Mary Wallace Funk, an 82-year-old pilot who was prevented from becoming an astronaut in the 1960s because of her gender, will accompany Jeff Bezos on his rocket company’s first human flight, the company said Thursday.
On July 20th, she becomes Mr. Bezos; his brother Mark Bezos; and the auction winner became the first person to fly in a Blue Origin rocket and capsule, the company said in a statement. The mission will be a short suborbital flight in which the rocket climbs above the 62-mile threshold, which is widely considered to be the beginning of space, before returning to Earth.
The passengers on board the New Shepard rocket will experience zero gravity for four minutes and then land again in the desert in West Texas, where the rocket was launched.
Ms. Funk, who goes by the name of Wally, was one of 13 American women who completed a rigorous astronaut training program in the 1960s to determine if women were fit for space. Although the tests were as good as men at the time, no one ever became an astronaut: the program was privately funded and not recognized by NASA. More importantly, at the time, according to History.com, NASA only accepted trained fighter jet pilots – a job open only to men – as candidates for astronauts. It wasn’t until 1983, five years after the fighter pilot was lifted, that the United States sent its first wife, Sally Ride, into space.
“They told me that I did better and finished the job faster than anyone else,” Ms. Funk said in a video posted on Mr Bezos’ Instagram account. But she was denied each of the four times she told NASA that she wanted to be an astronaut.
“They said, ‘Well, you’re a girl, you can’t do that,'” she recalled in the video. “I said, ‘Guess what? No matter what you are, you can still do it if you want to. ‘ And I like to do things that no one has ever done. “
Through a spokeswoman, Blue Origin declined to arrange an interview with Ms. Funk on Thursday.
Ms. Funk was the Federal Aviation Administration’s first female inspector and the National Transportation Safety Board’s first female aviation safety investigator. And with the New Shepard flight later this month, she will take another path and become the oldest person to fly into space.
“Nobody has waited longer,” wrote Mr Bezos in an Instagram caption. “It’s time. Welcome to the crew, Wally. We are delighted that you are flying with us as our guest of honor on July 20th.”
Kenneth Chang contributed to the coverage.