Wally Funk: Jeff Bezos to send pioneering female pilot and oldest ever person to space

Andrew Griffin
Tuesday 20 July 2021 10:27 BST
<p>Jeff Bezos and Wally Funk</p>

Jeff Bezos and Wally Funk

Jeff Bezos has invited a pioneering female pilot to become the oldest ever person in space.

Wally Funk – who undertook the same training as male astronauts in the 1960s, but never managed to actually fly to space – will join Mr Bezos, his brother and the winner of a public auction on their trip away from Earth.

The four will together take part in the first ever crewed trip on the New Shepard rocket, developed by Mr Bezos’s private space company, Blue Origin.

The trip is scheduled for 20 July.

Ms Funk is 82 years old and will travel as an “honored guest” on the trip, Mr Bezos said, apparently in recognition of her long list of pioneering work in aviation.

She was the first female flight instructor at a US military base, and the first female air safety investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board. But most pertinently all she was one of the “Mercury 13” – a group of women who undertook the same training as Nasa astronauts but never had the chance to go to space.

Her website notes that she went further than even many of those other elite women, taking addition tests and often succeeding above and beyond the men who were eventually chosen. She also undertook training at Star City in Russia, where the country trains its cosmonauts.

“No one has waited longer,” Mr Bezos said in his announcement on Instagram.

“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.”

Ms Funk will take the record of oldest person in space from John Glenn, who was the first American astronaut to orbit the Earth coincidentally lends his name to one of Blue Origin’s rockets, which are named after famous figures of US spaceflight.

Glenn made his first spaceflight in 1962, making three orbits around Earth on his first pioneering flight. Then, in 1998 – after leaving Nasa and a long career as a US senator – he went back to space again, when he was 77 years old, with the aim of understanding what spaceflight does to older people.

Ms Funk and the two Bezos brothers will be joined by the winner of a public auction who has paid $28 million for their ticket. Their identity is yet to be announced.

After the initial test, the company is expected to sell tickets for more flights that are thought to be planned for later this year. But it has stayed largely quiet about those plans, in keeping with a secretive approach to the business generally.

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