Wally Funk, a pilot who was denied the chance to go into space in the 1960s because she was a woman, said “I want to go again, fast”, after returning from a successful flight with the Amazon founder, Jeff Bezos.
With Bezos’s brother, Mark, and an 18-year-old Dutch student, Oliver Daemen, the pair spent 11 minutes on Tuesday on a suborbital flight conducted by Blue Origin, Bezos’s space flight company.
Funk, 82, became the oldest person in space, six decades after she took part in US government testing to become an astronaut, a program the government abandoned in 1962.
“I’ve been waiting a long time to finally get up there, and I’ve done a lot of astronaut training through the world – Russia, America – and I could always beat the guys on what they were doing because I was always stronger and I’ve always done everything on my own,” Funk said at a news conference after the flight.
Bezos’s craft, New Shepard, took off from the Blue Origin launch site in west Texas and touched down 11 minutes later. Blue Origin reported that the craft reached 351,210 ft (107,046 metres), well above the 62-mile (100 km) Kármán line which the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale, a Switzerland-based world body, defines as space.
“We had a great time,” Funk said. “It was wonderful.”
Funk was one of the Mercury 13 group of female pilots, also referred to as “First Lady Astronaut Trainees”, who underwent psychological screenings and rigorous physical testing with a view to taking part in Nasa’s early space efforts.
The program was canceled in 1962 when the US government said the women were not allowed to use military facilities required for training.
None made it into space until Funk’s flight on Tuesday. Describing the experience, Funk said: “When I went up this morning the noise wasn’t quite as bad [as expected] and we went right on up and I saw darkness. I thought I was going to see the world but we weren’t quite high enough.
“I felt great, I felt like I was just laying down and I was going into space.”
After the disappointment of the early 1960s, Funk went on to become an instructor. She said she had taught more than 3,000 people to fly. She also thanked Bezos for inviting her on his first Blue Origin flight, and said it capped a career in aviation.
“I’ve always done everything on my own," 그녀가 말했다. “I didn’t do dolls, I did outside stuff and I flew airplanes, 19,000-something hours. I loved it.”