I wrote a blog about the early women astronaut’s in training program and ended it with “When Wally completes this mission, I’ll be sure to let you know. Bon Voyage!” I’m letting you know!
Space X, Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic
This week Jeff Bezos announced that the 82-year-old aviator will join him, his brother Mark and a still unidentified fourth passenger when they head into space on the Amazon billionaire’s Blue Origin spaceflight later this month.
At 82, Funk is set to become the oldest person to fly to space, a record currently held by astronaut John Glenn, who was sent into orbit for the last time at age 77 in 1998, per NASA
This is her reward as a space pioneer. Below is the rest of her story from 2 years ago.
Funk is a member of what is known as Mercury 13, a group of women who tested to become astronauts in the 1960s, before their program was later canceled.
Now for the story of the First Lady Astronaut Trainees, FLAT’s, an elite group of women pilots who underwent astronaut testing and seemed like they might be on track to become astronauts in the early 1960s. The best remembered of these women is probably Jerrie Cobb, a record-setting aviator. Even though Cobb and twelve others did extremely well in the astronaut tests, none of them went to space and the program they were part of was killed, speaking to the unwarranted sexism of the early American space program.
Since no human had flown in space yet when the astronaut fitness tests were designed, the Lovelace doctors required very thorough examinations. These included numerous X-rays and a four-hour eye exam. A specially weighted stationary bicycle pushed the women to exhaustion while testing their respiration. The doctors had the women swallow a rubber tube so that they could test their stomach acids. A tilt table tested circulation. Using an electrical pulse, the physicians tested nerve reflexes in their arms. Ice water was shot into the women’s ears to induce vertigo so that the doctors could time how quickly they recovered. They calculated the candidates’ lean body mass using a nuclear counter in Los Alamos.
In the end, thirteen women passed the same physical examinations that the Lovelace Foundation had developed for NASA’s astronaut selection process.
Mary Wallace “”Wally” Funk was one of the women selected to go through astronaut training, and where this story picks up. She was an American aviator and Goodwill Ambassador. She was the first female air safety investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board, the first female civilian flight instructor at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and the first female Federal Aviation Agency inspector, as well as one of the Mercury 13.
I love her story. She’s never given up on the dream to go to space and at an early age made her desires known. Because she was a “girl” she was not allowed to take the high school courses she wanted, being delegated to “home economics” instead of mechanical engineering, so she dropped out at age 16 to attend Stevens College. This after she had already learned to fly and had become an expert marks-woman.
She was one of many featured during the 50th anniversary of the Moon landing and all those who helped in getting there. It was in hearing her disappointment about this program being scrapped that I then learned that she has paid for her ticket to be among the throngs who have signed up to visit outer space. At 80 years of age, she hasn’t slowed down a bit and her enthusiasm is contagious.
Wally Funk of Roanoke, Texas, is one of the 500 or so civilians from 50 countries around the world who want to visit outer space. She has written a check to Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic company for the $200,000 ticket; others have put at least $20,000 down. She has twice visited Spaceport America in New Mexico, where they will take off and land, and has met both many of her fellow passengers and the blond billionaire who is their heavenly sponsor. Like the others, she is staying in shape for the medical exam that will precede the space flight. Branson goes up 11 days before Bezos. And now, thanks to Jeff Bezos, she is heading to her dream mission at last.
Wally is about to complete this mission, I’m letting you know. Bon Voyage! And safe travels to beyond and back.