Meet Wally Funk, a Trailblazing Female Pilot Who Fought for Space Travel for Almost 60 Years
Wally Funk completed NASA's astronaut examinations in the 1960s, outperforming most of the men in the Project Mercury program. However, it took decades for her to be allowed to board a Starship. Let's see how it went.
IMAGE SOURCE: NASA
Wally Funk, a pilot, wore a one-piece bathing suit and entered a pitch-black isolation tank in 1961. The 22-year-old had to demonstrate that she could handle the isolation of space. In an age, before NASA admitted female trainees, Wally wanted to show that women could become astronauts.
Wally realized she'd have to outlive the Mercury astronauts if she wanted to persuade NASA. Instead of floating in a dark tank of water, the guys sat in a dark room, writing and drawing to pass the time. None of the males were able to survive more than three hours.
The test's creators thought that no one could survive more than six hours in an isolation tank. Wally remained to float quietly after the six-hour milestone had passed.
Finally, the researchers removed Wally from the tank, despite the pilot's assurances that she would be able to stay longer. Wally Funk set a new record by floating for 10 hours and 35 minutes by herself.
NASA, on the other hand, never launched her to space. Instead, she had to forge her own path, and on July 20, she traveled to space with Jeff Bezos on his New Shepard rocket, becoming the oldest person to ever leave Earth's gravity.
Young Wally Funk said She'd be a Pilot.
IMAGE SOURCE: NASA
Wally began her flying career at a young age, having been born Mary Wallace Funk in 1939. Wally Funk snatched the wheel of a Douglas DC-3 airplane when he was a baby. Wally's parents had taken their one-year-old to a New Mexico airport.
Wally remarked, "I go directly to the wheel and try to turn the nut." "She's going to fly," her mother said.
Wally began making balsa wood aircraft when he was seven years old. At the age of nine, she got into the cockpit for her first flight lesson. Wally got her pilot's license while she was a youngster. She picked Oklahoma State University as her college because it offered her the opportunity to fly for the aviation team.
Funk went on to become the sole female aviation teacher at a US military installation after graduation. Wally remarked, " I accomplished all that no one expected a female to do." “I couldn't conceive of anything I wasn't capable of.”
Funk picked up a copy of Life magazine one day. Jerrie Cobb, a female pilot through NASA astronaut training, was featured in an article. The title of the piece was "A Lady Proves She's Fit for Space Flight."
Wally studied the profile and realized she had no choice but to join the “lady astronaut” training program.
Wally Funk Joins NASA’s Female Astronaut Trainees and “Mercury 13”
Wally Funk didn't wait for the female astronaut training program to invite him. Randy Lovelace, the study's lead researcher, was the recipient of her letter. Lovelace had devised NASA's astronaut tests and had chosen to see if women could become better astronauts than men on their own.
Lovelace recruited the 22-year-old pilot to participate in the research in 1961. Wally hurried to Albuquerque, leaving everything behind.
X-rays, intrusive physical exams, and a test in which Wally had to swallow three feet of rubber tubing were among the initial set of tests. To create vertigo, the researchers sprayed cold water into Wally's ears.
Wally was unconcerned because she wanted to go to space. “Not only did they constantly poke needles in me, but they also placed tubes down and up my body for no apparent reason”, says Funk.
Wally came to Oklahoma City for round two a few months after clearing the first round. She entered the isolation tank from there. “Do you still want to travel to space?” the researchers questioned when she resurfaced.
Wally and twelve other women eventually passed the same examinations as NASA's male astronauts. The Mercury 13 became their moniker. However, NASA declined to let women participate in the space program. While the Soviets flew the first woman into space in 1963, Wally and the other female astronauts had to watch from the sidelines.
Until the 1970s, NASA did not let women become astronauts.
Women were not allowed to join NASA's astronaut training program until 1978. Wally determined she wasn't too old to go to space when the space agency revealed the revised policy.
Wally applied to the training program four times in her early 40s. NASA, on the other hand, turned down Wally once more. It wasn't Wally's gender that held her back this time. NASA requires astronauts to have a bachelor's degree in engineering. The criteria for Funk's bachelor's degree were not met.
Wally was advised, “You're a girl - go to home ec,” when she sought to join an engineering program. Instead, Wally focused on her profession as an airline pilot. She went on to become the first female safety inspector for the Federal Aviation Administration and racked up more than 19,000 flying hours. Wally also worked as a flying teacher, instructing hundreds of students on how to fly planes.
Sally Ride became the first American woman in space in 1983, and Wally was there to witness it. Eileen Collins was the first woman to lead a shuttle flight in 1995. Seven of the Mercury 13 ladies were invited to the launch by Collins.
Wally declared, "Higher, faster, longer is my mantra." “Anything is possible for me out there.”
Wally Funk In The 21st Century
Wally Funk is a character in the film Wally Funk. Wally Funk never gave up her ambition of traveling to space in the twenty-first century. She purchased a ticket on Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo in the 2010s. Wally fantasized about being an astronaut for years, even envisioning launch.
Wally stated, “I'll be sitting far back in my seat during takeoff, and I'll be able to see items passing by.” “And then we climb to a height of ten thousand or forty thousand feet...” Then we float in a condition of weightlessness.”
Then, in July 2021, Jeff Bezos invited Wally Funk, who is 82 years old, to join him on a Blue Origin launch. Wally would travel to space more than 60 years after passing her astronaut training tests.
When Bezos asked Funk what she would say after realizing her longtime ambition of becoming an astronaut, Wally said, "I would say, 'Honey, that was the finest thing that ever happened to me!"
In an announcement video, Funk stated, "I can't tell you how ecstatic I am to have been chosen by Blue Origin to go on this journey." “I'm going to enjoy every second of it.”
Wally Funk passed away in West Texas soon before 9:15 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time on Tuesday, July 20, 2021. The New Shepard flew over the 62-mile boundary that is considered the frontier of space in minutes before safely landing.