Wally Funk, a trailblazer in aviation for women, becomes oldest person to travel to space at 82


Wally Funk dreamed of being an astronaut ever since she was a little girl, but despite passing all the qualification tests, she was denied the opportunity to become an astronaut.

Then Jeff Bezos invited her to fly on Blue Origin’s first human flight into space.

On July 20, Bezos, his brother Mark Bezos, Funk, and 18-year-old Dutch student Oliver Daemen blasted off towards space for a 10-minute suborbital flight.

And at 82 years old she became the oldest person to fly to space.

When Funk was as young as 9 years old, she began taking flying lessons. In school she was more interested in courses such as mechanical drawing and mechanics, but being a girl, she was only permitted to take courses like home economics.

She ended up dropping out of high school and attending Stephens College in Columbia, Missouri where she enrolled in an aviation program.

“I was not an ‘A’ student,” Funk told the Missourian in 2013. “But, flying was my thing. I did what I had to do to fly.”

She graduated in 1958 with her pilot’s license and two years later she volunteered for the Women in Space Program.

The Women in Space Program, later known as Mercury 13, was a group of 13 women who were put through the same rigorous tests the astronauts selected for Project Mercury, the first human spaceflight, endured.

“The tests had access to see how men’s bodies reacted, but then, they wanted to see how women’s bodies reacted,” she said. “Girls reacted better and we didn’t complain nearly as much.”

Despite passing the tests with flying colors, none of the women were allowed into NASA.

“It was all about the experience,” Funk said. “Nothing bothered me at all.”

Even though she was initially denied an opportunity to go to space, when NASA began accepting women into their program she applied several times, only to be rejected because she didn’t have an engineering degree.

“I didn’t think that I would ever get to go up,” she said, according to ABC News. “They said, ‘Wally, 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.’”

Funk went on to become the first female Federal Aviation Administration inspector and the first woman National Transportation Safety Board investigator. She also taught more than 3,000 people how to fly.

So by the time Bezos invited her onboard Blue Origin’s New Shepard, she had amassed 19,600 flying hours.

Finally, at 9:12 a.m. EDT, Funk took off towards space, and for roughly 10 minutes she got to enjoy a feeling she had been chasing for the past 60 years.

When she and the rest of the crew landed back in the West Texas desert, her reaction when emerging from the capsule said it all.

Congratulations, Wally! You did it.

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