TEXAS, USA — After waiting more than half a century for her moment among the cosmos, aviation icon Wally Funk is headed for space as an "honored guest" on Blue Origin's upcoming New Shepard launch.
Jeff Bezos, who backs the aerospace company, shared the moment he delivered the news to the 82-year-old trailblazer on Instagram.
If you ask Funk how long she's been in aviation, she'll tell you she's "been flying forever" with 19,600 flying hours under her belt. On top of that, she's taught a whopping 3,000 people how to fly during her lifetime.
But there's always been one thing out of Funk's reach – space.
Funk was one of the so-called Mercury 13, a group of seven women who aspired to travel beyond Earth's atmosphere in the 1960s. At the time, NASA was looking for astronauts for the first human spaceflight program in the U.S.
While the group of women trained to become astronauts, they were ultimately asked to step aside when all men were chosen to put America in the space race.
According to Funk, during her time in the program she was told she did better and was faster than any of the men vying for astronaut spots.
"So, I got ahold of NASA four times. 'I said I wanna become an astronaut' but nobody would take me. I didn't think that I would ever get to go up," she said in Bezos' Instagram video.
In the years since, Funk has worked to prove people wrong and found great success in changing people's perceptions on limiting women in the profession.
"Guess what? Doesn't matter what you are you can still do it if you want to do it," Funk said.
The aviation pioneer pulled Bezos into a hug once he delivered the news she'd been waiting nearly her whole life to hear.
"It’s time. Welcome to the crew, Wally. We’re excited to have you fly with us on July 20th as our honored guest," Bezos wrote on Instagram, sharing that no one has waited longer for such an opportunity than Funk.
Funk will join Bezos, the billionaire's brother and the yet-to-be-named winner of Blue Origin's seat auction. The winning bid for the remaining slot on the New Shepard flight came with a $28 million price tag.
The suborbital sightseeing trip, of sorts, marks the latest in a series of civilian-based commercial space travel opportunities being publicly announced this year.
The 60-foot rocket that's named after Mercury astronaut Alan Shepard, who was the first American in space 60 years ago Wednesday (May 5, 1961), is designed to take astronauts and payloads past the Kármán line – the recognized imaginary boundary of space.
Once New Shepard returns back to Earth, Funk will have accomplished more than a personal goal. She'll also have set a record.
Former astronaut John Glenn currently holds the record for the oldest person to fly into space at 77. At 82, Funk will more than surpass that record.
As for how Funk feels ahead of her July 20 liftoff? "Fabulous."
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