Pioneer Shut Out By NASA Joins Bezos' Mission

NASA passed over female trainee Wally Funk in the 1960s
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jul 1, 2021 6:45 PM CDT
Mercury Trainee Finally Has a Spot on Space Flight
Members of the FLATs, also known as the Mercury 13, gather for a photo at a shuttle launch in Florida in 1995. From left are Gene Nora Jessen, Wally Funk, Jerrie Cobb, Jerri Truhill, Sarah Rutley, Myrtle Cagle, and Bernice Steadman.   (NASA via AP)

Sixty years after acing astronaut tests but barred because she was a woman, Wally Funk will rocket into space alongside Jeff Bezos in just three weeks. Bezos' company Blue Origin announced Thursday that the pioneering pilot will be aboard the July 20 launch from West Texas, flying in the capsule as an "honored guest." She'll join Bezos, his brother, and the winner of a $28 million charity auction as the first people to ride a New Shepard rocket. At 82, she'll be the oldest person to launch into space, the AP reports. Funk was the youngest of the so-called Mercury 13 women who went through astronaut testing in the early 1960s, but never made it to space—or even NASA's astronaut corps—because they were female. Back then, all of NASA's astronauts were male military test pilots. Funk said she feels "fabulous" about finally getting the chance to go to space. "I'll love every second of it. Whoooo! Ha-ha. I can hardly wait," Funk said in an Instagram video posted by Bezos.

"Nothing has ever gotten in my way," she added. "They said, ‘Well, you're a girl, you can't do that.' I said, 'Guess what, doesn't matter what you are. You can still do it if you want to do it, and I like to do things that nobody has ever done." In a cosmic twist, she'll beat the age record of the late John Glenn, who was 77 when he flew aboard Discovery in 1998; Glenn pooh-poohed the idea of women in space after he became the first American to orbit the world in 1962. The upcoming launch—which follows 15 successful test flights—will open the door to paying customers. The up-and-down flights last 10 minutes, reaching an altitude of about 65 miles, just beyond the edge of space. Funk, who lives near Dallas, was the first female inspector for the Federal Aviation Administration and the first female air safety investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board. In the posted video, she said she has 19,600 flying hours and has taught more than 3,000 people to fly. Funk reserved a seat years ago on Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic rocket ship and remains on the passenger list. The company plans three more test flights before launching customers.

(More astronauts stories.)

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