Aviator Wally Funk will be joining Jeff Bezos and his brother aboard the first crewed spaceflight of Bezos’s private space company, Blue Origin, on July 20, the billionaire announced with a video on Instagram Thursday. The 11-minute trip will see the passengers launching about 60 miles straight up into suborbital space before returning to Earth.
Funk, 82, is an experienced pilot who was part of the Mercury 13, a group of women who passed rigorous astronaut testing, including physical examinations; having their ear drums frozen to see how they handled vertigo; sensory deprivation; and exercise/respiratory tests in the 1960s. Testing was privately funded and not held through NASA. Despite passing the tests and testimonies to Congress and NASA authorities, the women were not allowed into the United States’ official astronaut program. The decision ultimately came down to the fact that NASA required astronauts to be graduates of military jet test pilot programs, and women were not allowed in Air Force training programs at the time.
“No one has waited longer,” Bezos said in his Instagram post introducing Funk as part of the crew.
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In the video, Funk is visibly excited to head up into space as a tourist, and her joy is contagious.
After NASA opened up its astronaut program to women in 1976, Funk applied three times but was denied because she did not have an engineering degree and lacked experience as a test pilot. A Netflix-produced documentary, Mercury 13, details several of the women’s sides of the testing experience, including Funk’s, along with NASA’s early refusal to allow women to join the program.
Blue Origin, founded by billionaire Bezos, announced that its first crewed flight will include Bezos himself and his brother Mark in June. Another passenger whose name has not yet been revealed paid $28 million at auction for their ticket, with the proceeds going to the Blue Origin-owned charity Club for the Future, which aims to inspire children to pursue STEM education and careers.
The flight will take place on Blue Origin’s New Shepard spacecraft, which has successfully completed multiple uncrewed flights, including an astronaut rehearsal in which a crew simulated pre-launch and post-landing procedures. Blue Origin livestreamed the launch, with take-off beginning at around 1:53:40 in the video below.
From launch to landing, the entire trip takes just over 10 minutes, including a couple of minutes where passengers get to experience zero gravity in space.
As it stands, the Bezos brothers, Funk, and the mystery bidder will be the only four passengers in Blue Origins’ first crewed flight.