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Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos on Thursday announced that the fourth passenger on his space tourism company Blue Origin’s first crewed flight will be Wally Funk, a participant of the Mercury 13 program, which sought to recruit women astronauts in the 1960s.
Funk, 82, will become the oldest person to fly to space once Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket launches on July 20, the company said.
Funk was also the first female Federal Aviation Administration inspector and first female National Transportation Safety Board air safety investigator, Blue Origin said.
She will join Bezos and his brother Mark, along with the unidentified person who paid $28 million at auction to secure a seat on the six-seat craft’s inaugural human flight.
Bezos announced the news on Instagram, along with a video of him and Funk.
“In 1961, Wally Funk was at the top of her class as part of the ‘Mercury 13’ Woman in Space Program. Despite completing their training, the program was cancelled, and none of the thirteen flew,” Bezos explained.
“It’s time,” he added.
In the video posted on Instagram, Bezos asked Funk what she would say after touching back down on earth.
“I will say, ‘Honey, that’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me’ and give you a hug!” Funk responds.
She adds that she’s “been flying forever” and has racked up 19,600 flying hours.
“Everything that the FAA has, I’ve got the license for,” she said. “And I can outrun you.”
Funk also recalled her time in the Mercury 13 program, which was privately funded and separate from NASA’s efforts to recruit the first US astronauts.
“They told me that I had done better and completed the work faster than any of the guys,” she said. “So I got a hold of NASA four times. I said, ‘I want to become an astronaut,’ but nobody would take me.”
“I didn’t think that I would ever get to go up,” she added. “They said, ‘Wally, 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.’”
Bezos announced last month that he would be on the July 20 flight, making him the first of the billionaire space tycoons to actually fly to space.
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