Wally Funk, life among the clouds, breaking records

Space News

NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – At 82-years-old, New Mexican Mary Wallace “Wally” Funk will be the oldest person to ever launch into space. Funk will be aboard the July 20 launch of Jeff Bezo’s, also from New Mexico, Blue Origin’s new Shepard rocket.

Funk was the youngest graduate of the Women in the Space program in the 1960s; it was a privately funded project known as the Mercury 13. The so-called Mercury 13 was a group of women who trained to become astronauts for America’s first human spaceflight program in the early 1960s. 

“Well, aerospace really was not a name in my young life, but flying airplanes was. I got my first try at flying, just pure flying, by flying my Superman cape off my daddy’s barn when I was about five years old. I was allowed to make airplanes out of blocks of balsa wood and hang them from my ceiling.” she told NASA back in 1999.

The Mercury 13 underwent the same tests as the astronauts selected by NASA, but they never flew to space. Although FLATs was never an official NASA program, the commitment of these women paved the way for others who followed. 

FILE – In this 1995 file photo, members of the FLATs, also known as the Mercury 13, gather for a photo as they attend a shuttle launch in Florida. From left are Gene Nora Jessen, Wally Funk, Jerrie Cobb, Jerri Truhill, Sarah Rutley, Myrtle Cagle and Bernice Steadman. Blue Origin’s Jeff Bezos has chosen Funk, an early female aerospace pioneer, to rocket into space with him later this month. The company announced Thursday, July 1, 2021, that Funk will be aboard the July 20 launch from West Texas, flying as an “honored guest.” Funk, along with the other women of Mercury 13, went through astronaut training in the 1960s, but never made it to space – or even NASA’s astronaut corps – because of their gender. (NASA via AP)

Bezos personally invited two of his fellow passengers — his 50-year-old brother Mark, an investor and volunteer firefighter, and female aviation pioneer, Funk. “Finally!” Funk exclaimed when offered a seat alongside Bezos. 

The Mercury 13 alumna Wally Funk is poised to break Glenn’s record as the oldest human in space when she flies with Blue Origins on July 20, 2021.

Story continues below:

Joining the Bezos brother and Funk will be 18-year-old Oliver Daemen from the Netherlands instead of a $28 million auction winner. Blue Origin said Oliver Daemen will be the first paying customer but did not disclose the price of his ticket. But a family spokesperson said it will be considerably less than the winning bid.

The Associated Press contributed to this story

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