WASHINGTON — Blue Origin announced July 1 that it will fly one of the “Mercury 13” women who underwent astronaut training in the early years of the space program on the company’s first crewed New Shepard suborbital flight.
In a video posted on Instagram, Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos offers to fly Wally Funk on the July 20 New Shepard flight. She immediate accepts by hugging Bezos.
“I can’t tell people who are watching how fabulous I feel to be picked by Blue Origin to go on this trip,” she said in the video.
Funk, a pilot with 19,600 flight hours, is best known as being part of an effort by an aviation doctor, William Randolph Lovelace, to see women could pass the same medical tests NASA established for its Mercury astronauts. Funk was one of 13 women who did pass those tests in 1960, and that group later became known as the Mercury 13.
That study, though, was not sanctioned by NASA. The agency made no effort to fly the Mercury 13 women and did not formally select any female astronauts until the late 1970s. Sally Ride became the first American woman in space in June 1983.
Funk spent her career in aviation, including being the first female inspector for the Federal Aviation Administration and first female air safety inspector for the National Transportation Safety Board. She applied to be a NASA astronaut several times once the agency started accepting women into the astronaut corps but was never selected. Funk also bought a ticket on Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo suborbital vehicle, which has yet to begin commercial flights.
Funk will join Jeff Bezos and his brother Mark on the flight, the first time New Shepard has carried people. The fourth person will be the winner of a June 12 auction where Blue Origin sold the seat to an unidentified individual for $28 million. Blue Origin has not yet disclosed the identity of that person.
At 82, Funk will be the oldest person yet to fly into space. The record is currently held by John Glenn, who was 77 when he flew on the STS-95 shuttle mission in 1998. Glenn, who was part of the original Mercury 7 class of astronauts and became the first American to orbit the Earth in 1962, said in congressional testimony later in 1962 that he was opposed to women becoming astronauts.