When Amazon founder Jeff Bezos offered her a seat for the first crew flight of his space travel company Blue origin, It was an invited aviator who had been waiting for Wally Funk to receive it for 60 years.
Funk, 82, is one of a dozen women who became known as. Mercury 13 In contrast to NASA’s original astronaut Mercury 7.. Funk and others, like their male counterparts, were skilled pilots who dreamed of flying higher into space. But they were never part of NASA’s vision of spaceflight, nor were they astronauts — until now.
“Wally Funk has never given up on his dream of space flight,” said Margaret Weitekamp, curator of the Department of Space History at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. NASAAstronaut program told Space.com. “There is a bit of poetic justice to include her on this flight.”
Fight for access to space
Funk and Bezos will account for half of the crew of the first crew flight called New Shepard, a reusable orbital space travel aircraft from Blue Origin launched from the deserts of western Texas. Tuesday morning (July 20th). She will be the oldest person to fly in space at launch.
However, Funk laid the foundation for this flight in a short period of 60 years ago. At that time, she was called Mercury 13 decades later and was often misleadingly portrayed as a kind of female counterpart to NASA’s first group of astronauts. However, the agency never approved their efforts and only began recruiting women for space flight in 1978.
“This wasn’t a NASA project, it was actually a privately funded study of women’s physical fitness for space flight,” said Weitekamp. Funk, an already skilled pilot in his early twenties, learned in 1960 when he read about the project: Jerrie CobbA female pilot who volunteered to take a test to determine if she could withstand the tensions of manned space flight.
These tests were developed for NASA by a team led by William Randall Flabrace and were designed to identify weaknesses that could identify hidden health problems before flight. NASA used this test to evaluate military test pilots employed for young manned spaceflight programs.
But when the agency focused on reaching the milestones of space exploration, Loverace had a bigger perspective. This is an ideal drawn from an office-wide science fiction novel that got off to a good start from the United States in the 1950s.Like a woman was a secretary or a telephone operator EarthSo they will be in space too, according to Weitekamp, this idea has advanced.
So, apart from his NASA work, Loverace was interested in how the female body was carried during these week-long tests. The tests included everything from tilting tables and stints in sensory deprivation chambers to testing for acid in women.
Funk entered them in a series of competitions.
“Her aim was not only to maximize her abilities in all tests, but to try to do better than anyone who went before her,” she later joined with Funk. Science journalist Sue Nelson, “Wally Funk’s Space Race” (Chicago Review Press, 2019), who traveled to study the book, told Space.com. “She is very ambitious and competitive. This is a type of typical early astronaut and is a test pilot type. She fits those early astronaut types.”
And funk and 12 other women were considered to have passed the love race test. “13 out of 25 finalists on average were as good as or even better than Mercury 7 astronauts,” said Weitekamp. (Some tests focused on Cardiovascular healthShe said the woman had an important advantage, as most of Mercury 7 smoked. )
Lovelace wanted to bring these 13s this time to do more testing at government facilities, but couldn’t get approval. Some, like funk, were applied directly to NASA, but they didn’t make a difference.
“I got NASA four times. I said,’I want to be an astronaut.’ But no one will take me,” he said. “I didn’t think I could go up.”
Unlike the close-knit men of the Mercury project, Funk didn’t see most of the other participants. The woman had taken one or two initial tests. And, of course, while Mercury 7 became a celebrity and spent most of his career at NASA, women found other ways to fill their time.
“It was a very short part of their life,” Nelson said. “Wally continued her career and did a lot of interesting things.”
In the case of Funk, space flight isn’t imminent, so she instead travels the globe for years, building a career as a pilot and flight teacher, and eventually a plane crash and other government safety issues. I investigated. In a video released about Blue Origin’s participation in the flight, she said she achieved 19,600 hours of flight time on various aircraft and taught more than 3,000 people to fly.
NASA eventually came across a woman flying in the sky, but it was too late for funk and others. Sally Ride NASA did not make Eileen Collins until 1995, but in 1983 became the first American woman in space. First female pilot Of the space shuttle. (Collins invited funk and others who had been tested for love racing to see the launch.)
“Progress begins exactly, as in many things in women’s history,” Weitekamp said. “There is some interest, which does not necessarily have a direct legacy.”
Opportunity 60 years from now
Blue Origin has long been interested in nodding to the history of spaceflight, so it’s no coincidence that Funk steps into the New Shepard capsule on his first crew flight. (Of course, the vehicle itself has been dubbed into one of the groups she wasn’t particularly interested in, Alan Shepard, Became the first American in space on a ballistic flight on May 5, 1961. )
For Nelson, seeing Bezos’ announcement was an inspirational moment. “It’s inspirational, she’s been waiting for this for the rest of her life,” she said. “I had a lump in my throat and I cried.” And although Funk had a long ticket with a Blue Origin rival, Virgin GalacticAccording to Nelson, the New Shepard model represents a different vision of space flight.
“In my eyes, it’s very similar to the experience of old-fashioned astronauts, much like NASA allowed women to join the astronauts 20 years ago,” Nelson said. Stated.
And from Nelson’s explanation when he called to congratulate her friend in the invitation, Funk is aware of the weight of history she carries in the capsule.
“She said,’I’ve been waiting for a lifetime, honey,’ and she said,’I’m going up for all of us.'”
Send an email to Meghan Bartels at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @ meghanbartels.follow us On Twitter @ Spacedotcom and Facebook.
“Mercury 13” pilot Wally Funk brings 60 years of history to space on a Blue Origin flight
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