Woman, 82, gets chance to go into space 60 years after missing out due to her gender

An 82-year-old woman who had astronaut training in the 1960s but was denied the opportunity to go into space because of her gender is being given a second chance thanks to Jeff Bezos.

Wally Funk has been picked by the Amazon founder to be his “honoured guest” on board a New Shepard rocket, which is set for launch in West Texas on 20 July.

Ms Funk said she feels “fabulous” about finally getting the chance to travel into space.

“I’ll love every second of it. Whoooo! Ha-ha. I can hardly wait,” she said in an Instagram video posted by Mr Bezos, who steps down as the tech giant’s chief executive on Monday.

Members of the FLATs, also known as the Mercury 13, attend a shuttle launch in 1995. Pic: NASA/AP
Image:Members of the Mercury 13, including Wally Funk (second left), attend a shuttle launch in 1995. Pic: NASA/AP

“Nothing has ever gotten in my way,” she added.

“They said, ‘Well, you’re a girl, you can’t do that’. I said, ‘Guess what, doesn’t matter what you are. You can still do it if you want to do it’ and I like to do things that nobody has ever done.”

Ms Funk was the youngest of 13 women who passed the same rigorous testing as the Mercury Seven male astronauts in a programme which sent the first Americans into space in 1961-1963.

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But the women, dubbed the Mercury 13, including Ms Funk, who was then a 21-year-old pilot, were denied the chance to become astronauts themselves because of their gender as all of NASA‘s astronauts were male military test pilots.

The programme was abruptly axed, and the Russians went on to launch the first woman into space, Valentina Tereshkova, in 1963.

A New Shepard test flight. Pic: Blue Origin/AP
Image:A New Shepard test flight. Pic: Blue Origin/AP

The reusable New Shepard rocket, developed by Mr Bezos’s company Blue Origin, is named after Mercury Seven astronaut Alan Shepard, the first US citizen in space.

And 20 July is the 52nd anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing.

Joining Mr Bezos and Ms Funk on the 10-minute trip will be the billionaire’s brother, Mark, along with the winner of a charity auction.

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A post shared by Jeff Bezos (@jeffbezos)

The upcoming launch – which follows 15 successful test flights – will open the door for paying customers, who will experience weightlessness.

But Blue Origin has not yet said when the trips in the six-seat capsule will take place or what the ticket prices will be.

The capsule can reach a maximum altitude of 350,827ft, according to Blue Origin – about 65 miles above the border of space.

The first American woman to soar into space was Sally Ride in 1983.

But it was not until 1995 that a US woman piloted a spaceship for the first time – that honour went to Eileen Collins on the shuttle Discovery.

Mark Gibson

Graduates in Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois 1990. Move to Los Angeles California in 2004. Specialized in Internet journalism.

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