Wally Funk Wiki
Wally Funk Biography
Who is Wally Funk ?
When Wally Funk launches into space aboard Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, she will be, at 82, the oldest astronaut in history.
But she was almost the youngest.
The New Mexico native was 22 when she joined the Mercury 13 program, a group of intrepid women who, in 1961, received the same training as the Mercury 7, NASA’s original all-male astronaut crew.
Women were never allowed to go into space and were hardly ever written about. It was a pioneering program lost to history.
Sue Nelson, science writer, broadcaster and author of the 2019 book, Wally Funk’s Race for Space: The Extraordinary Story of a Female Aviation Pioneer, spoke with Funk after Bezos made his travel plans public this week.
“She said, ‘I’ve waited my whole life, honey,'” Nelson told The Post, adding that Funk will be playing Mercury 13 when she heads into space. “She told me, ‘I’m going to get all of them.’ She knows the meaning.”
The Mercury 13 program lasted one year and was privately funded.
It was started by Dr. William Randolph Lovelace, who designed the grueling NASA exams. He invited pilot Jerrie Cobbe to undergo the same tests as the males and she passed. In the next year, another 12 women would successfully complete the training, sometimes beating the men.
“The general consensus was that it was a doctor’s curiosity to see if women could do the same,” Nelson said.
How old is Wally Funk ?
February 1, 1939 (age 82 years), Las Vegas, New Mexico, United States
Jeff Bezos says Wally Funk will be the fourth passenger on Blue Origin spaceflight
They were subjected to the same physical punishment tests, including swallowing a rubber tube to test for stomach acid and applying ice water to their ears to induce vertigo and measure their recovery time. Nelson said the latter made many physically ill.
As part of the psychological tests, the aspiring space explorers were isolated and placed in a dark room, leading some to hallucinate. Nelson said that Funk lasted 10 and a half hours, longer than anyone else, male or female.
In Bezos’s ad, Funk acknowledged his prowess in the battle of the sexes.
“In the ’60s, I was on the Mercury 13 show,” Funk said. “They asked me, ‘Do you want to be an astronaut?’ I said ‘Yes’. They told me that he had done better and that he had completed the job faster than any of the guys. ”
Nelson said that unlike the men who trained together as a group, the women trained in pairs. But Funk made hers only after the other woman assigned to be tested with her dropped out on the first day.
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Some of the women, including Funk, were invited to Pensacola, Florida, for additional training that never came to fruition.
NASA torpedoed any hopes of women launching into space, requiring the candidates to graduate from military aircraft test pilot programs. It was an insurmountable obstacle for women considering that no military branch allowed female pilots at the time.
Cobbe attempted to restart the show, appearing before the House of Representatives Committee on Science and Astronautics hearing on sex discrimination in 1962.
“There were women on the Mayflower and in the first carriages to the west, working alongside the men to forge new trails to new sights. We asked for that opportunity in the space pioneer, ”Cobbe said to no avail.
“As a result of the hesitancy of the Americans at that time, the Russians arrived first with Valentina Tereshkova,” Nelson said.
It wasn’t until 1983 that Sally Ride broke the barrier of American astronauts.
In 1995, New York native Eileen Collins ran the Discovery, becoming the first female shuttle pilot and invited all 13 pioneers to watch the launch.
In recognition of the aviators who preceded her, Collins packed a scarf once worn by Amelia Earhart and memorabilia from the Mercury 13 ladies.
Nelson said Funk gave Collins her pin from Ninety Nines, the international organization for women pilots.
“A little part of it has already come up,” Nelson said. All the women have passed away except for Funk and Gene Nora Jessen, and Nelson is delighted that she is retelling her story to himself.
“There have always been female figures in the history of space, whether they be mathematics or engineers. They were in LIFE magazine, “Nelson said of the Mercury 13 women, adding:” They received publicity, but their story continues to be forgotten. “