Grapevine’s Wally Funk floated weightless in space today—a moment she’d spent 60 years striving for. The 82-year-old lifelong pilot finally blasted away from earth as a guest of Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, on its first crewed flight of the New Shepard spacecraft. “I loved it,” she exulted in a press conference later in the day. “I want to go again, fast!”
Funk is now the oldest human ever to earn astronaut’s wings. She flew nearly 67 miles above West Texas this morning on a suborbital flight with fellow crew members Bezos—the richest man on earth—Bezos’ brother Mark, and 18-year-old Dutch student Oliver Daemen. Daemen bookended Funk’s accomplishment by becoming the youngest person to reach space.
Funk’s instructors prepared her for a loud rocket launch.
“When I went up this morning the noise wasn’t quite as bad, and we went right on up,” she said in the post-flight press conference. “I saw darkness. I thought I was going to see the world but we weren’t quite high enough.”
“I’ve been waiting a long time to finally [get] up there,” she added. “I’ve done a lot of astronaut training through the world—Russia, America—and I could always beat the guys on what they were doing, because I was always stronger and I’ve always done everything on my own.”
A lifelong journey to an 11-minute space flight
Funk has wanted to take off from the earth her entire life. As a girl, she was fascinated by planes. She had her first flying lesson at age nine.
“I didn’t do dolls. I did outside stuff,” she said in the press conference today.
She got her first pilot’s license as a teenaged college student, then joined Oklahoma State University’s Flying Aggies aviation team. Eventually she became a flight instructor at a U.S. air base.
At 22 in 1961, she made history as the youngest graduate of the Woman in Space program. She and her fellow “Mercury 13” female pilots received training that mirrored the physiological and psychological screening tests given to the Mercury 7 astronauts. But NASA wouldn’t accept female astronauts in the 1960s, so she never made it into space.
Other Funk firsts
Still, Funk kept flying and making other firsts. She became the first female FAA inspector and the NTSB’s first female air safety investigator.
Then came the day when Jeff Bezos invited her to finally earn her astronaut’s wings as a guest on the first crewed flight of a Blue Origin launch. Here’s the moment that happened.
And below is how Wally Funk looked this morning, floating weightless in Blue Origin’s New Shepard spacecraft, named after America’s first man in space, Alan Shepard.
If it looks like she’s smiling, that’s because she is.
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