Wally Funk, a noted aviator who for decades insisted on including women in NASA’s astronaut training programs, will join amazon founder and billionaire Jeff Bezos On a brief flight to the edge of space later this month.
On Thursday, the 82-year-old was confirmed as the third member of Blue Origin’s first crewed New Shepard mission, which will launch on July 20. Bezos, his brother Mark, Funk, and the announced winner of the $28 million auction will make a four-person crew Flying a 60-foot rocket from West Texas to the edge of space.
Funk will play the “guest of honor” in an 11-minute flight and, if everything goes according to plan, fulfill a lifelong dream.
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She was the youngest graduate of a privately fundedwomen in space program“In the 1960s 13 experienced female pilots were put through the rigors of astronaut training. They became known as “Mercury 13”, a reference to the “Mercury 7” group of seven men who later Fly to Mercury, Gemini and eventually the Apollo missions to the Moon.
No women were selected for the full NASA mission.
“They told me I did a better job than any guy and got the job done faster,” Funk said in a Video posted on Bezos’ Instagram account. “So I grabbed NASA four times and told them I wanted to be an astronaut, but no one would take me.”
“I never thought I’d have to go up there,” she said.
Named NS-16, this mission is critical to Blue’s success. Bezos founded the company in 2000 to help fulfill his personal dream of spaceflight, build the infrastructure for space tourism, and enable a future when millions of people live and work in space.
Named after Alan Shepard, the first American in space, the New Shepard is Blue’s tourism-focused vehicle and flies exclusively from privately owned land in West Texas. Meanwhile, the much larger is designed to haul more humans and cargo en route to and from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in New Glenn, Florida. Named after astronaut John Glenn, the first flight of that rocket is expected before the end of 2022.
From “Mercury 13” to the present day, Funk has earned about 20,000 flight hours. Her achievements include becoming the first female Federal Aviation Administration inspector and the first female air safety investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board.
She will also become the oldest person to travel to space after liftoff on July 20.
Funk said, “It doesn’t matter what you are. If you want to do it you can still do it. And I love doing what no one has ever done.”