Jeff Bezos picks 82-year-old female aerospace pioneer to launch into space with him

Top Stories
British entrepreneur Richard Branson poses with Wally Funk, a test pilot, flight instructor, and a Mercury 13 astronaut – a training program for women that was cancelled before any could go into space – and who is now one of some 300 would-be space tourists who have paid some or all of the $250,000 fare up front, at a gathering in a Virgin Galactic hangar at Mojave Air and Space Port in Mojave, Calif., Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2013. Potential space tourists gathered in California’s Mojave Desert to see the latest progress from Branson’s space tourism enterprise. The company has been testing SpaceShipTwo designed to take paying passengers into space. Commercial flights will begin once testing is complete. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — Blue Origin’s Jeff Bezos has chosen an early female aerospace pioneer — an 82-year-old pilot denied astronaut wings decades ago because of her gender — to rocket into space with him later this month.

The company announced Thursday that Wally Funk will be aboard the July 20 launch from West Texas, flying in the capsule for the 10-minute hop as an “honored guest.” She’ll join Bezos, his brother and the winner of a charity auction, as the first people to fly a New Shepard rocket.

Funk is among the so-called Mercury 13 women who went through astronaut training in the 1960s, but never made it to space — or even NASA’s astronaut corps — because they were female. Back then, all of the NASA astronauts were military test pilots and male.

At age 82, Funk will become the oldest person to launch into space. She’ll beat the late John Glenn, who set a record at age 77 when flying aboard space shuttle Discovery in 1998.

In this 1995 file photo, members of the FLATs, also known as the “Mercury 13,” gather for a photo as they attend a shuttle launch in Florida. From left are Gene Nora Jessen, Wally Funk, Jerrie Cobb, Jerri Truhill, Sarah Rutley, Myrtle Cagle and Bernice Steadman. They were the invited guests of space shuttle pilot Eileen Collins, the first female shuttle pilot and later the first female shuttle commander. Cobb, NASA’s first female astronaut candidate, died in Florida at the age of 88 on March 18, 2019. (NASA via AP)

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

Funk, a pilot and former flight instructor, was the first female inspector for the Federal Aviation Administration and the first female air safety investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.