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If good things really do come to those who wait, then aviation pioneer Wally Funk is about to have the time of her life. As a matter of fact, calling it "heavenly" might not be that much of a stretch, seeing as the 82-year-old Funk will be going into space aboard New Shepard as a member of Blue Origin's first crewed spaceflight. In doing so, she will become the oldest person to fly to space.
When New Shepard lifts off on July 20, exactly 52 years from the day Apollo 11 reached the moon, Funk will finally achieve what was promised to her in 1959 when she joined the "Women in Space" program. Better known as the "Mercury 13," the privately-organized counterpart to NASA's all-male Project Mercury program was ultimately disbanded before any of the female astronaut trainees could take flight. The Mercury 13 women went through the same physiological tests as the Mercury 7 men, with Funk even scoring higher on some of the tests than John Glenn.
A professional aviator since the age of 20, Funk has put in nearly 20,000 flight hours and taught flying to more than 3,000 people. Funk was also the first female inspector for both the Federal Aviation Agency and the National Transportation Safety Board.
On the Blue Origin space flight, Funk will be joined by Blue Origin founder and Amazon boss Jeff Bezos, his brother Mark, and one ticket auction winner. On Instagram, Bezos is shown asking Funk what happens when her trip is complete. She replies: "I will say, 'Honey, that’s the best thing that ever happened to me!'"
More about Blue Origin:
- The as-yet-unnamed ticket auction winner paid $28 million USD for a seat on the flight; nearly 8,000 bidders were involved.
- Blue Origin's logo is a feather, which is meant to represent the human desire to reach the sky like a bird.
- The company hopes to reach the moon by 2024 with a lunar lander known as "Blue Moon."
Frequently Asked Questions
Who were the Mercury 13, and what was their role in space history?
The Mercury 13, also known as the First Lady Astronaut Trainees (FLATs), were a group of 13 American women who, in the early 1960s, underwent the same physiological screening tests as the male astronauts selected by NASA for Project Mercury. Despite their successful completion of the rigorous testing, they were never officially part of NASA's astronaut program and were not given the opportunity to go into space due to gender biases at the time.
Did any of the Mercury 13 women eventually fly in space?
None of the Mercury 13 women flew in space as part of NASA's astronaut program. It wasn't until 1983, more than two decades later, that Sally Ride became the first American woman in space. The Mercury 13 women were pioneers who paved the way for future generations, but they did not personally realize the dream of spaceflight during their active careers.
What impact did the Mercury 13 have on the inclusion of women in the astronaut corps?
The Mercury 13 were instrumental in breaking down gender barriers in the field of astronautics. Their determination and the publicity surrounding their story contributed to the conversation about women's roles in space exploration. This advocacy helped set the stage for the eventual selection of female astronauts in NASA's astronaut corps, with the first group of women, including Sally Ride, being selected in 1978.
How were the Mercury 13 selected and trained, and by whom?
The Mercury 13 were privately tested and trained under the direction of Dr. William Randolph Lovelace II, who was responsible for developing the physical examinations for NASA's male astronauts. The women were subjected to the same rigorous tests, which they passed, often outperforming their male counterparts. However, this program was not officially sanctioned by NASA and was funded through private means.
Has NASA officially recognized the contributions of the Mercury 13?
NASA has acknowledged the historical significance of the Mercury 13. While they were not formally recognized by NASA at the time of their testing, their story has been highlighted in various NASA publications and events in subsequent years, celebrating their contributions to the space program and the advancement of women in STEM fields.
For more detailed information on the Mercury 13 and their legacy, readers can refer to NASA's official history resources and the wealth of literature available on the subject.