CAP CANAVERAL, Fla .– Sixty years after passing astronaut tests but banned because she was female, Wally Funk will fly into space alongside Jeff Bezos in just three weeks.
Bezos’ company Blue Origin announced Thursday that the pioneer pilot will be aboard the July 20 launch from West Texas, flying in the capsule as a “guest of honor.” She will join Bezos, her brother and winner of a $ 28 million charity auction, as the first person to drive a New Shepard rocket.
At 82, she will be the oldest person to launch into space.
Funk was the youngest of the so-called Mercury 13 women who underwent astronaut tests in the early 1960s, but never went to space – or even the NASA Astronaut Corps – because they were women. At the time, all of NASA’s astronauts were male military test pilots.
Funk said she felt “fabulous” to finally get the chance to go to space.
“I will love every second of it. Wow! Ha ha. I can hardly wait, ”Funk said in an Instagram video posted by Bezos.
“Nothing has ever bothered me,” she added. “They said, ‘Well, you’re a girl, you can’t do that.’ I said, ‘Guess what, it doesn’t matter what you are. You can always do it if you want to do it and I like to do things that no one has ever done.
In a cosmic twist, she will beat the late John Glenn, who set a record at 77 when he flew aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery in 1998. Glenn pooped the idea of women flying in space, few time after he became the first American to orbit the world in 1962.
“No one waited any longer,” Bezos said via Instagram. “It’s time. Welcome to the crew, Wally.”
The founder of Amazon is stepping down as CEO of the company on Monday.
The upcoming launch – which follows 15 successful test flights – will open the door to paying customers. Blue Origin has yet to announce ticket prices or when the public could buckle up to the spacious six-seat capsule, which reaches an altitude of around 65 miles, just beyond the edge of space. The back-and-forth flights last 10 minutes.
The reusable rocket is named after Astronaut Mercury Alan Shepard, the first American in space, and July 20 marks the 52nd anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing.
Funk, who lives near Dallas, was the Federal Aviation Administration’s first female inspector and the National Transportation Safety Board’s first female aviation safety investigator. In the posted video, she said she had 19,600 flying hours and taught more than 3,000 people how to fly.
She was one of two dozen female pilots who underwent six days of rigorous physical testing – the same as those administered to candidate Mercury astronauts – in 1960 and 1961. The doctor who tested the Mercury 7 men had heard that the Soviets were planning to ‘send a woman to space and he wanted to see if women could endure the effects of weightlessness.
Candidates had to spend hours in an isolation water tank, swallow a rubber hose, and get needles stuck in their heads, among other things.
Thirteen of the women – including Funk – succeeded. But the program was abruptly canceled, and the Soviets launched the first woman into space – Valentina Tereshkova – in 1963.
“They told me I did better and got the job done faster than any other guy,” Funk recalls. “So I got hold of NASA four times. I said I wanted to be an astronaut, but no one would take me there. I didn’t think I could ever get on.”
It wasn’t until 1983 that the first American woman flew into space – Sally Ride, who died in 2012. And it wasn’t until 1995 that an American woman piloted a spaceship – Eileen Collins aboard the Discovery Shuttle. Many Mercury 13 women gathered at Cape Canaveral for this launch.
Eager to go to space, Funk booked a seat years ago on Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic rocket. She remains on the passenger list; the company is planning three more test flights from New Mexico, including one with Branson on board, before launching customers.
In the video, Bezos describes to Funk how the four Blue Origin passengers will experience weightlessness for a few minutes, then gently land on the surface of the desert and open the hatch.
” You go out. What’s the first thing you say? ” he asked him.
“I’ll say, ‘Honey, this is the best thing that ever happened to me! Funk responded, kissing Bezos in a big bear hug.
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