This article appeared in the July 20, 2021 edition of the Monitor Daily.

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After 60 years of persistence, Wally Funk becomes an astronaut

Blue Origin/Reuters
Billionaire businessman Jeff Bezos and pioneering female aviator Wally Funk emerge from their capsule after their flight aboard Blue Origin's New Shepard rocket on the world's first unpiloted suborbital flight near Van Horn, Texas, July 20, 2021, in a still image from video.

If you’re going to strap yourself into a 60-foot-tall rocket in West Texas, you’d probably want the experience, verve, and exuberance that Mary Wallace “Wally” Funk brings. 

On Tuesday morning, Ms. Funk joined Amazon’s Jeff Bezos; his brother, Mark; and Dutch teenager Oliver Daemen on their Blue Origin journey to the edge of space. In doing so, the 82-year-old pilot became the oldest person ever to fly above the Kármán line, the boundary of space. But that’s not really too surprising. Ms. Funk has had a lifetime of firsts:

  • At age 20, she became the first female flight instructor at a U.S. military base.
  • In 1971, she became the first female Federal Aviation Administration inspector. 
  • In 1974, she was the first female air safety investigator at the National Transportation Safety Board. 
  • But what probably put her on Mr. Bezos’ radar was her participation in the Mercury 13. In 1961, as NASA prepared seven American male astronauts for the new frontier of space, a secret, privately funded group of female pilots underwent – and passed – the same NASA tests. 

    None of the 13 women were given the opportunity to touch the hem of space – until today. “They’d say, ‘Wally, you’re a girl, you can’t do that!’ Guess what? You can still do it if you want to do it. And I like to do things that nobody has ever done,” said Ms. Funk recently.

    And so she has, once again. “I loved it!” she exclaimed afterward.

    This article appeared in the July 20, 2021 edition of the Monitor Daily.

    Read 07/20 edition
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