Six-decade wait is worth it for this female aviator

Category: Science/Environment


Unlocking Word Meanings

Read the following words/expressions found in today’s article.

  1. make headlines / meɪk ˈhɛdˌlaɪnz / (idiom) – to appear in the news for being very important, popular, or fashionable

    The tech company made headlines for its new smartphone made of recycled materials.

  2. astound / əˈstaʊnd / (v.) – to make someone feel surprised or shocked

    The runner astounded everyone when he reached the finish line in less than 10 seconds.

  3. boundless / ˈbaʊnd lɪs / (adj.) – having no limits

    Alyssa’s joy was boundless when she found out that she got accepted into her dream university.

  4. take (something) in stride / teɪk ɪn straɪd / (idiom) – to calmly handle something that’s difficult or upsetting

    The actor took the reporter’s criticisms in stride and finished the interview with a smile.

  5. longing / ˈlɔŋ ɪŋ / (n.) – a strong desire or wish for something

    I have a longing to travel overseas once this pandemic is over.


Read the text below.

Three months ago, aviator Wally Funk made headlines when she became the oldest person to fly into space. At 82 years old, she broke the record long held by John Glenn, who was 77 when he made his last suborbital flight in 1998.

After landing, Funk astounded the world with her stunning smile and boundless energy, causing White House spokesperson Jen Psaki to remark: “She is America’s new sweetheart.”

Wally Funk was born in 1939 as Mary Wallace Funk, and had her first contact with an aircraft when she was just a year old. By the time she reached high school, Funk was already on her way to becoming one of the first female pilots in the U.S., in an era when women were expected to stay home and care for their families.

But gender discrimination never stopped Funk. She became a professional aviator at the age of 20 and a year later volunteered for NASA’s “Women in Space” program. Though she went through rigorous training along with 12 other highly qualified female aviators, the program was canceled.

It wasn’t until the late 1970s that NASA began accepting and training women to be astronauts. As soon as that door opened, Funk applied three times but was turned down because she didn’t have an engineering degree. She took it all in stride, and kept her longing to fly into space.

In 2020, the memoir of her career, called Higher, Faster, Longer — My Life in Aviation and My Quest for Spaceflight, was published. It caught the attention of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, who invited her to join him as one of a four-member crew aboard his spacecraft, New Shepard, on a suborbital flight on July 20 this year.

After the flight, Wally told reporters, “I’ve been waiting a long time. I want to go again — fast.” Hope you’re listening, Mr. Bezos.

This article was provided by The Japan Times Alpha.

Viewpoint Discussion

Enjoy a discussion with your tutor.

Discussion A

  • Back then, women were expected to stay home and care for their families. What do you think motivated Funk to decide to pursue a career? Do you think it’s easier for women these days to pursue the careers they want? Why or why not? Discuss.
  • Funk faced a lot of difficulties and rejection, but she took it all in stride and kept her longing to fly into space. What do you think kept her going (ex. she really loved flying)? When do you think is the right time to stop pursuing a dream (ex. when you’re not succeeding, never)? Why? Discuss.

Discussion B

  • Funk made headlines when she became the oldest person to fly into space. What dream would you be willing to chase even at an older age? Why? Discuss.
  • Funk was chosen by Jeff Bezos to join his crew after he learned about her story. Why do you think he chose her? If you were Jeff Bezos, what characteristics would you look for in your space crew? Why? Discuss.