A 82 year-old woman who trained for NASA’s Mercury program in the 1960s chosen by Jeff Bezos for a seat on inaugural spaceflight
Amazon’s CEO has chosen an 82-year-old woman called Wally Funk to join him, his brother, and another unnamed passenger for Blue Origin’s inaugural crewed flight of its New Shepard suborbital spacecraft on 20th July.
The decision by the world’s richest man to select Wally Funk is not a random one.
Funk actually trained (unofficially) for NASA’s Mercury program back in the 1960s but was denied the opportunity to go to space, CNN reported.
Bezos broke the news on his Instagram account to the woman who has waited sixty years to travel into outer space.
“In 1961, Wally Funk was at the top of her class as part of the ‘Mercury 13’ Woman in Space Program. Despite completing their training, the program was cancelled, and none of the thirteen flew,” Bezos wrote.
“It’s time. Welcome to the crew, Wally,” he added. “We’re excited to have you fly with us on July 20th as our honored guest.”
According to CNN Funk volunteered as a member of the “Women in Space Program,” in February of 1961, which was a privately-funded effort at the time intended to begin training women to fly in NASA’s earliest space programs.
The 13 women in the program undertook all of the training and testing that the seven men selected by NASA for the Mercury spaceflight program undertook.
Funk reportedly became the youngest woman to graduate from the program, and she was told she “had done better and completed the work faster than any of the guys,” she said during a promotional video about her participation in the Blue Origin flight.
“I got ahold of NASA four times, and said ‘I want to become an astronaut,’ but nobody would take me,” Funk said. “I didn’t think I would ever get to go up. Nothing has ever gotten in my way. They say, ‘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’s ever done before.”
Instead it seems that Funk became a highly pilot and taught more than 3,000 people how to fly private and commercial aircraft.
So Funk is to occupy the fourth seat on the inaugural crewed flight of the New Shepard suborbital spacecraft on 20th July.
Jeff Bezos, who is stepping down as CEO of Amazon next week, had surprised some when he announced in June that he and his brother (Mark Bezos) would be onboard New Shepard, when it blasts off into orbit more than 100km (62 miles) above the Earth’s surface on 20 July.
The New Shepard spacecraft is named after Mercury astronaut Alan Shepard, the first American to go to space,
Bezos chose his brother as he was his best friend.
Also in June an unmanned person successfully bid $28 million (£20m) to win a seat on board.
Yet this flight may not be the last spaceflight of Wally Funk, CNN reported.
It cited an interview with Funk in 2019 in the Guardian newspaper, in which she admitted she had purchased a ticket aboard the suborbital space plane built by the Richard Branson-backed company Virgin Galactic.
Last month Virgin Galactic gained the official blessing from the US aviation safety regulator to fly people to outer space.
It is not clear if Funk will keep her plans to fly with Virgin Galactic as well.