After sixty years of waiting for a launch from Earth, a new space traveler Wally Funk excited.
The 82-year-old aviation pioneer (and now the oldest person to ever fly into space) made a suborbital flight on Tuesday (July 20) aboard an airplane. New Shepard, a private rocket built Blue origin and funded by a billionaire Jeff Bezoswho was also in flight. Funk said the trip was “incredible.”
Funk – who tried four times unsuccessfully to join NASA’s astronaut corps and was part of Mercury 13 a group of female pilots who passed the tests of astronauts – finally flew away New Shepard’s debut space flight with crew free at the invitation of billionaire founder Jeff Bezos. She was also joined by Bezos’s brother, venture capitalist, Mark, and paying passenger and physics student Oliver Daemen.
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“I’ve waited a long time to finally get there,” Funk said during a post-flight briefing that was broadcast live on Tuesday from the Blue Origin launch site near Van Horn, Texas.
“I have trained cosmonauts all over the world – in Russia, America,” she continued. “I could always beat the guys in what they did, because I was always stronger. I’ve always done everything myself. “
Bezos said repeatedly in interviews that Funk has always outnumbered three of her male teammates, who are between 18 and 57 years old. Funk’s enthusiasm was evident as she jumped first up the stairs on the launch tower, waving at the camera. Coming out of the capsule after landing, the eighty-year-old woman, who has 19,600 pilot hours behind her, spread her arms wide and grinned.
At the landing site, a flight student, Funk Mary, whose last name was not disclosed, was waiting. According to Funk, Mary was one of at least 3,000 people the eighty-year-old has taught over the decades. “I don’t know if they’ll see it or not,” Funk said of his former students, “but I felt so energized. I was just a normal person going into space. “
Funk and the rest of her team were rookie astronautsalthough thousands of hours of instructor and pilot experience would probably have allowed Funk to encounter some “anomalies” in flight that could help in an emergency.
Although New Shepard’s flight was nominal, Funk’s decades in the cockpit appear to have impressed at least one of her crewmates.
“Wally was never nervous,” Jeff Bezos said, but the former Amazon CEO joked that Funk became impatient when there was a six-minute delay in launch for as yet unknown reasons. “Wally is like,“ Are we going or not? What the hell are we burning with daylight. Go “”.
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Funk was trying to join the NASA program at a time when the agency was recruiting all of its astronauts from the US military corps, which excluded women herself until the 1970s It was not until 1978 that NASA chose the female astronauts. Among the female recruits, Sally Ride was the first American woman to go into space in 1983 – 22 years after the first American Al Shepard, after whom the New Shepard system is named. In 1983 Funku was 44 years old, while Raid was 32 years old.
However, the long wait gave Funk a historical privilege as she became oldest person to reach space Tuesday during New Shepard flight. She surpassed the 1998 record set by the 77-year-old astronaut of Mercury. John Glenn about the flight of the STS-95 space shuttle.
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Launch and landing are typically part of a space mission in which astronauts experience multiple “overloads” or accelerations that are several times the normal gravity of the Earth. But Funk said she felt almost nothing.
“It was so easy, it was just incredible [and] I didn’t feel it, ”Funk said about the landing, during which the capsule landed on Earth on three parachutes. She added that flying was an experience for her that she will always cherish, thanks to her looks and her crewmates.
“I want to go again,” she said to applause from the Blue Origin audience. “Fast.”
Follow Elizabeth Howell on Twitter @howellspace. follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.