Sixty years ago, a the age of 22, Wally Funk joined the team that became known as Mercury 13, an all-woman team set to train for space exploration with NASA. Funk was technically too young to join the team, but her vast experience as a professional certified pilot and experience as the first female civilian flight instructor at a U.S. military base – along with her top marks from aviation training in college – qualified her more than enough to break the mold.
Mercury 13 underwent the same testing and training as their male counterparts in the Astronaut corps, but the team was disqualified from entering space based on their gender.
On Tuesday, July 20, 2021, however, Funk – now aged 82 – fulfilled her lifelong dream of going into space on a civilian capsule and rocket funded and developed by private spaceflight company, Blue Origin.
The flight launched at 9:11 a.m. E.S.T. out of El Paso, Texas. The New Shephard rocket accelerated up toward the heavens at three times the speed of sound and began its suborbital flight. At 250,000 feet, the capsule separated, taking Funk, Jeff and Mark Bezos, and Oliver Daemon, 18, of Netherland, to the edge of space.
Approximately 10 minutes later, the craft descended back to earth under parachute and landed in the Texas desert. The flight marked multiple milestones including the first unpiloted suborbital flight with an all-civilian crew, Daemon becoming the youngest person to reach space, Funk becoming the oldest astronaut, and the first crewed launch for Blue Origin’s New Shephard rocket.
Funk told the press after returning to Earth, “I saw darkness, I thought I was going to see the world, but we weren’t quite high enough. And I felt great. I felt like I was just lying down, just lying down — and I was going into space.”
At the end of her remarks, Funk added, “I’ve been waiting a long time to finally getting up there. I loved it. I want to go again, fast!”