NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – At 82 years old, New Mexican Mary Wallace “Wally” Funk became the oldest person to ever launch into space on Tuesday, one of four people aboard Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket, along with Jeff Bezos, also from New Mexico.
Funk received her astronaut pin after the flight during a post-flight news conference, which you can view below:
“Wow, best pin I’ve ever had in my life — and I’ve had lots of ’em,” she joked as she was pinned by Jeff Ashby, Blue Origin’s chief of mission assurance and a retired NASA astronaut. Ashby then told Funk that she is continually inspiring the Blue Origin team and thanked her. “Thank you, more to come!”
Members of Funk’s church outside of Dallas were watching Tuesday’s flight and were seen cheering “Go, Wally, go!” as they watched at the White’s Chapel United Methodist Church. They filled the pews and watched the flight, some were even moved to tears.
“She’s a big part of this church. I think that’s — we had a large turnout today because of the love for Wally and everything that she is to us,” said Funk’s friend Laurie Williams. “Even beyond being an astronaut. She’s a wonderful human being.”
Funk was the youngest graduate of the Women in the Space program in the 1960s; it was a privately funded project known as the Mercury 13. The so-called Mercury 13 was a group of women who trained to become astronauts for America’s first human spaceflight program in the early 1960s.
“Well, aerospace really was not a name in my young life, but flying airplanes was. I got my first try at flying, just pure flying, by flying my Superman cape off my daddy’s barn when I was about 5 years old. I was allowed to make airplanes out of blocks of balsa wood and hang them from my ceiling.” she told NASA back in 1999.
The Mercury 13 underwent the same tests as the astronauts selected by NASA, but they never flew to space. Although FLATs was never an official NASA program, the commitment of these women paved the way for others who followed.
Bezos personally invited two of his fellow passengers — his 50-year-old brother Mark, an investor and volunteer firefighter and female aviation pioneer, Funk. “Finally!” Funk exclaimed when offered a seat alongside Bezos.
The Mercury 13 alumna Wally Funk broke Glenn’s record as the oldest human in space during Tuesday flight.
Eighteen-year-old Oliver Daemen from the Netherlands joined the Bezos brothers and Funk. Blue Origin said Daemen was the first paying customer but did not disclose the price of his ticket. But a family spokesperson said it will be considerably less than the winning bid.
The Associated Press contributed to this story