Mary Wallace Funk, an 82-year-old pilot who was not approved as an astronaut in the 1960s because of her gender, will go with Jeff Bezos on her rocket company’s first manned space flight, the company said Thursday.
This Tuesday (20), she will join Bezos, her brother Mark Bezos and the auction winner as the first people to fly in a Blue Origin rocket and capsule, the company said in a statement. The mission will be a short suborbital flight in which the rocket climbs more than 99 kilometers, an altitude commonly considered to be the beginning of space, before returning to Earth.
The New Shepard rocket passengers will experience zero gravity for four minutes and then return to land in the West Texas desert, at the same location as the spacecraft launch.
Funk, known by the nickname Wally, was one of 13 American women who completed a rigorous astronaut training program in the 1960s to determine if women were fit for space flight. Although the men were doing so well at the time, none of them became astronauts. The program was financed from private sources and not recognized by NASA. More importantly, according to History.com, at the time NASA only accepted pilots trained in fighter jets – a role only open to men – as astronaut candidates. It was not until 1983, five years after the elimination of fighter pilot duties, that the United States sent the first woman, Sally Ride.
“They told me I did better and got the job done faster than any of the guys,” Funk said in a video posted on Bezos’ Instagram account. But when she told NASA four times that she wanted to be an astronaut, she was turned down.
“They said, ‘You’re a girl, you can’t do this,'” Funk recalled in the video. “I said, ‘You know what? It doesn’t matter what you are, you can do that if you want.’ And I like to do things that no one has ever done before. “
Through a spokeswoman, Blue Origin declined to arrange an interview with Funk on Thursday.
Funk was the Federal Aviation Administration’s first inspector and the first female aviation safety investigator on the National Transport Safety Council. And with the flight in New Shepard, she will open a different path and become the oldest person to fly into space.
“Nobody has waited longer,” wrote Bezos in an Instagram caption. “The time has come. Welcome to the team, Wally. We look forward to having you on our flight as our guest of honor on July 20th.”
Translated by Luiz Roberto M. Gonçalves