheer coincidence, the publication date aligned with the release of the Fox Searchlight movie “Amelia,” starring Hilary Swank. Also by coincidence, the logo for the film’s title features a fluttering scarf.
In another round of six degrees of separation, Bresnik has crossed orbits several times with former astronaut Charlie Bolden — once his system wing commander at MCAS Miramar, now NASA’s administrator. Bolden took time to speak with the aspiring test pilot, both before and after Bresnik’s stint at the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School in Maryland.
Considering his own experience with Bolden as a mentor, Bresnik embraces a “pay it forward” sense of responsibility as a proxy explorer for others. What experience would he like to share, after his space flight, with the residents in Santa Monica?
“I think really that anything’s possible. Santa Monica is such a beautiful place to live, work, go to school, grow up in,” he said. “The exciting thing I’ve learned since leaving Santa Monica to go to school is that there are a lot of beautiful places all over the world.
“I’ve gotten to see a lot terrestrially, but it will be neat to see them all from outer space. The beauty that I’ve seen from my colleagues’ pictures that have been to space before and that I hope to see with my own eyes — I hope to share that in some way with [Santa Monica residents] and try to find a way to articulate that human experience that I’ve had to them.”
There is just one shortcoming of heading into space for Bresnik.
“Unfortunately, not everybody gets to go, but everybody should have a chance to go to space, and it would be really neat if they could someday,” he said. “I get the fortunate opportunity to be an astronaut that gets to go experience spaceflight, but now then the responsibility is on me to come back and share with everyone that hasn’t had the opportunity to physically do it. But at least they can be a part of it by being connected to another human being who has.”
On The Net
n STS-129 Mission Home Page
n NASA TV