Who is Wally Funk? 'Mercury 13' legend to join Jeff Bezos in Blue Origin's first space flight
Jeff Bezos announced on June 7, 2021, that he will join the first crew to fly in a Blue Origin capsule, riding his own rocket into space on July 20. Ever since then, speculations are high on who might occupy the remaining seats on the debut passenger flight. Now, Blue Origin has announced the name of another passenger to join Bezos and his younger brother Mark for a 10-minute trip to space.
Blue Origin issued a statement on Twitter informing that Wally Funk, 82, will be joining the first crew to fly in a Blue Origin capsule. Bezos asked Funk to join the crew on July 20 as their honored guest. Bezos posted a video of his conversation with Funk and captioned it: "No one has waited longer. 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. It’s time. Welcome to the crew, Wally. We’re excited to have you fly with us on July 20th as our honored guest. #GradatimFerociter."
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Bezos' ambitious space program is likely to kick off Blue Origin’s space tourism business. The Blue Origin capsule can hold six people and the company has not yet announced who might occupy the remaining seats on the debut passenger flight. The company sold the tickets at auction for a seat onboard the first crewed spaceflight on June 12. The identity of the 'wealthy' bidder who paid $28M for a 10-minute trip to space is expected to be released soon.
Who is Wally Funk?
Born in Las Vegas on February 1, 1939, and brought up in Taos, Mexico, Funk was the first female air safety investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board, the first female civilian flight instructor at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and the first female Federal Aviation Agency inspector. She was was one of 13 female aviators later called the 'Mercury 13' who passed all the exams necessary for admission to NASA's astronaut corps in 1961 and lobbied the federal government to send women into space. The plan never panned out and more than a decade later Sally Ride became the first American woman to fly in space in 1983. Funk became a professional aviator at the age of 20. She was also the 58th woman in the US to earn her Airline Transport Rating in 1968.
In just three weeks, Funk will get to spend four minutes beyond the bounds of gravity. Expressing her excitement, Funk said, "I'll love every second of it. I can hardly wait. I've been flying forever and I have 19,600 flying hours." Funk also mentioned in the video that she has experience teaching more than 3,000 people to fly. "Everything that the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) has, I've got the license for," she said. She also remembered her disappointment when NASA stood by its initial impulse to exclude women from the astronaut corps, despite the qualifying marks of the 13 women of the First Lady Astronaut Trainees (FLATs). "They told me that I had done better and completed the work faster than any of the guys. Didn't think that I would ever get to go up, " she said.