CM – Denied 60 years ago, Wally Funk is finally going into space

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After half a century of waiting, Wally Funk – who trained for NASA’s Mercury program but was denied the opportunity to go into space – is finally getting her time under the stars. She was chosen by the richest man in the world, Jeff Bezos, to join him, his brother and an as-yet-unknown auction winner on a suborbital journey on July 20th.

Blue Origin announced Thursday that the 82-year-old will take fourth place on the first manned flight of its suborbital spacecraft New Shepard, alongside Blue Origin founder Bezos, his brother Mark Bezos and the auction winner who forked over $ 28 million for the opportunity. (The name of the auction winner is to be announced.)

Funk will be flying to New Shepard as an « honored guest, » according to a post on Bezos’ Instagram, which also shows that Bezos is revealing to Funk that they are joining the mission becomes. Then she beams and screams excitedly.

Funk volunteered in February 1961 as a member of the « Mercury 13 » program, also known as the « Women in Space Program, » which was a privately funded initiative aimed at helping women Trained to fly in NASA’s earliest space programs. The 13 women in the program completed all of the training and testing that the seven men selected by NASA for the Mercury space program did.

Funk became the youngest woman to complete the program, and she was told that she « did better and got the job done faster than any of the guys, » she said during a promotional video about her participation in the Blue Origin flight.

Funk even spent 10 hours and 35 minutes in a Mercury 13 test in a tank with sensory deprivation, surpassing the famous astronaut John Glenn.

« I reached NASA four times and said I wanted to be an astronaut, but nobody would take me, » said Funk. “I didn’t think I’d ever get up. Nothing has ever got in my way. They say, « Wally, you are a girl, you can’t. » I said, « Guess what you are, you can still do it if you want to » and I like to do things that have never been done before someone has done it before. « 

Funk has extensive experience piloting airplanes, logged over 19,600 flight hours and taught more than 3,000 people how to fly private and commercial aircraft.

 » For everything the FAA I have the license. And I can run away from you, ”she joked.

But Funk doesn’t need all that experience to fly Blue Origin’s New Shepard vehicle. The fully autonomous spacecraft and missile system is designed to enable virtually anyone to become an astronaut after just a few hours of safety instruction and training at Blue Origin’s facilities in West Texas.

The suborbital battles of New Shepard reach about three times the speed of sound – about 2,300 mph – and fly straight up until the missile uses up most of its fuel. The crew capsule then separates from the rocket at the top of the flight path and moves upward briefly before the capsule hovers almost at the top of its flight path and gives the passengers a few minutes of weightlessness. It works like an expanded version of the weightlessness that you experience when you reach the top of a roller coaster hill just before gravity brings your cart – or in this case, your space capsule – screaming back towards the ground.

The New Shepard- Capsule then deploys a large parachute flag to slow its descent to less than 20 mph before it hits the ground, and Bezos and his fellow passengers are further cushioned by shock-absorbing seats.

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According to a 2019 profile of Funk in the Guardian, Funk had previously purchased a ticket on board the suborbital spacecraft built by Richard Branson-backed Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin’s direct competitor, which is still in the testing phase of its Program and has not yet announced a date for its first commercial flight.

It is not clear whether Funk will stick to its plans to fly Virgin Galactic.

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