Wally Funk, an 82-year-old woman who was excluded from NASA’s space program 60 years ago for being a woman, just got to go to space. She is now the oldest person to ever fly to space and celebrates finally achieving her life-long dream. The previous holder of this record is John Glenn, who testified that women weren’t fit for spaceflight.
Funk has achieved her spaceflight dreams as a part of Blue Origin’s most recent test flight. The flight also carried Billionaire businessman Jeff Bezos. Blue Origin is a part of a new yet controversial era in space travel, aiming to open up space flights to the public.
In 1961, Funk passed a variety of grueling physical and mental tests as a part of the Women in Space Program. Unfortunately, the government shut that program down, resulting in the exclusion of women from space.
These tests included having ice water pumped into the ears to induce vertigo and being placed inside a sensory deprivation tank. After ten hours in the tank, Wally was doing just fine. In fact, she was asleep.
None of the other women who passed those exams got the chance to achieve their dreams. The significance of this journey isn’t lost on Wally, who is clearly thrilled with the opportunity. The women who passed those tests did just as well, and sometimes even better than the men who wound up going.
Wally Funk Got Her Pilot’s License at 17 Years Old
Ever since she was a child, Funk has been defying odds. In 1956, the pilot crushed two of her vertebrae in a skiing accident and was told she’d never walk again. But by her late teenage years, she wasn’t just walking: she was flying. In fact, it was a part of her recovery, as a guidance counselor suggested she take aviation classes to distract her.
Funk set her sights on the sky early, getting her pilot’s license at seventeen. Once she got her license, she flew as much as she could. She even snuck out of a school dance to go night flying. She’s logged over 19,600 flying hours. She’s also taught over 3,000 people to fly.
And even after NASA canceled their women in space program, Funk still applied to NASA’s space program twice. She applied once in 1962 and again in 1966. In general, she’s applied to be an astronaut four times, with rejection the result every single time.
But Funk was never deterred, and today, she reached her lifelong goal.
“When I met her in 1997,” National Air and Space Museum Margaret Weitekamp told the Washington Post, “she was talking then about, ‘I’m going into space. I will figure out a way to do this.'”
Now, she’s inspiring the generations that came after her never to give up on their goals.
“Her enthusiasm and attitude are positively infectious,” Planetary scientist Tanya Harrison told The New York Times, “and so I hope her flight into space gives her a renewed platform to inspire a whole new generation of girls to pursue space or aviation.”