Kyle Arnold The Dallas Morning News
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) As Kyle Arnold reports, "In 1959, Funk was one of 13 women known as the Mercury 13 that were part of a privately funded venture to find out whether women were physically and psychologically capable of surviving spaceflight."
Blue Origin’s first human spaceflight is slated to take off from Texas later month and will now include a North Texan, aviation legend and female flying pioneer Wally Funk.
Amazon founder Jeff Bezos announced Thursday that Funk, an 80-year-old Grapevine resident and the first female flight instructor at a U.S. military base, will fly aboard the New Shepard rocket system when it takes off from Van Horn on July 20.
Funk will join Bezos, Jeff’s brother Mark Bezos and the winner of a $28 million auction for one of the six seats on the capsule. Blue Origin is part of a pioneering group of spaceflight companies that have spent billions of dollars trying to find a way to privatize the rocket industry. It’s been led mostly by ambitious billionaires including Bezos, Tesla founder Elon Musk at SpaceX and Virgin Galactic’s Richard Branson.
Blue Origin has been plotting its first human spaceflight after sending rockets into space for years.
Now Funk has a seat on board.
In 1959, Funk was one of 13 women known as the Mercury 13 that were part of a privately funded venture to find out whether women were physically and psychologically capable of surviving spaceflight.
“I got a hold of NASA four times and said I want to become an astronaut, but nobody would take me,” Funk said in a video that Bezos posted to Instagram Thursday morning in which Bezos tells Funk that she was selected for the New Shepard flight. “They said, ‘Well you’re a girl, you can do that.’ I said ‘Guess what? Doesn’t matter what you want, you can still do it if you want to do it and I like to do things that nobody’s ever done.”
The Mercury was eventually scrapped, but Russians, Americans and other groups have since proven time and time again that women are just as capable of astronauts as men.
Funk spent a long career after that as an FAA flight inspector and field examiner before becoming the National Transportation Safety Board’s first female investigator in 1974. She was also an accomplished aerial racer. She put down a deposit to fly aboard Virgin Galactic’s first space flight back in 2012, but Virgin Galactic is still working to get that flight into orbit. “I can’t tell people watching how fabulous I feel to be picked by Blue origin to go on this trip,” Funk said in the video. “I can hardly wait.”
The New Shepard flight is slated for an 11-minute flight taking off from Blue Origin’s facility in West Texas on July 20, although the company has kept man of the details of that flight secret. Bezos, in the social media video, said passengers will be in zero gravity conditions for about four minutes.
“You come back down, we land gently on the desert surface, we open the hatch and you step outside,” Bezos said.
“What’s the first thing you say?” Bezos asked Funk.
“I will say, honey, that was the best thing that ever happened to me.”
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