Wally Funk, a famous aviator who has advocated for the inclusion of women in NASA’s astronaut training programs for decades, will join Amazon founder and billionaire Jeff Bezos on a brief flight to the edge of space on Tuesday. .
Earlier this month, the 82-year-old was confirmed as the third member of Blue Origin’s first crewed New Shepard mission, set to launch on July 20. Bezos, his brother Mark, Funk and the announced $ 28 million winner The auction will have a crew of four flying the 60-foot rocket from West Texas to the edge of space.
Funk will take on the role of “guest of honor” on the 11-minute flight and, if all goes according to plan, will make the dream of a lifetime come true.
She was the youngest graduate of the privately funded “Woman in Space Program” of the 1960s, which subjected 13 experienced female pilots to the rigors of astronaut training. They became known as “Mercury 13”, a reference to the “Mercury 7” group of seven men who went on to fly Mercury, Gemini and ultimately Apollo missions to the moon.
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None of the women were selected for full NASA missions.
“They told me I did better and finished the job faster than any other guy,” Funk said in a video posted to Bezos’ Instagram account. “So I contacted NASA four times and told them I wanted to be an astronaut, but no one wanted to take me.”
“I never thought I could go upstairs,” she said.
The mission, dubbed NS-16, is essential to Blue’s success. Bezos founded the company in 2000 with the goal of fulfilling his personal dream of spaceflight, building infrastructure for space tourism, and helping to create a future where millions of people live and work in space.
Named after the first American in space Alan Shepard, New Shepard is Blue’s touring-focused vehicle and flies exclusively from private land in West Texas. The much larger New Glenn is designed to carry more humans and cargo from the Cape Canaveral space station in Florida. Named after astronaut John Glenn, the first flight of this rocket is expected before the end of 2022.
From “Mercury 13” to today, Funk has accumulated nearly 20,000 flight hours. Among her accomplishments, she became the Federal Aviation Administration’s first female inspector and the National Transportation Safety Board’s first female aviation safety investigator.
After takeoff on July 20, she will also become the oldest person to ever travel to space.
“It doesn’t matter what you are. You can still do it if you want to. And I like doing things that no one has ever done,” Funk said.
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