If it wasn’t for a friend who had clued me in last week, I embarrassingly *may* have missed today’s live coverage of the historic Blue Origin space launch featuring the richest man on the planet Jeff Bezos, his brother Mark Bezos, 18-year-old Oliver Daemen, and 82-year-old Wally Funk.
If you find yourself asking the question “Who is Wally Funk?” – you may not be the only one. If it hadn’t been for my huge interest in all things having to do with women in aviation, I may not have known who Wally Funk was before today, either …
As has now been widely reported, Wally Funk is one of the original members of the First Lady Astronaut Trainees (FLATs) program of the early 1960s. With 19,600 flight hours and numerous achievements and accolades to her credit, she was not only featured in the 2018 Netflix documentary entitled Mercury 13, but in Amy Shira Teitel’s recent book Fighting for Space: Two Pilots and Their Historic Battle for Female Spaceflight.
In 2004, the Los Angeles Times published a feature story entitled “The Unlaunchable Wally Funk,” in which the author traced her saga from the early 1960’s until 2004, outlining her achievements in flight, but also ultimately her unfortunate inability to ever make it into space. In covering her achievements following the shutdown of the FLATs program, the author wrote:
She became a flight instructor at Hawthorne Municipal Airport and competed in women’s air races from coast to coast. A three-year around-the-world interlude in a VW camper took her to 59 countries before she ran out of money. Back in L.A., she was hired as a field examiner by the FAA and then an accident investigator by the NTSB–both jobs a first for women, she says. After investigating 450 accidents ranging from a probable mob hit to a fatal crash at a mortuary, she retired in 1985 and went back to teaching.
Funk lectured widely on space and safety. She skydived, bungee-jumped, raced cars, ballooned and, in Wild West costume, competed as “The Taos Kid” in shooting competitions. She entered hoity-toity car shows in a custom-body Rolls-Royce once owned by the Queen Mother. She designed and built her own house in Taos. She appeared on “The Mike Douglas Show” with Billie Jean King (“I did all the talking”) and was featured flying aerobatics in a Stearman biplane in a Merrill Lynch TV spot (“Sure, I take risks for fun. But when it comes to my money, I’m really careful.”). More recently, and for no apparent reason, she popped up on a CD titled “The Flight of Wally Funk,” by the Australian rock band Spiderbait.
But through it all, she never forgot the ride not taken.
Nearly 20 years later though, it finally appears that all of this has now changed, not only in history’s favor but to Jeff Bezos’ credit. Here’s a short video clip of Bezos telling Wally about how she was going to come up to space with him.
And here’s a look at the recent headlines from CBS and Newsweek, to The Atlantic, New York Times, Rolling Stone, Time Magazine, Washington Post, and more:
- Who is Wally Funk? Trailblazing aviator becomes oldest person to travel to space at 82 | CBS News (read more)
- Who Is Wally Funk? Oldest Blue Origin Passenger Who Outperformed Jeff Bezos | Newsweek (read more)
- Guess Who’s Going to Space With Jeff Bezos? Wally Funk has been ready to become an astronaut for six decades. | The Atlantic (read more)
- Wally Funk Is Defying Gravity and 60 Years of Exclusion From Space | New York Times (read more)
- Wally Funk’s 60-Year Journey Into Space; In the early 1960s, she was one of 13 women who trained to become an astronaut — but it wasn’t until Jeff Bezos brought her on board that she was able to fulfill that dream | Rolling Stone (read more)
- Wally Funk Is Going to Space Aboard Jeff Bezos’s Rocket. Here’s Why That Matters | Time Magazine (read more)
- In 1961 She Lost Her Chance to go to Space. Today, at 82, She Finally Got Her Shot | Washington Post (read more)
- Wally Funk, the ‘heart of this mission,’ finally reaches space at 82 | MSNBC (read more)
- Wally Funk fulfills lifelong dream to go to space with Blue Origin flight
- The 82-year-old became the oldest person to go to space, six decades after being denied by the US government | The Guardian (read more)
Finally, here is a video in Wally’s own words about what it was like to finally go up into space today:
Today I learned that the Blue Origin feather is a symbol of the perfection of flight. From the first hot air balloonists, to the earliest aviators, to the pioneering test pilots, and beyond, I think everyone can appreciate this moment and how far we’ve come, yet how very far we’ve yet to go. Until then, cheers to Wally and congratulations to all at Blue Origin on a very historic, uplifting, and successful mission!