Wally Funk makes history as oldest person to launch into space

Ms. Wally Funk
Getty Images

Wally Funk, 82, made history on Tuesday as the oldest person to launch into space.

Funk traveled to the edge of space with Jeff Bezos and two other passengers on a rocket and capsule created by Bezos’s spaceflight company, Blue Origin.

The trip took off at around 9:12 a.m. ET in the West Texas desert and lasted roughly 11 minutes. It reached an altitude of about 66 miles.

Funk appeared to be overjoyed after exiting the capsule in Texas, extending her arms to embrace the cheers coming from the crowd gathered at the landing site.

She hugged one of the men helping the passengers out of the capsule.

During a news conference following the successful trip, Funk said she “loved it,” adding “We had a great time. It was just wonderful. I want to go again, fast.”

Funk was one of the 13 female pilots who completed testing in 1961 as a member of the Women in Space Program but who were ultimately prevented from flying into space because of their gender.

NASA at the time did not have a program for female astronauts, according to The Washington Post, which tanked her chances of launching into space.

She applied to NASA twice in 1962 for the Gemini missions and tried again in 1966, according to The New York Times. She applied to be an astronaut a total of four times throughout her life, but was rejected because she did not have an engineering degree.

Astronaut John Glenn, however, was chosen for the Mercury program despite not having an engineering degree, the Times noted.

Funk received her pilot’s license at age 17, according to the Times. She would fly every chance she had.

She has logged more than 19,600 flying hours and has taught more than 3,000 people how to fly.

She said her interest in space sparked in 1960, when she read that Jerrie Cobb, a female pilot, was undergoing sensory deprivation testing to examine how women’s bodies would fare in space, according to the Post.

“So [I was] thinking, ‘Oh! This is really what I want to do!’” Funk told Margaret Weitekamp for her book “Right Stuff, Wrong Sex: America’s First Women in Space Program,” according to the Post.

“I mean, there weren’t a lot of things back in the sixties for girls to do,” she added.

Weitekamp told the Post about meeting Funk in 1997 in her book that “she was talking then about, ‘I’m going into space. I will figure out a way to do this,’” according to the Post.

Bezos announced in an Instagram post earlier this month that Funk would be joining him on the New Shepard rocket.

“No one has waited longer,” Bezos wrote. “It’s time. Welcome to the crew, Wally. We’re excited to have you fly with us on July 20th as our honored guest.”

“I’ll love every second of it,” Funk said in a video Bezos shared. “Wooo! I can hardly wait.”

She said she has never let her gender get in the way of her career pursuits.

“Nothing has ever gotten in my way,” she told Bezos. “They said, ‘Well, you’re a girl, you can’t do that.’ I said, ‘Guess what, doesn’t matter what you are. You can still do it if you want to do it and I like to do things that nobody has ever done.’ ”

Funk thanked Bezos for the opportunity to launch into space on Tuesday after the flight.

“I want to thank you sweetheart, because you made it possible for me. I’ve been waiting a long time to finally getting up there, and I’ve done a lot of astronaut training through the world, Russia, America, and I can always beat guys on what they were doing because I was going stronger and I’ve always done everything on my own,” Funk said.

“I didn’t do dolls. I did outside stuff. And I flew airplanes, 19,000-some hours. I loved it. And I love being here with all of you and your family,” she continued.

Eighteen-year-old incoming college student Oliver Daemen also made history on Tuesday’s flight as the youngest person to launch into space.

Daemen was Blue Origin’s first paying customer, according to The Associated Press. He secured a spot after the winner of the charity auction who paid $28 million for the seat dropped out of the launch because of a scheduling conflict.

Updated 2:11 p.m.

Tags Blue Origin Jeff Bezos New Shepard Private spaceflight Wally Funk Wally Funk

Most Popular

Load more


See all Video