Oldest woman makes it to space 60 years after training
60 years after she first completed astronaut training, Wally Funk has become the oldest person to reach space.
Ms Funk was one of the so-called Mercury 13 - a group of women who trained to become NASA astronauts in the 1960s.
Despite her training, she was denied the opportunity to go to space because of her gender.
She was 21 at the time, and the youngest of the women who passed the same testing as the Mercury Seven male astronauts in NASA’s program that sent Americans into space between 1961 and 1963.
“I didn’t think I’d ever get to go up,” Ms Funk said in a video interview on NASA’s website.
But, the 82-year-old was finally able to make the journey as one of Jeff Bezos’ three co-passengers aboard the Blue Origin’s New Shepard launch vehicle during its historic suborbital flight.
She also set the new record as the oldest person to launch into space, a title previously held by the late John Glenn, who was 77 when he flew aboard the Discovery space shuttle in 1998.
— Dr. Tanya Harrison (@tanyaofmars) July 20, 2021
“I’ve been waiting a long time,” Ms Funk said afterward.
“The four of us, we had a great time. I want to go again – fast.”
Ms Funk was a passenger alongside Mr Bezos’ brother Mark, and Oliver Daemon, the 18-year-old who became the youngest person to fly to space.
The vehicle reached an altitude of about 106 kilometres during the 10 minute flight.
“I felt like I was just laying down. I was just laying down and I was going to space,” Ms Funk said.
It isn’t the first time Ms Funk has set a record, having been both the first female flight instructor at a US military base and the first woman to become an air safety investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board.
“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,” Ms Funk said after the flight.
“And I didn’t do dolls … I did outside stuff. I flew airplanes, 19,000 some hours. I loved it and I loved being here with all of you, your family,” she told Mr Bezos.
She added that she would “cherish that forever”.
Footage from the flight showed the weightless passengers floating, doing somersaults, tossing Skittles and throwing balls.
The crew also took a number of mementos with them on the trip, including a piece of fabric from the Wright brothers’ first place and a pair of goggles belonging to Amelia Earhart.
Blue Origin video from inside the New Shepard capsule in space:
Jeff Bezos: “Who wants a Skittle?” pic.twitter.com/SUO6sAYZAE
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Image: IWASM / Twitter