Wally Funk’s Launch with Jeff Bezos Gets 60 Years of Exclusion


Wally Funk is finally going to space. On Tuesday, he will become the oldest person in space, at 82, when he crosses the arbitrary height separating the heavens from the Earth below on a rocket built by Jeff Bezos’ company Blue Origin. But that’s not what makes it so special.

Ms. Funk is one of the few who have ever been directly involved in both eras of human spaceflight – what started as an urgent race between rival nations and which we are now transitioning to, fierce competition for private companies and the billionaires who finance them, customers, payments and contracts is in it. The fact that she was eventually excluded from the first stage because she was a woman, and now included in the next, also highlights the difficult questions of who owns the space.

His journey into space probably began in 1956 with a skiing accident that crushed both his vertebrae. I was told it would never walk again. By the time he was 17, he already had a history of “can’t” greetings with defiant proof that he could While she was recovering, a guidance counselor suggested she take aviation lessons to distract herself. in the book “The Promised Moon” by Stephanie Nolen“Insect lice and that’s all,” said Ms. Funk during her maiden flight in a Cessna 172.

He went solo that year and got his pilot’s license at the age of 17. Miss Funk flew in at every opportunity, including sneaking out of a formal dance to go on a night flight. In total, he recorded more than 19,600 flight hours and taught more than 3,000 people to fly.

He’s probably spent more time on airplanes as a pilot than the three men he was going to go to space with than as air passengers.

In her senior year of college, when she won a trophy that recognized her as the most outstanding pilot, the airport manager handed her this, “Beware of my words, if a woman flies into space, it will be Wally or one of her students.”

At 21, it looked like it was going to happen. he saw An article in “Life” magazine He shared a photo of a woman swimming in an isolation tank under the caption “A Moist Prelude to Space,” and immediately sent letters to the woman, the doctors in the article, and the hospital that performed the test.

Dr. In a letter to William Lovelace, “I am most interested in these tests, it has been since I learned to fly to become an astronaut.”

In 1961, three years before Jeff Bezos was born, Ms. Funk and 12 other women passed tests as part of the study. Women in Space Program. The tests are for the Mercury astronauts Dr. It was designed by Lovelace. He wanted to put women through the same tests to see if they would be good candidates for space. They didn’t take anyone under the age of 24, but they did take Miss Funk.

Tests included pumping ice water into their ears to induce vertigo and placing them inside a sensory deprivation tank. Ms. Funk was in the tank for more than 10 hours when investigators finally took her out because they wanted to go home. He had fallen asleep.

Overall, the women who passed this first round of testing were as good or better than their male counterparts, and Miss Funk from this group was excellent.

All of these women were pilots who logged hundreds or thousands of flight hours—in some cases more than the men selected for the astronaut program.

None of these women have ever been to space. The US government shut down the Women in Space Program as the Cold War space race heats up. Time Valentina Tereshkova He went to space for the Soviet Union in 1963, NASA wouldn’t fly An American woman would remain in orbit until 1983.

When you hear these women today, they’re often referred to as Mercury 13, but they called themselves FLATs: First Lady Astronaut Interns. The story of FLATs was not widely known until fairly recently. But among women and non-binary people working in space exploration, Ms. Funk and her team struggled to become astronauts and were frustrated by their gender.

Some of these women see Ms. Funk as a personal hero who breaks down gender barriers and hope she will set an example for women and girls again.

“It’s incredible to see him finally go into space, decades after he proved to be not only talented but perhaps more talented than the men he essentially faced during the Mercury program,” said planetary scientist and director Tanya Harrison. Science strategy at Planet Labs.

“Her enthusiasm and demeanor are positively contagious,” Harrison added, adding, “I hope her flight into space provides her with a new platform to inspire a new generation of girls to pursue space or aviation.”

Ms. Funk said she was not discouraged when she learned that the show had been cancelled.

“I was young and happy. I just believed it would come,” he said. “If not today, in a few months.”

He applied to NASA twice for Gemini missions in 1962 and again in 1966. He applied to become an astronaut four times over the years and was turned down because he had never received an engineering degree. By contrast, when astronaut John Glenn Mercury was selected for the program, he too did not have an engineering degree.

nor Oliver Daemen, 18 years old high school graduate who will ride with him.

Miss Funk has spent the last 60 years trying to find another way into space.

“I was brought up to go to your alternative when things didn’t go your way,” she said.

he bought a ticket for $200,000 at Virgin Galactic in 2010He hoped it would eventually take him into space. It’s hard not to look at the billionaire space race and wonder if Mr. Bezos invited him to Richard Branson as a way forward. He’s the one who sent Miss Funk into space.

Cady Coleman, a NASA astronaut who has served on the space shuttle and space station, sees a message on the invitation to Miss Funk and many more anonymous women in space and aviation.

“Wally – you matter. And what you do matters. And I honor you,” says Dr. Coleman thinks what Mr. Bezos said. “When Wally flies, we all fly with him,” he adds.

But for many women and non-binary people who are into space and astronomy, the moment is more nuanced than a lifelong dream.

“On the one hand, I’m very excited for him to be able to live out this long-held dream,” said Lucianne Walkowicz, an astronomer at the Adler Planetarium in Chicago. “On the other hand, being individually given this opportunity does nothing to address any of the reasons why he was previously excluded from going to space, and in fact he is still a hugely privileged man – this time in particular Jeff Bezos – posing as the gatekeeper. her access to space, the access she has already earned and deserved.”

Earlier forms of this gatekeeping prevented many women from pursuing successful careers in spaceflight and space science. Of the 13 FLATs, only Miss Funk and Gene Nora Jessen they are still alive. Ms. Jessen had to stop flying in 2017 due to macular degeneration, and Ms. Funk fought for 60 years to finally get into space.

Dr. “These individual stories and victories are important, but they are not justice,” Walkowicz added.

Katie Mack, an astrophysicist and an assistant professor of astronomy at North Carolina State University, who also spoke about the excitement of Ms. Funk’s going into space, as well as who would make the decisions.

Dr. “The fact that the space crew was chosen based on enthusiasm and money, not choices made by government agencies, is a shift I’m still struggling with,” Mack said. “Obviously, as we saw in the Wally Funk case, agencies like NASA can make bad choices and choose to exclude people who would be excellent astronauts. But while I wholeheartedly support Bezos’ decision to send Wally now, I still don’t know if I like the new benchmarks more.”

As we move into a world where commercial spaceflight offers opportunities to travel based not on skills but on the amount of money in one’s wallet, we will have to keep asking the question: Who is space really for?

But for now, there will be room for Blue Origin’s four-minute flight on Tuesday, for Wally Funk and the three men lucky enough to witness his joy firsthand.

Mary Robinette KowalHugo Award winner, author of “The Lady Astronaut”, “The Glamourist Histories” and “Ghost Talkers.” His work has appeared in Uncanny, Cosmos and Asimov.


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