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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.