Wally Funk has spent his life in the clouds. She had her first flying lesson at the age of nine, became a licensed pilot at 17, and has logged over 19,000 hours of flight time.
But his lifelong dream of going to space has eluded him until now. At the age of 82, Funk became the oldest person to travel in space when she climbed onthe New Shepard rocket on Tuesday.
Beside him were Jeff Bezos, Bezos’ brother Mark, andan 18 year old who became the youngest person ever in space.
Funk’s path to the stars has not been easy. In the 1960s, when America’s first astronauts underwent rigorous NASA training, Funk was part of the Mercury 13, a group of 13 women who took the same exams without compromise.
“We had no idea what we were going through. We didn’t know where it was leading us,” Funk said.
She recently described to CBS News’s Michelle Miller some of the painful and grueling tests the women’s group went through. “X-rays all over my body, every bone, every tooth, water in the ears. I had to drink radioactive water,” she said.
The women of Mercury 13 have met – and often exceeded – the results of the men. She said that despite all the struggle, she knew she would become an astronaut and go to space. But women would never have their chance. NASA required astronauts to be military test pilots, and the military at the time did not allow women to fly.
Decades later, American women have found their place at NASA, including retired astronaut Nicole Stott, who has spent more than 100 days in space.
“All of us, as female astronauts … have recognized that we do not come here on our own. We build on each day the awe and wonder that have been presented to us, the strength that has been introduced to us, ”Stott said.
But for Wally Funk, the dream never died. Tuesday, we realized.
“I’m going. This is my quest.… I love to fly, this is my job, this is what I love. And I’m not a let go,” Funk said before the space flight.