Blue Origin’s Jeff Bezos has chosen an early female aerospace pioneer — an 82-year-old pilot denied astronaut wings decades ago because of her gender — to rocket into space with him later this month.
The company announced Thursday that Wally Funk will be aboard the July 20 launch from West Texas, flying in the capsule for the 10-minute hop as an “honored guest.” She’ll join Bezos, his brother and the winner of a charity auction, as the first people to fly a New Shepard rocket.
Funk is among the so-called Mercury 13 women who went through astronaut training in the 1960s, but never made it to space — or even NASA’s astronaut corps — because they were female. Back then, all of the NASA astronauts were military test pilots and male.
“I’m ready,” Funk, who has logged 19,600 flight hours as a pilot, told NBC DFW. “I’ve been trained.”
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At age 82, Funk will become the oldest person to launch into space when Blue Origin takes its turn.
“I’ll love every second of it. Whoooo! Ha-ha. I can hardly wait,” Funk said in an Instagram video posted by Bezos.
“Nothing has ever gotten in my way,” she added. “They said, ‘Well, 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 has ever done.”
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She’ll beat the late John Glenn, who set a record at age 77 when flying aboard space shuttle Discovery in 1998. Glenn pooh-poohed the idea of women flying in space, shortly after he became the first American to orbit the world in 1962.
“No one has waited longer,” Bezos said via Instagram. “It’s time. Welcome to the crew, Wally. We’re excited to have you fly with us on July 20th as our honored guest.”
Funk, a pilot and former flight instructor, was the first female inspector for the Federal Aviation Administration and the first female air safety investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board.
Bezos is stepping down as Amazon’s CEO on Monday.
Blue Origin has yet to announce ticket prices or when the public might strap into the spacious six-seat capsule. Its New Shepard rocket is named for Alan Shepard, the first American in space.